Fashion icon and entrepreneur speaks to Agnes E Nantaba
Sylvia Owori is very expressive and loud. The second born of a family of seven, her father passed on when she was only seven. But that did not stop Owori from pursuing a childhood dream – to be a fashion designer – and becoming a fashion icon in Uganda and beyond. She loves sharing herself and her possessions with people and is a successful business person.
She created a collection called ‘Africa my heritage’ which makes clothes with symbols from all parts of Africa and exports the world over. She is also into making recycled bags from old denim collections and African prints.
In 2000, she was selected to design the clothes worn by the contestants at the MNet Face of Africa in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Cape Town, South Africa. The following year, in 2001, she was selected to design the clothes worn by the Ugandan finalist at the Nokia Face of Africa competition.
From 2001 until 2004, Sylvia Owori took charge of organising the “Miss Uganda Beauty Pageant”, a season she describes as her best. She also launched a clothes line, under the Sylvia Owori label, owns the African Woman magazine, a monthly online publication, and is the founder and owner of Zipa Modeling Agency, a talent house.
“As a child, I used to make dolls and baby clothes,” she says and has a scar from that period to prove it.
But her fashion dream came to fruition when she joined her grandmother in London. Owori had completed primary school at Matale Primary School in Tororo and studied at Nsambya Senior Secondary School in Kampala and easily enrolled at Newham College in London and studied fashion design.
“My mother was very supportive of my career but even if she wouldn’t be, I had a strong personality to the extent that nobody could stop me from achieving what I wanted,” she says.
And another thing: “I always stood out in the classroom as I was often loud,” says Owori.
After her studies in the UK, Owori returned to Uganda and opened a boutique that initially sold imported clothes. That enterprise, Sylvie’s Boutique, was located down-town in the heart of Kampala city. She later renamed it ‘Sylvia Owori’ in memory of her father, Owori. It is headquartered at Garden City Mall in Kampala city.
Today, being a mother is her greatest joy, she says.
“I was ready to have children for many years and so when it happened, I was extremely happy although it has been very controversial with the father, it still gives me the joy.” She has two sons.
Sylvia Owori’s liteside
Any three things we don’t know about you?
I am a mother, entrepreneur and fashion designer
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
It depends on what everybody pursues. I am happy having sons and a successful career after all life’s tough challenges.
What is your greatest fear?
I am a fearless woman.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
In the past I was very kind and even when people took advantage of it, I kept going back but after I went through very difficult times without anyone besides me, I changed. I am now extremely cautious about every move.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Hypocrites, thieves and people who are not trustworthy; as a loyal person, once I commit to something, I don’t settle for less.
Which living person do you most admire?
I used to admire Nelson Mandela but since he’s no more, I admire Amancio Ortega, the founder of Zara and wealthiest retailer in the world who sells clothes. Every day, I work hard and study his philosophy with hope that I can also make it bigger with clothes.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I spend so much in church and on my sons.
What is your current state of mind?
I am just relaxed.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Politics is blown out of the box and there are some politicians who shouldn’t be getting the attention they are getting. It actually means that we need to be more educated as it has to do more with ignorance.
On what occasion do you lie?
If I am at a point of death and the only savior is to tell a lie.
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I am naturally a positive and extremely confident strong woman.
Which living person do you most despise?
I can only say that it is a ‘woman’ for reasons that she always builds herself around me.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
Loving, honesty, straightforward and faithful.
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Humbleness, God fearing, trustworthy and respectful .
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
I use ‘basically’ a lot .
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My children for they bring so much joy to me and every time I see them, I learn as they are my greatest inspiration.
When and where were you happiest?
When I had my children in 2008 and 2010; holding them in my hands felt like I was reborn and it was a blessing.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I have always wanted to sing, perform and be on stage but I don’t have the voice.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Motherhood although I also don’t take it lightly having a successful career in fashion.
What is your rating of Uganda’s fashion industry?
The industry is still lacking as the market is not reliable; people don’t know what they want but several opportunities await those who can take them up.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
As Sylvia Owori the politician; much as I don’t like politics, given my level of determination, I believe I can achieve and reach greater heights.
Where would you most like to live?
An island on Lake Victoria for the cool gentle breeze and serene environment. But also anywhere in Uganda as one of the most beautiful countries in the world for many reasons like peace.
What is your most treasured possession?
My strong inner personality; I easily adapt and adjust to any situations. It’s more than a gift but a blessing.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Loss of a loved one for instance losing my brother was very disheartening; also having a court case than involves separating one from his or her children. It is not something small.
What is your favourite occupation?
Working in the fashion industry; I have also developed new love for television.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I am a very loving, passionate and vision driven person.
What do you most value in your friends?
Honesty, loyalty and sharing the same values.
Who are your favorite writers?
Stephen R. Covey, the writer of ‘The seven habits of highly effective people’; He writes about real life which motivates the reader.
Who is your hero of fiction?
Jennifer Lopez not because of her acting but because of her style; I am however more of a realist.
Who is your fashion star? Dame Vivienne Isabel Westwood not only as a designer but as woman who is still standing even at age 75,
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Barack Obama for his resilience and outspoken character; He has achieved something that was historically unachievable .
Who are your heroes in real life?
My father Owori; he taught me so much even when he left me at an early age.
What are your favorite names?
Adam and Zac; they have stories behind them.
What is your greatest regret?
I don’t have regrets because I think about anything I plan to do. The bad decisions I made were more of lessons than regrets.
How would you like to die?
Peacefully after having an opportunity to say my last words.
What is your motto?
I can be anything I want to be if I set my mind to it.