Fashion Show and Entrepreneurship Reception Chargé Trish Mahoney

Chargé Trish Mahoney November 21, 2015, 7:00 p.m. 

U.S. Embassy, Kampala, Uganda

Good evening! I am honored to welcome you to the embassy tonight and I am thrilled to host all of you for the second Skilled Expressive Entrepreneurial Design show, also known as the SEED show, to celebrate Global Entrepreneurship Week.

While tonight is a fun evening, there’s more to this event than the pleasure of seeing the color, creativity, and beauty of the new designs we’ll preview shortly.  Fashion is also about expressing an idea, communicating a vision, and making a statement.  It is a reflection of society that evolves with generational shifts and changing social norms.  In other words, fashion tells a story of who we are and who we aspire to be, and at times reflects our values and our beliefs.

Equally important, fashion is big business.  Uganda needs more businesses to ensure a sustainable future for you, your children, and your grandchildren. One way to make that happen is for people like you to direct your passion, imagination, skills, and ingenuity toward money-making, job-providing enterprises, like the multi-faceted, multi-billion dollar fashion industry.  We all have to wear clothes, right?  That’s why we host this event during Global Entrepreneurship Week – because the fashion industry will never go out of style, at least as a consumer necessity.

Without question, the fashion industry is a huge contributor to the global economy, creating jobs and revenue in a multitude of economic sectors.  In America alone, we spend more than $350 billion on clothing and footwear annually, and approximately 1.4 million American workers are employed by retailers and others in the fashion world.

Under the U.S. government’s African Growth and Opportunity Act – also known as AGOA – African manufacturers of over 6,000 different products have direct, duty-free access to the largest consumer market in the world – the United States.  And that generally includes finished textile products like the clothing we will see in a little bit. In fact, textile imports to the United States from AGOA countries in previous years amounted to almost $1 billion. There’s no reason why more Ugandans shouldn’t be taking advantage of AGOA to grow their businesses and expand their market reach.

I believe that young, talented Ugandans can and will make their mark on this industry and now is the time to do so.  In July, President Obama attended the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Kenya, where, he stated that entrepreneurship means ownership and self-determination, as opposed to simply being dependent on somebody else for your livelihood and your future.  Entrepreneurship brings down barriers between communities and cultures, and builds bridges that help us take on common challenges together.  One thing that entrepreneurs understand is that you don’t have to look a certain way, or be of a certain faith, or have a certain last name to have a good idea.  For these reasons, encouraging the spirit of entrepreneurship is a key part of America’s engagement around the world.

I would love to see our bilateral economic relationship—which has historically been one of donor and recipient—evolve. In this new phase, commerce and trade would take on increasingly important roles, creating jobs for a new generation and helping to shape the peaceful, democratic, healthy, and prosperous future we all seek for Uganda.

Tonight, helping us reach that goal, we are honored to have with us fashion guru Ras Kasozi (ka-SO-zee) who is a wonderful example of Ugandan success in the fashion industry.  Self-taught, Kasozi had a passion for fashion design from a very young age.  Today he is a globally recognized fashion designer.  His brand, Kas Wear, has been showcased in New York, Canada, and throughout Africa.  Kasozi is committed to sharing his knowledge and experience with the next generation of designers.  His passion is to give back to his community and mentor other promising designers who just need a little boost from someone with industry know-how.

With this in mind, Kasozi kindly agreed to partner with the U.S. Mission on our own little version of Project Runway to promote creative fashion and entrepreneurship.  His goal is to give a platform to other emerging young fashion designers so that they can make connections with counterparts and potential clients.  We are helping them take that first step this evening.

Tonight’s show is the culmination of a series of events that the Embassy has sponsored during the last five months.  In July and August, Kasozi and his team traveled to Gulu, Mbale, and Fort Portal and hosted entrepreneurship workshops highlighting creativity and use of local materials.

During the last three months, the designers came together for business workshops at the embassy.  They learned the importance of branding from industry insiders, Latif Madoi (la-TEEF MA-doy) and Phaoz (FAY-ohz) Fashion King.  Designers Sylvia Owori (o-WOR-ee), Gloria Wavamunno (WAVA-moon-o), and Edward Sempa discussed production and pricing, and the secrets of how to keep customers coming back for more.  Embassy experts spoke about working with the media and the need to network.  The designers also had a blast at Kampala Fashion Week, a first for them all, where they showcased their team creation which is on display here tonight.  But most importantly, they learned about teamwork and have created friendships that will last beyond the show.

Two weeks ago, the designers were given their individual challenge:  to design an outfit representing a U.S. Mission goal in Uganda using an American as their model.  Tonight, they are ready to bring all they have learned together and we hope you like what you see.

This program is a reflection of our strong commitment to supporting young people in Uganda as they seek to build a future in which they can be constructive participants in the nation’s economic development.  I’ve been here for over two years and I can tell you, without a doubt, that the young people I’ve met give me hope for the future of Uganda.

Tonight, through fashion, we will see that dynamism and innovation of Uganda’s youth at work.  In a few minutes, you will see creations by remarkable young Ugandan designers, modeled for you by Americans that work in our embassy but who secretly, I think, are very excited for their turn on the runway.

As you enjoy the show tonight, I hope you will give thought to the U.S. Mission goals that the designs represent.  These goals represent a partnership based on the shared values of peace, freedom, and human dignity.  And it is a partnership reflecting a common commitment to ensure regional peace and stability while building a brighter future for all in the region.

Finally, I hope that you will just have fun; that you will be inspired and excited by these designer outfits and that you will feel the power of the designer’s vision; the power of fashion.

We are proud supporters of this industry but we couldn’t do it alone.  This program brought the industry together to support tonight’s 10 designers.  We thank Kasozi, Madoi, Phaoz, Gloria, Sylvia, and Edward for their time mentoring them during our workshops.  We also would like to thank the Global Livingston Institute for their support for tonight’s event, and to make-up artist, Sylvia Kawalya (ka-WAL-ya), who graciously volunteered to do the American models’ make up tonight.  She did this out of her true passion to support the industry and highlight Ugandan talent.  We thank you all.

Fashion is more than just choosing the right tie, the right dress and shoes, or the right accessories to look “smart.”  Fashion is the manifestation of the passion, hopes, and dreams of our designers and it is their way of telling us who they are and who the youth of Uganda are.  Tonight, I am thrilled we are able to offer a platform to give voice to their vision.

So, ladies and gentlemen enjoy the evening and let’s give our fantastic young designers and their fashionista diplomatic models a chance to show off their skills.

Thank you, and let’s enjoy the show!