When she returned to Uganda after completing her studies in South Africa, political science graduate Ngyenzi ‘Nunu’ Mugyenyi saw an opportunity in her country’s fashion retail business.
She teamed up with two friends, Angel Kalisa and Janet Mugume, to set up Bold Kampala, a retailer of African fashion. Initially stocking just two designers, today Bold carries products from no fewer than 30 designers from seven African countries.
“I have always been interested in fashion – not the actual design, but the business part of it. I knew a number of good brands that had less exposure than I thought they should. My partners and I saw a gap in the market to develop a retail concept. We decided to create a platform for African designers where we stock, curate and promote African designer labels,” explains Mugyenyi.
Bold’s primary product is clothing, but it also sells handbags, shoes, jewellery, beauty products, and music DVDs that are often accompanied with merchandise – all sourced from African entrepreneurs.
“Some of the designers we work with had no presence in Uganda so they tap into the Ugandan market through us.”
Changing fashion trends
Bold attracts local consumers, as well as expatriates and tourists. Mugyenyi says there is growing interest for African clothing among Ugandan consumers, a departure from previous buying habits.
“A few years ago, wearing African prints was the preserve of our mothers. You had to be a mother of a certain age to wear kitenge. But today people are proud of their heritage,” she explains.
“The African fashion industry is making progress. Designers are proving themselves, and it is becoming more acceptable for a young person to go to fashion school. Internationally African designs and African prints are a big trend. I’m currently based in New York and see people wearing the African print all the time. I think the international interest in African prints definitely played a role in the growing interest among local consumers.”
Mall culture taking shape in Uganda
Another growing trend is the take-off of formal shopping. Bold operates from one of Kampala’s largest shopping centres. The Acacia Mall hosts a number of other fashion chains, including Deacons and Woolworths, regional supermarket Nakumatt and American fast-food operator KFC.
“The mall culture is developing. The standards of malls are getting better and new developments are coming up. We get a heavy footfall in our current location. People who have never heard about us walk by and we tap into that footfall. When we open another store, being strategically located as we are now, will be a major consideration.”
Bold plans to open its second outlet in Rwanda’s capital Kigali in the next 12 months.
Challenges tapping into international markets
Mugyenyi says Bold receives regular requests from consumers in the US and Europe, but entering international markets is a challenge for now.
“The greatest challenge is e-commerce. The cost of shipping to the US, for instance, is higher than the price of what someone orders. So we miss out on some markets altogether. We need to tap into the potential in the global market.”
Managing the business remotely is also a hurdle. Mugyenyi is currently pursuing graduate studies in fashion merchandising and retail management in the US, while one partner is in the UK. The third partner, Angel, is overseeing the business in Kampala.
“Right now we are in and out of the country so that presents challenges logistically, but not ones we can’t overcome. The beauty of having partners is we support each other and we all handle different portfolios. The only challenge is the time difference.”
Highs and lows
The Ugandan compares her journey in entrepreneurship to a roller coaster ride.
“The highs are very high and the lows are very low. We are fortunate there are three of us; we are a support system to each other. To have two people to fall back on makes all the difference – because sometimes it feels like you are carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders.
“In entrepreneurship you have to learn to constantly put out fires, have sleepless nights and to grow a thick skin. It is exhausting – but incredibly rewarding.”