From her days interning under Ozwald Boateng, Gloria Wavamunno has made a name for herself as an innovator of sustainable, inclusive, and cutting-edge fashion. Her namesake brand, GWAVAH, a play on her name, is structured and minimalistic, playing with prints and textiles in a truly avant-garde offering. In her role as either entrepreneur, designer, creative director, or pillar of the fashion industry, she firmly plants the promotion of African designers and cultures at the forefront of her consciousness — imbued with a rare authenticity. Her ready-to-wear label has been showcased at the fashion weeks of Johannesburg, New York, and Paris.
Wavamunno started Kampala Fashion Week (KFW) in 2014, promoting home-grown labels on an international scale, and she is also a founding member of the Ugandan Fashion Council. The annual catwalk event is a fashion week, as it is about the structure focused on numerous seminars, workshops and mentoring programmes offered to local designers, highlighting the capability of the Ugandan fashion scene while also addressing inequalities and skills. Sustainability, whether that of promoting a circular economy or ensuring long-term nourished growth for her local industry, is an integral aspect to her practice and to the benefit of the industry.
Her varied ventures continue to educate, empower, and influence the quality of fashion and production, encouraging stakeholders on all levels. Wavamunno idealistically sculpts and paints with her work, innovating with every swish and twirl, drape and cut. The ethos of sustainability, collaboration and support for local industries is exemplified by her practice. Through KFW she reached and supported many designers, and now through the Fashion Council of Uganda, Wavamuno is focused on bring designers together, to collaborate and to empower the creatives creative industry within Africa.
Who are you?
Oh, wow, I feel like I haven’t answered that for very long time. I’ve totally changed and evolved over the years. I am like an artist, a star-seed, I am super spiritual, a multidimensional, multicultural artist. I breathe and live that identity for myself, being free and exploring the complexities of this world’s narratives. From perspectives of culture, religion, and race, I feel that I can use and make art to combine and bridge the many different identities of this world. I’m a very conscious being, so I am really conscious of my surroundings and environment.
What I make is safe spaces, as long as the ground is safe and it’s open and it’s willing to listen and debate and talk, and then great art emerges. Healing the spaces that have had a lot of trauma and damage through and with art. I love creating spaces. I know it’s a gift of mine, not just for fashion, but I think I know how to create holistic, safe spaces due to my background.
Talk about Kampala Fashion Week?
KFW has always been a multifaced space, which now I can see a lot of fashion weeks are doing. My team are all artists, from set-design to entertainment and art — it was a gathering of expression. I feel like KFW has no limitation of what it keeps mutating into. During this time it has obviously not been about physical shows, but rather about media coverage, networking and sustaining the relationships that we have made over the last few years. The artists that we have worked with and supported, from designers to musicians to painters, we are focusing on continuing our support and giving them further access to grants, opportunities and projects internationally and locally. We’ve been focused on helping support the birth of different people’s businesses.
If shows are necessary in the sense of, if they’re conscious and environmentally friendly and critically needed in some deeper sense or need, then we will go back to shows. I have never wanted to follow the narrative of what people say the fashion industry is. I don’t want to be trapped within the matrix of principles I don’t agree with. Many things need to evolve and change within the industry, sometimes, when left unchecked, without subtlety, the industry can become dangerous and toxic.
Talk about your ready-to-wear line?
My eponymous brand, Gloria Wavamunno, sometimes shortened to GWAVAH for people who struggle, stemmed out of just really wanting to create something inclusive and universal. I feel that I’ve lived multiple existences and that I’ve also shape-shifted in my appearance so many times in my life. From those experiences, I wanted to make clothes that were for every kind of person. I wanted to find the science and technique that I could make clothes that fit any size, any shape, any race, and any figure. From there, I gravitated to the jersey material and that has kind of became my signature.
My work is very much based on holistic premonitions, I am clairvoyant from my mom’s side of the family, I use those gifts to create protective clothing, blessed clothing that has spiritual intent and protection. Clothing that is very about the divine feminine, but also about the divine masculine. An example of this is that I use cowrie shells for their protective and healing abilities as well as their symbolism. Multiple religions and tribes use cowrie shells, and in my tribe, they are used for security and energy cleansing.
Elaborate on your choice of materials?
I have moved from hard to softer fabrics, being able to manipulate the flow of the material, but in a detailed manner. I work with local suppliers, mainly within the Muslim community because they have beautiful jersey material, which they use for their cover-ups. They’re breathable in our equator weather, and easy to play with. My philosophy has always been about evolution, and finding clothes that adapt to your body, that bring out your positive aspects, is a pillar of my brand. I harness my lived experiences and passions to create nonbinary pieces that flow for any occasion.
I love to use whatever is local. I believe it is essential to sustain the local economy, rather than sourcing from China or outside the country. I also work with second-hand clothes, repurposing materials to make jackets and duffel bags, and on and on, all from local second-hand materials. I once used seat covers from boda boda drivers, our motorcycle-taxi-guys, and I made really great duffel bags from them.