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Our Creatives

Five minutes with Asiimwe Brian Sanvra, Sanvra Couture

Asiimwe Brian Sanvra is an aspiring Ugandan designer, who uses his fashion and his talent as a "creative voice" helping him deliver critical social messages to his community and his country. For him, fashion is more than an outfit, and an outfit is more than a combination of garments -- each outfit is a statement about the designer and the wearer's position on issues important to them.
Five minutes with Asiimwe Brian Sanvra, Sanvra Couture

Glitter Trotter: Hello Brian! It’s really great that you had time to talk to me about your brand and your ideas about fashion. Let’s start with you – tell me a bit about yourself and your background.

Asiimwe Brian Sanvra: I am Asiimwe Brian Sanvra. I am a recent graduate of the Records Fashion School in Katwe, Kampala. I am also a founder of a fashion brand called Sanvra Couture.

GT: What does the name of your brand mean?

ABS: I gave the brand my own name because this is my company and my legacy. I wanted to stay original while also highlighting my roots.

GT: Did you always plan to be a fashion designer when you were growing up?

ABS: I definitely always had passion for design and had been inspired by high-fashion brands. When I was a teenager, I got curious about how people make garments and how they combine them into outfits. That’s what eventually led me to the Records Fashion School. It took me a bit longer to graduate than it would normally take – mostly because of the COVID-19 and the 2 years of the on-off lockdown that we’ve experienced in Kampala. But I am really glad I found the School! The environment here is amazing – they challenge you to improve yourself every day, not just as a designer but as a human. Every day you become a better version of yourself. But you are also very well supported – by your teachers and by your fellow students.

GT: Does it not get competitive?

ABS: Oh, it’s very competitive here! You have to up your game every day! But this is what helps you discover your strengths and uniqueness. But aside from being competitive, the school also teaches you how to collaborate with others. You know, a fashion collection is always a product of a group of people, it’s a result of a teamwork. So, we learn how to work together – from doing research to sketching to selecting models to producing garments.

GT: Does everyone at school have their own brand?

ABS: No, this is not a must. But I did start my brand when I was at school. I think I was 19 at the time, maybe even 18. I thought it was important for me to learn some business skills as I am mastering the art of fashion design. I had a lot of ideas about how I would like to be seen/perceived in the market. So, I said to myself, “You know what?! It’s time to test my ideas in the real market.” So, I set up my brand and started promoting it on social media.

GT: This is very brave of you!

ABS: Yes, it was a big push for me. But it paid off.

GT: How so?

ABS: I won the Reconstruction fashion competition at the School – and part of it was because I knew how to promote myself on social media.

GT: Congratulations! Tell me more?

ABS: Well, this is a traditional contest among the students that the School does every year. You have to create and post online several outfits, and then ask people on social media to vote for your outfit. The student with the most votes win.

Normally, for winning this competition, you would receive a certificate of sorts. But this time, the School introduced a range of prizes among which there was a sewing machine. I am really happy I won, because now I have my own sewing machine and I can work on my projects at home as well as in school. I can now accomplish more!

GT: Congratulations once again, and well done for getting a head-start on the social media marketing! We all know how important it is in today’s world! What was your winning project about?

ABS: The project was about the origins of my personal style. For the first outfit, I used Ankole-Watusi cows as an inspiration.

GT: I know them! Those are the famous cows with huge horns, such beautiful creatures!

ABS: Yes, those are the cows – and they were my inspiration, because those are not your regular cows, they are very extra. I am also not your regular, casual dresser and designer. I like my t-shirt rolled, my jacket vintage, and my jeans special. So, I had to allow myself to be free, to be extra and to be comfortable with the way I see clothes – as a designer, and as a person who wears the designs.

My second outfit for the contest was inspired by the Tonic Flower. In Kira where I currently stay, there is a tree covered in tonic flowers – those are a type of lilies. I used these flowers as an inspiration for the outfit that you can dress down for work and then dress up for a dinner afterwards.


GT: So, a kind of day-to-night outfit?

ABS: Yes, exactly. For the third outfit, the challenge was to create an outfit inspired by a drink. I love Coca-Cola, and I also really like the history of the drink. So, I used Coca-Cola for my inspiration for the third outfit.

GT: I really have to see this outfit! I am very much intrigued. But maybe you can describe it for now.

ABS: It’s a fun outfit! I used two colors only – red and maroon. I also used white beads to symbolize the bubbles. Finally, I added a lot of ruffles as a reflection of the movement of the soda in the bottle. And the outfit itself was in a shape of the Coca-Cola bottle. And, of course, I had to have a hat shaped as a bottle cap.

GT: Very creative! I am not surprised you won – those are very creative ideas and outfits!

ABS: I am still surprised and amazed! The competition was very strong! I am really happy I won. But I am most happy about my prize, because having your own sewing machine is definitely a game-changer for me. I am planning to set up my own workshop outside the School, so having a machine is a huge win – it’s a big step in the right direction. Now, I just need a couple more specialized machines – like an overlock, etc. – and I am all set.

GT: I am very impressed about how passionate you are about your work. Tell me, what does fashion mean to you? Why do you think this is the best sector to showcase your creativity?

ABS: I love fashion, I have always loved it. For me, fashion is a voice – this is my way of talking to people about what it important to me, my community, and my country. Poets use their poetry to convey important messages, artists use paint to talk about their thoughts and feelings. I use the art of fashion to create awareness among people of what’s going on around them.

Many people think about fashion as just creating an outfit. For me, it is much more than that. Fashion is art, and it is an important art for our society – I do feel that through fashion we can save lives, if we use it as a tool, as an opportunity to speak up against injustice. This side of fashion means a lot to me.

I want to be able to create outfits that speak for themselves, that can carry your message and raise awareness about important issues. You know how by the way a person dresses you can kind of guess their mood – for example, “oh, she is in a great mood today – she is wearing her favorite color” or “seems like she is having hard time, she does not pay much attention to what she is wearing.” Fashion is art but it is also life, people use fashion to communicate with each other, but a lot of times – such communication is more subconscious than purposeful. I want to use fashion in a purposeful manner – this is what attracted me to Records Fashion School, this is what I was there to learn.

GT: Did you know that you will be taught this at Records Fashion School?

ABS: No, I though they would just teach us how to make a shirt or a dress. But they went deep into this philosophy of fashion right away, and I really liked it.

GT: You mentioned that for each collection you do a lot of research. Can you tell me more about this?

ABS: Sure. I think inspiration comes from knowledge – from those small details about your subject. Let’s take the Coca-Cola dress I was telling you about. I did a lot of research on the history of Coca-Cola as a drink and as a company – what’s their philosophy and values? Why the bottle is this shape? Who invented the drink? Why their marketing campaigns are always about happiness and togetherness? Then I researched all different ways of signaling happiness through clothes – colors, shapes, and so on. Only after I was done with my research and I had a good idea of the message I wanted my dress to carry, that’s when I started sketching the actual outfit.

GT: This is really admirable – just like the fact that a Coca-Cola bottle can be a source of such inspiration. Thank you for sharing this experience with me!

Photo curtesy Records Fashion School

ABS: That was a good project and it helped me to get a head-start on my graduation collection as well. You know, creative people get inspired by Coca-Cola all the time – you can see the drink featured in paintings, installations, talked about by rappers, and so on. In my research, I really wanted to understand that special appeal it has in the creative world. And I think you will find my answers in my graduation collection.

GT: I’ve heard through the grape vines that at School you’ve been always given various creative challenges. What has been the most difficult for you during your studies?

ABS: I think each of the challenges stretched my skills and creativity in a different way. All of them. At some point I was like, “Can I even do it? How can I keep up?!” I was even thinking of dropping out at the beginning, because it was not easy to change my perspective on fashion. I came to learn how to design and produce a dress, yet the teachers were pushing me to use my brain to create stories to accompany each outfit, to have a message for each outfit.

It seemed like to some people this vision came naturally. I had to work hard, study hard, research hard. But I am all the better designer for it. So, I am really glad I persevered.

But back to your question, I think the most difficult outfit challenge for me was the one about finding inspiration in my surrounding. I was just thinking about it, and I was like, “What is there to be inspired about? Fields? Houses? Grass?” But one day, I was returning home from the Fashion School and I saw guys in the field surrounded by those Ankole-Watusi cows. And I went like, “You know what, why don’t I try to make an outfit inspired by the Ankole-Watusi cows?!”

At the beginning, it was just a wild idea. But then I started sketching. My friends from the Fashion School got involved; we started bouncing ideas; they gave me a lot of feedback and guidance. It is really important to have such a trusted group of people around you when you are a creator – they know how to give you honest feedback without hurting your feelings or hijacking your ideas. So, finally it all came together.

GT: And it turned out to be a beautiful and, certainly, very unique outfit. Dare I say, your signature outfit?

ABS: Yes, I think so.

GT: You talked about running your own fashion business. What’s your thinking? What’s your vision for it?

ABS: I am just at the early stages, so I am playing with a lot of different ideas. But the main thing is – I do not want to lose the intellectual creativity that I learned at the Records Fashion School. I know that to have a proper business, you have to think about money and profit. But I would like to figure out how to balance both the profit-making and the creative side of the business. I am happy to integrate some trendy styles and themes in my work, but I do not want to be driven by trends in my creativity – I want to be setting the trends.

So, I am thinking of opening with three different collections. My Ankole-Watusi theme would definitely be one of them. I am not yet sure about the other two – I am still doing my research. But I want each collection to have casual, wearable pieces as well as a few haute-couture, artistic outfits.

GT: So, as a designer – what would you say is your main message to the world and to your people?

ABS: I think it depends on the specific collection. For example, right now I am working on a collection about war – and I want to showcase to people how devastating the effects of war are – on everyone involved in it, whether the fighter, the victim or even a bystander. I want to show the damage a war creates to our identify and to our lifestyle – all through my outfits.

GT: This is a very serious and grim undertaking, but I really appreciate the fact that you devote your creativity, your skills, and your art to taking about such important issues. We definitely need more designers like you to make our world a better place.

ABS: Thank you.