Santa Anzo is one of Uganda’s top fashion emblems. She has represented the country on multiple international fashion festivals including Fashion for Peace international initiative, Kenya fashion Week, Mozambique Fashion Week, Swahili Fashion Week in Dar-es-Salaam and Africa Fashion Month among others.
She started out professionally as a model with fashion icon Sylvia Owori’s then Ziper Models.
“It was not only the first professional modeling agency that I was attached to but it took me through a fabulous experience,” she says of Ziper.
Back then she was a dark, tall and slender model only weighing 55kg. But she also had a diploma from Dolphins Fashion School in Kampala and dreamt of owning a fashion house because, she says, fashion has been her passion all her life. It is a dream she shared and worked on with some of her lecturers at Dolphin.
As child, she could even dare defy her disciplinarian mother by breaking family dress codes. As her siblings dressed mostly in homemade decent dresses, Santa says she always tweaked hers with a unique touch. Decency is the only rule she never broke.
“My dressing would be unique as long as I thought it was decent enough,” she says.
She stayed with Ziper for 16 months and moved on to start her own fashion label called Arapapa; meaning butterfly in her Madi language. She describes Arapapa as a vision from God that she got after praying and intercessions.
“I wanted a name in Madi that could tell my story and it was a butterfly,” she says, adding that, “I had walked its journey but also wanted my company to reflect the beauty in diversity of Uganda’s various people in colour, size, and physical beauty”. She also wanted a name to honour her father; which is where the ‘papa’ comes in.
In 2001 Santa launched Arapapa as a modeling agency and fashion house. Although she started it in the drive way of a beauty parlor business picked fast. Two years later, she launched the Uganda International Fashion Week which also picked easily as she already had corporate clients in the breweries and telecoms who were sponsors.
When she opened shop in Oasis Mall in Kampala and the brand awareness brought more business, she soon concentrated more on tailoring than modeling.
“I gave up on dancing and exercising more to develop the brand and the result was a bigger body that has since failed to shrink,” says Santa.
Such hard work, determination, and perseverance have marked most of Santa’s life. Although she was born into a comfortable home to a civil servant father and mother who was a teacher, everything changed in 1979 when then-president Idi Amin Dada was kicked from power. Amin was from her Madi tribe and his tribe mates, including Santa’s father suffered revenge reprisals. Her father was accused of committing crimes and taken away. Santa was only four years old at the time, but she had to separate from her mother and live with her grandmother in Moyo district of West Nile. One day, as the fighting that ousted Amin reached their area, she had to flee for dear life into Sudan.
“I saw people fall around and die and I run following people,” she recalls.
“I was plucked out of the comfort zone and taken into refuge at only four years old in Southern Sudan while dad was falsely accused and shipped to back Kampala,” she adds.
She reconnected with her mother at the collection centre of the refugee camp. Her grandmother joined them later. But it would be four years later, when they returned to their home Moyo in 1983 that she would see her father again in Kampala and their family stabilised again.
She resumed school at Old Kampala Primary school and Bat Valley primary School for primary education before joining Madhvani College Wairaka Jinja for O-levels Progressive Secondary school Bweyogerere for A-levels.