Passion for fashion brings joy to Musoke

Sunday February 14 2021
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Edward Kulabako Musoke displays one of his products. Photos/Desire Mbabali

By Desire Mbabaali

When Edward Kulabako Musoke, decided to go into business, he only had one thing in mind, to do it the best way he could. 
Popularly known as Kamara the addict by his social media followers, the community psychologist confesses that he derived very little satisfaction from his profession and even when he stepped out to do social media management at Owino Solutions, he didn’t find it close to his heart like he does running his own design business. 
And running his own business means Musoke has had to become an expert at many things over the years, from needlework to marketing. 
For as long as he can remember, he has been obsessed with fashion. “I used to get into trouble for cutting the sleeves off my clothes,” he jokes.

To the 28-year-old, getting his business idea came like a social media joke.  
“You know how people say they are broke in January? I used to talk about brokenness very often on my social media page. I would tell people that I am here taking ‘chai mukalu’ (black tea) and people started refering to me by that on social media,” Musoke says. 
So, one day when he met a friend who had a very nice jumper with their name printed on it, he asked them for the contact of the person who had designed it. He reached out to the person with an idea of having a similar jumper made for him.   

“When it came to words I wanted inscribed on the jumper, I couldn’t think beyond my chai mukalu phrase, so I told the man designing it to put ‘chai mukalu’ addict and he just laughed… that was early 2019,” says Musoke.
But he didn’t just want a plain word printed on his jumper, so he took to the internet to explore how the word could be designed. Eventually, from his research and imagination, he was able to have his very first chai mukalu addict jumper.   
“Everyone who saw me wearing that jumper was thrilled. Before I knew it, friends were asking me to make such jumpers for them as well. I went back to my designer and told him I needed to make business out of this and I put out my first six jumpers. I sold each jumper at Shs60,000, making a profit of Shs15,000 on each,” he says. He also started selling T-shirts.
Chai Apparel was started purely from pulling all the profits that Musoke had made in his first full year and reinvesting it.

“Starting up was not easy. I invested my personal savings that I had accumulated over my time of employment. In everything I have achieved, I have always put the issue of money last. As difficult as it is to get start-up funding from banks out there, there are always alternative ways to get what you want in order to go to where you need to,” he says.

Taking a turn
“Every day, the business got demanding. My job on the other hand was not too demanding so after I got orders, I would take them to my partner and after he finished working on them, I would go to town and pick them up, then some customers would come to office and pick them from there,” he says.

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However, after four months of doing this, he started having ideas of making it a fully-fledged business. “But I felt I needed time to think about this more seriously and develop it into the business I wanted. I had a talk with my boss about the plans I had and that I needed to concentrate on this – and he was understanding about it,” he shares about how he left his salaried employment.
The plan was to go home, be on his social media pages and make sales from there. However, a friend who owns an art studio in Ntinda sheltered him.

Always busy  
Working out of Ntinda, Musoke now produces original designs for pop stars and youths. 
Once one of the performers on Uganda’s emerging hip-hop scene, Musoke’s brand started to shine when he made clothes for his musician friends.

Spending time with Musoke you are struck that he is always on call. This is no nine-to-five job. He’s often busy talking into one of his two mobile phones or networking with Uganda’s most well-known stars. 
His inspiration comes he says from many different places, including the global brands that end up in Kampala’s second-hand clothes markets. 

He still uses social media as his primary marketing avenue and is in the process of having the company registered as Chai Apparel. A customer reaches out through social media or in person, places an order, with details of: colour, wording and type of attire and then pay a deposit. 
Some of the in-house wordings include; chai mukalu addict, chai mata addict, amate addict, tozimba mutima, and yagaliza ofune. 

The money
“This is how I work, after my partner designs and prints, I pay him and he gives me a finished product. Alternatively, I buy the materials and he designs and prints. I then take the finished products to the customer and then I am paid. After getting off the price of production, I can then make profit,” Musoke says.   He also has no standard price for the T-shirts and jumpers. The price is determined by the kind of design that the customer wants. 
For example, the cost of the finished product may be Shs25000 and is sold at Shs35000, making him a profit of Shs10,000. 

For T-shirts with in-house catchy phrase slogans, the price is Shs30,000 but for tailor-made, an extra Shs5,000 is charged. Musoke charges Shs70,000 per a jumper while hoodies with a zipper in front are at Shs80,000. For each sweatshirt, Musoke charges Shs80,000.
“Depending on different factors, I can sell between 25-30 jumpers and about 30 T-shirts a month,” he notes when asked about his sales.  
“The more products I put out, the more customers I attract. For example, someone can post a photo in a T-shirt or jumper we made and tag me in the post. I can get more people (about three) reaching out in need of the same product,” says Musoke.

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Musoke spots a customised T-shirt of Chai Apparel.

We all are inspired in different ways but for Musoke, the need to create something Ugandan inspired him. “I wanted to make something that one could read and know that it is from Uganda, and ‘chai mukalu’ fit that perfectly,” he says.
When asked where he wants to go with his design business, Musoke explains that in the coming years, he wants to start importing his own jumpers, T shirts and other products.
“I want to grow my production, buy machines so that I can employ more people. Personally, I had to learn how to design using different software like illustrator and photoshop, and I came up with my first design, which will be out soon,” he reassured adding, “I love taking challenges, I don’t like getting comfortable, because the moment you get comfortable, you stop being productive.” 
He added that another of the things he plans to do is reach out to more people living outside Uganda. 
“Often, they see my work and want to buy, but I have little access to them. Sometimes I have to wait for people who are travelling abroad so that they take the products,” he says.

Musoke has a clear ambition to promote his fashion ideas well beyond Uganda. Asked whom he would like to dress, he replies, “East Africa’s finest artists. People like Diamond Platnumz, Professor Jay, Bobi Wine and Chameleone,” he says.