Glitter Trotter: Today, we are really excited to welcome the Seamline Atelier team. Thank you for spending your morning with us!
Edward Muyizi: Hello!
Eria Tamale: Hi!
GT: Before we talk about your brand, Seamline Atelier, maybe you can tell me about your personal journeys into the fashion world. I understand that you met at Records Fashion School in Katwe, Kampala. So, maybe let’s start our conversation with your stories on how you got to the school.
EM: Well, my fashion journey started in 2017, when I was in Form 6, in high school. Looking back at my life, I always loved fashion but until I reached Form 6, I was always afraid to stand out. We are a traditional society in Uganda, and children who stand out are labeled “bad children”. Who wants to be a bad child?!
But in 2017, I finally felt I was ready to start expressing myself, including through fashion. I suddenly felt the urge, a drive to be different. I started experimenting with second-hand clothes. There is a market in Kampala called Owino market. I would go there, buy several second-hand pieces, create new pieces of them and then sell to my fellow students.
I remember, one time I made a purse out of a jerrycan (a water tank), that was fun. Another time, I dressed my school friends for a competition, and they won. These small successes inspired me to rethink my career path.
GT: Did that happen in Form 6 or later?
EM: No, actually in Form 4. In the Ugandan educational system, you have to choose your main subjects in Form 4. Originally, I was thinking of combining Math and Economics with Fine Art. But because of my newly-found passion in fashion, I decided to switch to Fashion Design and enter a Fashion School once I graduated high school.
I searched for a Fashion School in Uganda. And I did not want to go to just an average school; I was looking for a school that would feel special, a school with that X-factor, you know?! When I came across the website of the Records Fashion School, I was very impressed with their students’ works. This was it – love at a first sight. That’s how I ended up here.
GT: What a journey! Eria, now it’s your turn.
ET: Well, they called me Shabby Wine.
GT: Shabby Whine? Why?
ET: I used to dress very differently from other students. For example, I would never tuck in my shirt. My classmates never called me Shabby Wine in my face, so I only learned about it after we graduated.
I was drawn to fashion by my desire to be financially stable. I used to buy damaged shoes in the secondhand market, fix then, and sell them to my classmates. I knew that I would be going to a Fashion School when I was finishing Form 6. I found one and enrolled, but it was not a good fit, so I left a year later.
But I still wanted to study fashion, so I was actively looking for a better school. One day, a friend told me about Records Fashion School – I used to pass by that building every day and never knew what was in it. I went to talk to the director and the students at this school; and then I enrolled. I have to tell you – I have never been happier with my decision!
EM: That’s so true! This school gives us a lot – more than any other school we went to before. And that’s where we all met – the original group of four, who formed the Seamline Atelier – the two of us plus Lukeman and Emmanuel.
GT: Men only?
ET: We planned to have girls as part of the team, but we did not find anyone, who shared out ideas and wanted to be a part of our journey.
You know, at the beginning, Seamline was the entire cohort of students, who enrolled with us. For some reasons, our class connected more than any other class before. We were really tight – to the point that we came up with the name for our cohort, the Seamline Atelier.
GT: I see! So the name was originally used by you and your classmates as the name of your class, not as a fashion brand.
EM: That’s right! The Seamline Atelier started as the entire cohort of students, who enrolled in Records Fashion School with us in 2018 – boys and girls, different ages, different backgrounds. So, girls were there at the beginning of our journey.
ET: But then Edward started this conversation about the future, about our vision our ideas, our goals for the future, and what we wanted to do and to be in the fashion world. That’s when the four of us realized that we were meant to carry on with the Seamline Atelier brand – even if it started as a big class, it was always meant to be a fashion brand with a small group of likeminded creators.
GT: It is quite unusual for a cohort of students to come up with a name for themselves. Does every class at the Fashion School has a name?
EM: No, we were the only ones. I don’t want to say we were special, but in some ways we were. We always wanted to challenge ourselves, to be different, to learn and create better than anyone else. We wanted to stand out in a crowd, so to say. We were driven by our passion for fashion, that’s why we started the Seamline Atelier in the very first year of our studies.
ET: In the very first semester.
EM: Yes, that was our first semester. Yes, we already wanted to play in a different league, be at a different level. So, we teamed up, and started reaching out to different organizations trying to interest them in our proposal to create a fashion collection for them. And imagine, the University got interested in our proposal.
GT: Makerere University?
EM: Yes, in 2018-2019 Makerere University wanted to create a collection, where each outfit represented a different value or a concept. For example, there were inclusion, disruption, and similar concepts.
GT: And at the time, were you already working as the Seamline Atelier?
EM: Interestingly, no -- we applied as individual designers. But that project was the first one we did as a team. What happened was, each of us submitted our own vision of the outfit, yet only one outfit was selected for the project – that by Eria. So, we came together as a team to work on that piece, which we called the Rubik’s Cube.
Rubik's Cube outfit. Photo courtesy The Seamline Atelier.
This piece was meant to represent inclusion. It was inspired by the story of our friend, who went through psychological trauma and as a result got addicted to drugs. Eventually, he managed to get rid of his addiction. One thing about him – he always played with his Rubik’s Cube; he was very much attached to that toy. So, we called the outfit the Rubik’s Cube.
The outfit itself consisted of a white jumpsuit with a Cube on top, inside of which there was a little light. On the top, around the light we placed several colored cubes. The jumpsuit represented mental illness. In hospitals for mentally ill, patients typically wear such jumpsuits; doctors use the long sleeve to tie up and restrain people, who have tantrums. We covered the bottom of the jumpsuit with various colors, which sort of melted and mixed together. This was our way to show how messy the life of our friend was, when he was mentally ill. The light on the top is literally the light at the end of the tunnel – we wanted to show hope, the possibility of the new beginning, new life.
Overall, the outfit was showing a journey from mental illness and messy life to the new light, new life – once our friend got cleaned up and back to being himself.
GT: Fascinating! What happened to your friend? Where is he now?
ET: He is an actor; he is doing comedy. He is now clean and living a new life.
GT: I am happy to hear that! Do you remember what were your other ideas for the Makerere project?
EM: Vaguely, to be honest with you. I remember there was something about a fire outbreak. That was a story inspired by an accident in our area – a mother left for work and left her kids in the house. The house caught on fire, and the kids burnt inside.
GT: This is a terrible story!
EM: Yet it was true. This actually happened in my neighborhood.
ET: Another proposal was about one of our dad’s, who got paralyzed in 2002 – his life, how he coped with his limited mobility, his life before this accident.
GT: All these stories are very tragic. Why did you choose them? Why not choose a happy story?
EM: Because for us, fashion is not just about creating clothes – fashion is a voice.
GT: Can you tell me more about that? What does it mean?
EM: Well, for the majority fashion is about creating beautiful clothes. For us, fashion is about bringing to light stories that people would normally ignore – difficult, maybe even scary stories that are nevertheless part of our everyday life. Beautiful clothes often help you escape the reality, hide from what you do not like in your everyday life. Our collection focus on the challenges in our reality – issues that we must address as a society, no matter how difficult they are.
ET: A good example of how we use fashion as a voice is our most recent collection about child sacrifice.
GT: I though child sacrifice was something we left in the past?
ET: So did we, but the COVID-19 lockdown brought it right back. I am not sure if you know, but in Uganda we had almost 2 years of the lockdown. During most of the 2020 and 2021, children were not in school – many just roaming the street in a search for money and food. Children were an easy prey; and the fear during the lockdown meant that the mood among Ugandans was also right for seeking the old, “traditional” ways of attracting peace, health, and wealth. The situation with child sacrifice got really bad in 2021.
EM: That’s right! And that’s what lead us to come out with a new collection that visualized through fashion the stories that us, Ugandans, tried to ignore during this time – the story of a sacrificed child, the story of the mother who lost her baby, the story of the survivor of the sacrifice.
Plucked Rose Collection. Photo courtesy The Seamline Atelier.
GT: A survivor?
EM: Yes. It is possible to survive the sacrifice, to be rescued in time. But the experience lives you traumatized for the rest of your life. This means mental health issues, depression, and addictions – all the problems that come with post-traumatic stress disorder.
One thing I really want to highlight here: We are not creating our collections to scare people; this is not what it’s all about. Our collections are meant to educate people about what’s going on around them, highlight the challenges in our society, and as a minimum start a meaningful conversation on how we can address these challenges. It’s all about brining us together to find solutions.
GT: I am still shell-shocked about the idea that child sacrifice is alive and well in the 21st century. Why do people do it? And who engages in this terrible practice? Who knows about it?
ET: People know, but it is just too difficult and scary to talk about it because as with any “traditional” practices, there are wealthy and powerful people and groups, who enable such practices. Also corruption and bribery allow those, who commit such crimes, to get away from justice – their cases take too long to go to court, there are not enough witnesses who dare to testify against them, there is never enough evidence. We do not see many criminals accused of child sacrifice going to jail. So, people give up. They say, “Why would I even try if nobody’s going to pay for their crimes anyways? Why bother?”
So, our approach to addressing this problem is to educate people. Our collection is a conversation starter. For example, somebody would see it and say, “Yes, this is terrible, but child sacrifice is part of our culture. “Then we can say, “No, you are wrong. This has never been part of our culture. But we can educate you about the roots and the reality of this practice.”
EM: Conversations are important. As long as we keep silent about this problem, nothing is going to change. We just heard about another case of child sacrifice in our area – very recently. When this happens, we always think – somebody should talk about it. But who is that somebody? Why would that not be us? So, yes, we are talking about it – we are using our fashion as a voice and our collection as a prompt for bigger conversations.
ET: Yes, our collection was meant to bring awareness to society, to teach them, to educate them.
GT: Was your collection displayed somewhere?
EM: Yes, at Makerere University. This was one of our first collection, and it did make us know in our community. People started paying attention to our work, and development agencies started contacting us. For example, we showcased our Rubik’s Cube peace at the Fashion Summit in Kampala, which was put together by the Italian Embassy. And then a business entrepreneur bought it and put it in his office, so he can talk about the mental health issues with others and raise awareness about the struggles people with such problems go through. The fact that he purchased the outfit made us really excited – we felt that our work was valued and appreciated by others and that was really important to us.
GT: You felt your voice was heard.
ET: Exactly! Then in 2020, we were invited to take part in the African Union fashion challenge to create an outfit under the theme “Silencing guns in Africa.”
GT: Wow! All your outfits address such topical issues! Did you win the challenge?
EM: We did. And we made the outfit that was showcased as part of the fashion show put together by the African Union. The outfit represented the map of our continent, Africa, and on top of it was a gun with a note calling for people to stop armed conflicts. In addition, we had interlocking rings representing the unity of people. The message of the outfit was, “The reason for the wars in Africa is that we are not united as people. We have the power to silence the guns if we come together to solve our differences in peace.”
GT: This is a beautiful message! And a beautiful outfit. Where did you get the inspiration for the outfit?
ET: We research the African Union and its agenda; we looked at what goals they are aiming to achieve in Africa. And the main theme that we picked up was – they wanted to convene the African leaders to come together in unity and support for each other.
EM: We also researched the meaning of different colors and tries to play with those. For example, the gold in our outfit represented the wealth of Africa as a continent; the green was a reminder of the promise that the AU made to us to rid us of the burden of conflicts. We wanted the outfit to speak about the similarities between our cultures and the fact that our future depends on how we engage as nations.
"Silince the guns in Africa" outfit. Photo courtesy The Seamline Atelier.
ET: This was a very complicated outfit, even though it might not seem as such. We used lace, cotton, satin, and layers of shoe-soles to make the guy. And then we also had a plastic star for each country on the continent.
GT: I am not surprised that you won! You thought through all the details and nuances of the outfit! Does it help to be a part of the team, when putting together such complicated outfits?
EM: Yes, most definitely. We always first think about each challenge independently and come up with our own sketches. Then we come together and jointly select one outfit that is best at addressing the theme of the challenge. We then put our minds together and improve on the selected sketch – we might borrow important elements from other sketches, those that we did not choose. Sometimes, we do two or more rounds of sketching if we cannot agree on one winning outfit.
ET: We always brainstorm together. We start with the big idea and discuss it in detail. Then we try to bring our individual touches to it. But then we discuss each sketch, we share what we like and dislike about it before making the final choice.
EM: But once we select the winning sketch, we all commit to working on this one outfit together. The best thing about our team is that we respect and appreciate each other’s talents. You know how when you work in a group, you eventually notice that some people are more skilled than you in various tasks or more talented than you in some areas? We know each other’s strength and we collaborate, not compete. We learn from each other and learn together; this makes us stronger as a team and helps us produce that “wow!” factor on the runway.
GT: I want to go back to your Child Sacrifice collection. I am not going to ask you about the state of child sacrifice again, I am horrified enough. But after you talked about your “Silencing guns in Africa” outfit and the message behind it, I really want to hear the message for the Child Sacrifice outfits. Can you tell me more?
EM: Yes, of course. We came up with the idea for the collection for one of the assignments at the fashion school. Then came Project X, a Fashion Show that we were invited to participate – and we revived this collection.
As always, we did a lot of sketching; and I came up with the idea of a rose flower – a black, dead rose flower. The rose was a metaphor for a child’s life – when you pluck the rose, you stop it’s blossoming; in the same manner – when you kill a child, you stop him or her from blossoming into an adult, who can bring a lot of beauty and good into their community. Children are our future – by killing them, you are changing how things can be, you are limiting the capacity of human existence.
ET: So, we agreed that in our collection, a child will be represented by a rose; a sacrificed child is a plucked rose. This is how the name of this collection came to be – A Plucked Rose.
GT: What a beautiful story! Keep going.
EM: As we mentioned before, this mini collection has three outfits – the sacrificed child, the mother of that child, and the survivor. It was important for us to show that even though one child might be sacrificed, the act leaves many people traumatized and wounded for life. For a mother, a child is everything – it’s her hope for the future, her joy, her love. So, we used dark colors to show that the loss of a child is always on her mind, in her heart; the mother can never recover from this trauma and depression that is caused by it. Same goes for the survivor of the sacrifice – the mark of the act is on them forever, and they remain broken forever.
ET: This topic is really important to us, so much so that we want it to live beyond the runways. We want to put together a story about the impacts of child sacrifice on our communities – with testimonials of people, who witnessed or experienced this – and we want to take it on a tour around the country to rase awareness and spark national conversations to stop child sacrifice in Uganda.
GT: So, you want to do a national tour?
EM: Yes, we do. We believe that people, who are on social media and smartphones are not the ones, who perpetuate this “tradition.” Most people involved in the sacrifice are uneducated people in the villages. And the only way for us to reach them and educate them is by physically going there and showcasing our collection.
GT: This is a very noble idea.
EM: Also to make this collection authentic and truly Ugandan, we used a lot of bark cloth in the outfits. The bark cloth was especially great for the plucked rose – it helped us bring out the rough texture and the depth of a dying flower.
ET: We also used maize sacks for some elements of all three outfits. They are shapeless and very rough – they were great for representing the loss of identity and the damages done by the trauma. Since the sacks were brown originally, we had to dye them. We managed to find a perfect shade of brownish red to represent dried blood. All of our outfits had elements dyed in this color, which brought the collection together.
EM: We learned some other tricks as we were working on this collection and presenting it to the public. For example, the outfit of the sacrifice survivor was dripping blood as he was walking down the runway.
GT: This is horrifying, but I bet it brought the message straight home to the people at the show.
EM: I think it made it real. There are some other small cultural elements in all outfits. For example, we used cowry shell to show that in most cases a child is sacrificed for wealth – people who do it, hope the act will bring wealth to their household. In Uganda’s culture, a cowry shell is a representation of wealth. And we had a supporting video with testimonies from various people across Uganda. IT was a good show, it was very real.
ET: I fell it even changes us as a team. Of course we knew that this was going on. But until we heard the stories of the survivors, we did not truly understand how serious this was. So, this collection was a dream come true – we wanted to use fashion to change people, to change our society; the collection changes us, and we believe many people also started thinking about this issue differently.
GT: It must feel great to be living your dream! And now, what’s next for the Seamline Atelier? I know you want to take your Plucked Rose collection on a national tour. Any other plans beside this?
EM: We want to drive a Fashion Revolution in Uganda; we want to see our country and represent it in a new way – the way it deserves to be seen by people around the world. We want Ugandans to be proud of its sector of fashion and design, and we want this industry to be a leader in creating jobs.
Glitter Trotter outfit. Photo by Grace Mugume
ET: All of our work and our collections – we don’t do them just because we can. We want to see this industry change our economy and our society. We want to live in a country, where people trust each other, treasure each other’s lives, support and love each other. That’s why we create our collections.
EM: We also want people think about the Fashion industry as a serious industry – an industry that’s not just about tailoring and stitching, but about social, cultural, and economic change.
One of the biggest challenges any student at the Records Fashion School has experience is getting the approval of your parents. Our parents do not believe that a person can earn meaningful, honest income in the fashion industry – nor do they believe that fashion is truly benefitting our society. We want to change that. We want our parents to be proud of us, to see that we are going places through our hard work and dedication just as professionals do in any other “respected” industry.
ET: We also want people in our country to learn to appreciate and understand art. Surely, it is difficult to talk about art in a society, where people do not have money to buy food. And a lot of times, we hear people say, “Art is no good because art does not pay.” And yes, sometimes people criticize our collections, they say, “Where would I wear something like this? What’s use of this outfit?”
We want to change this perspective and teach people to appreciate art, and our work as part of it, for what it teaches your brain and your soul. We want people to also see that art and fashion are about communication – and every outfit that you see people wearing in the streets communicates something about them, about us as a country, about our history and our lifestyle.
EM: Yes, we hope people will understand that and will embrace our style and identity in fashion. You know, people often call us weird because they don’t understand our fashion. We make avant-garde, nontraditional pieces. Collections like ours – outfits with stories – are celebrated in other places in the world. For example, one of our role models – Alexander McQueen – is a renowned designer, whose works are displayed in museums. We are not saying we are ready for the museums, but we are hoping for more understanding, appreciation, and support from our communities.
ET: We are slowly gaining support in our community – there was recently a blog about our collection, which was great. People are asking about our work and paying attention. I think we just need to stay the course and stay true to our values and our vision for fashion, and we will make the change happen.
GT: I am rooting for you, team Seamline!
EM: Thank you!
ET: Thank you!