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A stitch in time fails to save Bobi Wine’s tailor

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Fashionista Latif Madoi during an interview with this newspaper two years ago. Photo/Tony Mushoborozi 

On the surface, the decision by a Magistrate Court last Friday to remand the designer behind Bobi Wine’s military-esque outfits to prison until next month seems just sadistic, malicious and petty on the part of the State. 

While it could be all those things, you have got to put yourself in the shoes of the State. But to do that, you have to truly know the fashion designer in the eye of the storm— Latif Madoi. He is a revolutionary garment designer of the first degree. He has been since the beginning.  

When he was in Senior Six in Nabumali High School, Mbale, only a few months to the national exams for which he had already registered, Madoi was expelled from school for having too much influence on the entire student body. His fashion designs were influencing the school culture so much (against all rules) that the head teacher was left with no choice but to let him go.

It is said his fabrics were at some point more popular than popular music in the school. No-one dared him in the fame stakes. All the popular girls wore his beadwork, while the cool boys wore his denim patchwork, hats and shoes. No amount of confiscations made any difference. Fancy clothing was against the school rules, but the students just couldn’t fight the temptation and Madoi couldn’t resist the easy-flowing pocket money.

“I was expelled for introducing fancy dressing in the school. I used to make hats, rings, beadwork, patchwork, jeans and bling,” he told this newspaper in an interview two years ago.
He added: “Every time we had variety shows, they would see a lot of students wearing my creations and everybody was reporting, ‘I bought it from Latif, I bought it from Latif’.”

After his expulsion, Madoi moved to Mbale Secondary School where he studied before returning to Nabumali to write his national exams. While he didn’t join university after Senior Six, his contemporaries who joined Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU), Mbale campus, invited him to the university regularly to order for all sorts of designs. These included sports paraphernalia, jeans, patched denim, bags and hats.

When Madoi later joined Tiner International School of Fashion, the principal, Ms Ruth Kibilige, was already familiar with his work. An appearance on a local TV channel that showcased his shoe designs had catapulted Madoi into the psyche of the country’s fashionistas.

“She said to me, ‘I realise you design shoes, hats and bags, which we do not teach at this school.  If you can create a course unit and teach it, we are willing to allow you to study free of charge’,” Madoi recounted the welcome he received during a previous interview.

That is how Madoi became a teacher and student at the same time, in the same school. It was while he was at the school, in 2003, that he designed an outfit for South African superstar, Lucky Dube, who was slated to have a concert in Kampala. The biggest hurdle was finding ways to get the design to the famous superstar. But as they say: where there is a will, there is a way. Madoi managed to get the outfit to Lucky Dube before the concert. He loved it so much that he wore it on stage during his Namboole concert.

The flaming headlines that came after that fit made Madoi a household name in the music world, in Uganda and later around the world. He would later design outfits for great names in the industry like Morgan Heritage, Busy Signal, Anthony B, Chameleone, and, of course, Bobi Wine, before the latter joined politics.
When the People Power movement was nascent and its public image fast evolving into a military-imitation crusade, Madoi would be the first name Bobi Wine thought of to create the perfect outfit. The red overalls that became synonymous with Bobi Wine’s political activism were designed by Madoi.

As that iconic image got seared onto people’s minds, Bobi Wine’s fans and supporters flocked to him for similar outfits. Bouncers, musicians, supporters and fans of Bobi Wine all contacted Madoi for original designs per Madoi’s son, Farouk.
It is this ability to influence politics and culture that may have caused Madoi’s arrest on May 13. He was arrested by the military after a raid at his school, Latif Academy Talent School. Four students of his were also arrested and taken to Kasangati Police Station.

A day after Madoi’s arrest, Bobi Wine tweeted: “…The shameless regime is cracking down on freedom of expression through fashion because it’s so powerful and it speaks so loudly. We will defy any illegal attacks on our rights and freedoms to feely express ourselves through fashion. I publicly wear the overall that he made for me, why should he be in jail for making it?”
Bobi Wine also dared the State to arrest him for wearing the outfit instead of going after a mere tailor. 

Madoi is, of course, not just a tailor. He’s a man gifted with the ability to influence people. And that may be his undoing right now. His case will come up for mention on June 10.