We had the opportunity to talk to the charming, funny, ambitious and inspiring Sham Tyra. In her own words, “My outfits are not for everyone and that is okay. I do not like it when an outfit is so easy to understand. Therefore, people have to fit in my world since, once they understand my ideas, they respect and value them. I do not want to bargain my skill or creativity. As such, if I like a design, then that is something”. Wow! Indeed, this Ugandan Fashion Designer, is definitely changing the fashion industry one outfit at a time.
When did you realize that you had a passion for fashion?
To be honest, I did not really think I was going to create my own collection. I have always loved clothes, dressing up, dressing other people, and so, I thought I would be a store owner or a collector. At some point, I realized something was missing in the market since every time I wanted to collect something for myself, I had to redo certain things. Therefore, I decided to put my own thing together. Besides, I always think differently, so yeah, I went for it
Your designs are so unique, urban and classy. What is the inspiration behind them?
First and foremost, I have always said it and people do not think it makes so much sense, but, my first inspiration is God. I feel like He always wants me to be better; he has set me up to be the best version of myself. Therefore, every time I try to design, I know I need to do better than the previous one since I am designing for a different time.
Second, I love drama and dislike simple things (Not in real life, in fashion only; I’m a very peaceful person) (*Laughs*). I love designs that are well put but, stand out. You do not have to talk since your outfit speaks for you. It is like there is a character in a garment. Therefore, every time a design is boring, I think to myself, ‘I need to change something’. A look is not a Sham Tyra look until it is all over the place; like the sleeves falling off, sleets on both sides of the dress, you know, DRAMATIC!
When was your breakthrough moment in commercial fashion?
When I entered the fashion industry professionally in 2017, I was doing it on and off. I used to focus on second-hand clothes and that is what people knew me for. I would put pieces together for them, and as such, it was quite hard to convince them that I can actually create my own designs. Therefore, nobody was ready to take a risk. However, every time I got the chance to convince a new client I would go for it. Eventually, I decided to fully indulge in creating my own designs during that same year. I always tried to shoot high; I was not trying to have my friends as clients (oh and I love my friends). Therefore, I was always going for TV personalities that Radio presenters and slowly by slowly, it was one outfit after another. Thank God it shot up.
I’m surprised people would need much convincing to try your designs, from your latest collection, it looks like you are quite creative.
You know we are Africans, we want to see it first and nobody was giving me that chance. However, when I finally had an influential client with a huge following, the outfits got people interested.
Which is your most iconic design or the masterpiece?
Oh wow! I love all my pieces; they are my babies. But of course, there is always a favorite child (*Laughs*). The green, midi length, one shoulder flared sleeve dress is my favorite. I had made it for a wedding guest, but initially, she was not convinced. However, she trusted me and when the design came out, it attracted a lot of attention. It was one of the dresses that I started with, and so, it hits home. Additionally, I feel like it is an iconic dress because I think people can still wear it 10 years from now. I love iconic looks and do not follow trends. I want my dresses to be timeless but, I also consider my clients because, at the end of the day, they have to embody the outfit.
How have you convinced your clients that you are a designer and not a tailor in the Ugandan market
It is really hard because people often refer to me as a tailor but I always try to make it straight up clear that I am a fashion designer and I create my own designs from scratch. You have to respect the title because it is not easy coming up with the designs; it takes hours just to think of the idea and also to execute it. Hence, I try to give them a different experience. For instance, when a client comes to me, we go through all the details. I will need to know the occasion, what you want people to think when they see you and what impression you would want to leave. Therefore, I give them the full experience so that they know they are in the hands of a professional designer and not a tailor.
We recently saw you launched the boldly bold collection virtually using 3D models. How would you describe that experience?
Indeed, it turned out amazing than I thought. It was a long and hectic process since the 3D designer had to bring the designs to life. Therefore, I had to ensure that he had all the details to make them look as real as possible. Additionally, coordinating everything from the type of fabric to the colors was a bit straining.
From the beginning, I was not going to do an event because of COVID-19. Hence, I thought I could just post on my social media platforms. However, since this was my first collection, I decided to organize a small event that would have 20 people but, the turnout had over 40 people which was humbling. It was the very first virtual showcase in Uganda and nobody expected to get the cinema experience. Truly, it was amazing to see the expressions on their faces; it was just priceless. Moreover, the outfits came out perfectly.
How much do the pieces go for and where can we purchase the new collection?
Unfortunately, we are still upgrading our website but, people can place their orders through our Instagram page or email. All the outfits are custom made and available for ordering.
It is a special collection for me and thus, I am just making one outfit per design.
The prices are not fixed because I do not have hand-beaded pieces plus, we also have to consider the material consumption of the client.
How have you coped up with the ever-evolving fashion world and maintained your market mark?
As I said, I do not follow trends. I will not design what everybody is wearing. I just have to make sure that all my pieces are interesting and better than the first. If you try to follow trends it will string you in the wrong direction; that is where I started; trying to chase money and clients, and as a result, I did not know the kind of woman I wanted to dress.
As a creative designer, you have to know who your target audience is, understand what they need and give them that experience through your outfits.
How has your Ugandan heritage influenced your designs?
I come from a very dramatic tribe and our culture is very elegant and ladylike. You cannot wear a Gomesi and just speak the way you like and walk the way you want; it must be ladylike. The design is for somebody who is confident and knows who they are. Therefore, that is what I try as much as possible to put in my work. I want to dress that kind of woman because that is how I have been brought up and that is what I know.
I did not go to fashion school. Growing up, I have always wanted to be that lady or dress that lady.
How did you learn about Fashion and Design?
I don’t know, thing is, the very first outfit I did, I had no idea of what I was doing. In fact, I did not even know how to use a machine; I was just looking at a piece of fabric and thought of how I wanted the outfit to be tight. Moreover, I was not following any pattern and as time went by, I made use of YouTube and already made outfits. Afterward, I would deconstruct them and follow how it was made and try to make it my outfit. Indeed, it was a journey because now as I look back, I think, ‘damn I owe people money’; they actually paid for this *Laughs*, but, I appreciate the growth. Also, fashion does not have rules, and thus, has its pros and cons because you go as big as you can; you either get it wrong or right. As long as you visualize the designs, you are good to go. Furthermore, you will definitely learn as you go.
Do you source and produce your products from Uganda?
I source everything in Uganda; it is very rare for me to get material from outside. Indeed, there are nice things in this country you just have to know what you are looking for.
What are some of the fashion shows that you have paraded your work?
Actually, none. I used to get a lot of invites but I always felt like I was not ready because the last thing I wanted to do was rush to showcase a collection that’s a flop. However, I hope to fulfill the dream this year since I now understand how to bring emotion and drama to the outfits. Besides, I feel like I am now ready.
How has COVID-19 affected your business?
The pandemic has affected the economy thus getting clients has been a challenge. Additionally, fabric prices have increased since people can no longer import them. Moreover, the lack of fabrics really affects business, but, we can only hope that the situation improves. However, something great came out of this period. The pandemic forced us to innovate and think outside the box. The virtual show would not be as successful if everything was normal. Hence, I am grateful for the opportunities it brought as well.
How is your experience in designing wedding attires for the brides’ maids?
It is fun and a lot of pressure working with the bride. I mean, it’s Africa; you get married once so you have to ensure that you give someone a special look on their special day.
Which design would you recommend to new customers to try out?
For starters, I would like to know the kind of event you are going to, your body type, your color complexion and personality since the dress speaks for you. Therefore, based on all those factors, I can see what to recommend.
Any advice for upcoming designers
I think I’ll say something that I missed out on and I wish I knew. Fashion is a very glamourous industry and I feel like sometimes, that is what attracts many people. However, behind the scenes has equally as much work. Therefore, it is always better when you know what you are getting yourself into because if you get in it for things like money and the glamorous lifestyle, you will definitely give up when it gets hard.
Additionally, I feel like people need to know that it does not get easier; instead, it gets harder and the reason is that you keep growing and getting attention. As a result, many people have their eyes on you and as such, you do not have room to make mistakes. Therefore, you have to be confident in your work and have passion. Moreover, you need to know that not everyone will like your work and it is fine. Nonetheless, for sure, you will have people who will love your work and root for you.