Sophia Adengo Founder of Fashion Brand Ankara Kampala

Sophia Adengo has lived many media lives. She was an effervescent on-air personality throughout Africa before coming over to the side of fashion. Adengo provided live updates and coverage on international news affairs and breaking news from across West and sub-Saharan Africa for various international broadcasters, like China Central Television (CCTV News), the South African Broadcasting Company (SABC News) as well as the Turkish Radio & TV Corporation (TRT News).

“I was a broadcast journalist traveling around Africa and had a profound awakening. I had unconsciously been carrying around notions that are quite common around the world about Africa—as one stuck in poverty ... and conflicts. I was quickly confronted with rich diverse cultures, music, fashion, art...and visual inspiration in a wildly complex continent. That experience shaped the beginnings of Ankara Kampala, so I decided to follow my passion for textile and fashion design.”

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OPENLETR: Where do you see the Ankara Kampala brand in the next five or ten years?

Sophia: Hopefully, in the next 5 years our clothing will be worn all around the world, and I know that may sound cliché, but we want other cultures to recognize the beauty and value of "Adire" (hand dyed fabric from Nigerian ethnic Yoruba tribe) or "Ankara," and say "oh yeah that’s authentic African print!"

Sophia: Instagram is really a fantastic visual platform that quickly reaches the world with ideas in seconds. I find Instagram to really narrow the gap in perceptions about other cultures around the world.

OPENLETR: And what is the overarching philosophy governing your Instagram?

Sophia: With one swipe, you can literally travel the world and get a sneak peek into cultures you aren’t readily very familiar with like Africa. So Instagram for Ankara Kampala is a connector of Africa and African fashion to the rest of the world -- while still having fun of course. Instagram is a vehicle to bridge to a cultural gap.

Adengo’s move to the fashion side of business from broadcasting was magnificently well-timed. She got into fashion just as Black Panther became a global phenomenon, highlighting the importance of African style.

Sophia: Where do we begin ... I don’t think the world was necessarily ready for this level of black expression, but it was time. Although Wakanda is African alternate reality, every African person who watches the film shares a familiarity with each of those characters and their setting.

Black Panther costume designer Ruth E. Carter, who worked on Amistad, Roots, and Selma, was inspired by the Maasai, Suri, and Northern African Tuareg tribes. She is universally recognized as revolutionizing and demystified African fashion.

Sophia: Black Panther was able to unravel a skewed perception of what Africa is – through its costume design. In simpler terms, Ruth E. Carter did the damn thing! The designs spoke a language of dignity, and challenged us as African designers not to always conform to one style of fashion, but rather embrace who we already are.

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OPENLETR: So, what will be the ultimate impact of Black Panther on fashion? 

Sophia: The global impact of the costumes was beyond 'us' looking good, it was poetic justice.” Wakanda forever!

OPENLETR: And into this brave, new pro-African stylistic context, how does Ankara Kampala fare?

Sophia: Ankara Kampala was born out of a latent sense of fashion activism. As a Ugandan born writer, I often have wondered why these amazing fabrics, colors, and designs that I grew up admiring on the women of my life are not on the fashion runways. Of all the permutations of fashion, how can Ugandan innovations be entirely absent?

Kampala is the capital of Uganda where I was born, and is often referred to as the city of seven hills close to Lake Victoria ... our claim to fame is the equator, so it’s tropical all year round. The city is young and vibrant with a fast expanding middle-class and growing potential for local fashion designers to gain international recognition.

The biggest endorsement so far has come from Vogue Italia who recently profiled our top designers at the annual Kampala Fashion Week. Countries like Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa have mastered the art of developing a high profile fashion industry, whereas we, here in East Africa, are catching up. That’s what makes this process so exciting, we're trailblazing!"

OPENLETR: How would you describe Ankara Kampala, a Uganda-centric brand, to a newbie to African fashion, perhaps one turned on to Afro-style through Black Panther?

Sophia: Ankara Kampala aesthetic is strongly Afro-centric, but can be worn by just about anybody. What makes our brand so unique is each design concept demands high production quality. This has become a personal value. That is the challenge to compete favorably alongside more recognizable labels across the world.

Adengo is currently working with young craftsmen from Nigeria, Ghana, DR Congo, and Kenya to achieve this goal.

Sophia: And being able to provide a means of income for tailors, models, photographers, and other creatives to further distances the idea that we cannot do for ourselves.

OPENLETR: Are you optimistic about the future of your brand?

Sophia: Did I mention Africa's fashion industry is estimated to be a 30 billion dollar industry annually - story for another day!


Photo courtesy of Ankara Kampala