Cecily in Uganda | an update!

Cecily in Uganda | an update!

15 October 2017


Week 2: PFF in Mityana

With fashion week over, we start work on the Paper Fig Foundation projects. During my time in Uganda I am working with Jennifer Mpyisi who is the project co-ordinator in Kampala for PFF. With a successful sewing school and medical centre already set up and running in Kasese, a small rural village in western Uganda, Paper Fig Foundation are embarking a new program in Mityana, a small town an hour outside of Kampala. Laurie (Laurie De Jong, CEO and founder of LDJ productions and PFF), Jennifer and I visit the existing training schools and women programs to see where they can be improved. What we find is that the few women who are training others are very much lacking in skills themselves and have never had formal training. This results in ill fitted and poorly finished garments and products. It becomes clear that a sensible approach to take at first is to work with the existing tailoring schools in Mityana to train the teachers in how to produce high quality tailoring, which they can pass on to their students. I will be returning to Mityana two days a week to work on the project. The rest of the time I will be teaching in Kampala.

From Mityana we drive to an expo in Fort Portal, a town in the Western region of Uganda in a beautiful mountain region called Mountains of the Moon. The event was held by TJX (TK Maxx huge retailer in Europe) who have been providing education support in 12 Rwenzori communities since 2008. They are marketing the locally produced coffee, cotton, cocoa and handcrafts to help the village communities meet their own needs and give them a source of income. It was a very ceremonial event with lots of dancing and singing by women from the village communities. The songs were often about how they were abused by their husbands but now through weaving they have been able to earn an income and be independent.

We were invited to take part in a workshop and demonstration on organic dying. Taking place in a botanical garden, the organic dyes have been developed from seeds and plants in the area and across Uganda. I was surprised by the vibrancy of the colours that can be achieved through this process - bright blue and pink can all be achieved through mixing organic dyes. The seeds from the ‘Lipstick tree’ produce vibrant red powder which is used for the dye and certain plants can produce completely different colours depending on the age of the plant when it is picked.

- Basket weaving demonstration using papyrus and raffia by craftswomen from the Rwenzori region of Uganda.


- Plants used for organic dyeing and the resulting colours.

They currently provide training to craftswomen in the mountain village communities in the Rwenzori region- it is mostly used to dye raffia which is then used for basket weaving. This training needs to become more widespread so that it can be used to dye cotton and other materials throughout the country. It seems currently knowledge is shared purely though word of mouth without actually being written down anywhere. Sadly often people are not willing to share knowledge here- they like to keep it their secret! Hopefully we can encourage documentation of these processes so they are accessible for future generations.  All the craftswomen from the villages have brought hundreds of their beautiful baskets to the event to sell and they teach me how to do all types of basket weaving. I get called up to speak about where I am from and what I am doing in Uganda. The fact that I am at Central Saint Martins gets brought up everywhere! Some of the people I met at KFW said how much they wanted to study there.

Kampala City festival is happening across this long weekend (Monday 9th is Independence day) - a huge celebration across the city with music and dancing everywhere! I head down to Owino market, the largest market in Kampala selling literally everything you imagine-a very chaotic paradise! It is also where they sell the huge bails of second-hand clothing shipped in from the west.  You can specify that you want a bail of denim jeans for example which is great for designers working with recycled materials. Recently however the EAC (East African Community) are trying to ban the importation of used clothes and shoes across the East African Region by 2019, in a bid to help the economy and give a boost to local manufacturing. The imported clothes are so cheap that the local textiles factories and self-employed tailors can't compete. In Uganda, second-hand garments currently account for over 80% of all clothing purchases.