Santa Anzo Discusses How to Keep the Fashion Industry Afloat in Times of COVID-19 on NTV’s The Link
NTV-Uganda first went on air in December 2006, and has since then established itself as one of the most trusted media and news sources in East and Central Africa. With quality TV programming and a line-up of programmes made up of the latest awards winning international shows as well as local programmes, it reaches a versatile audience, whilst always staying true and dedicated to quality journalism through programmes such as The Link. Focusing on important topics and questions concerning the African economy, The Link invites experts from varying business backgrounds to discuss currently pressing issues. "The fashion industry is one industry that has been hit very hard and despite the lifting of lock downs, people, it seems, are not buying clothes. So, how does the industry stay afloat and how does it stay relevant during times of crisis?," NTV’s The Link wanted to know.
On Wednesday, August 26th, Santa Anzo, founder and president of Uganda International Fashion Week and ARAPAPA, joined Samuel Ssettumba to offer answers to this very question. The first thing he wanted to know was, "how are things fairing in the fashion world?"
"Tough, very tough, but promising," Santa replies, confidently. "Fashion and clothing has been declared, for the very first time in the history of this country, as the second most important economy by his excellency the president, and that is in line with the World Bank strategy as well as the African Development Bank. So, despite the challenges, there has never been a better time to talk fashion and clothing and, especially, the business behind it. We are hopeful," Santa Anzo smiles.
Samuel Ssettumba is quick to appreciate her optimism, but points out that people aren't buying anything. "Ah yes, very little. Numbers have really dropped to maybe 5%, and we've had to cut the number of our employees, but at ARAPAPA we don't give up - come rain, come shine, we must walk through the murkiest waters," Santa explains. This positive and determined attitude is one Ssettumba is eager to discuss, considering young fashion entrepreneurs are influenced by, and listen to Santa. He wants to know, how does fashion adapt during this time? Even at 5%, ARAPAPA is still moving forward, how does one adapt?
"A lot of cuts," she sighs. "Of course we know, globally, around 90% of all fashion businesses have been very negatively affected by COVID-19 – factories have closed in Asia, in China; in Italy there have been lots of closures, lots of factories, manufacturers, even producers and fashion designers. The first to be hit were the retailers like ARAPAPA, all our investments went down the drain, we had to move to the factory again - and that has happened in the USA, in Germany - the biggest economy in the EU - in Paris, you know, all over. Fashion is adapting in two ways: some have given up and gone into other ventures, whatever brings them back on track; but people like myself, don't give up, so what we've done, is we've moved online. We are selling more online, we are interacting, we are keeping ourselves alive. You may not necessarily buy the product, but you will buy the brand - you will see ARAPAPA, you "like" it and you keep it going. So, I would encourage young people, the up and coming fashion designers and even those who are established, to just keep on rolling. Tough times never last, but tough people do," Santa insists.
Ssettumba reiterates the importance of continuing to push the brand, "don't let people think you have died because when this thing goes away, they need to come back and find you. That's very critical.", Santa agrees. "That's why keep reinventing ourselves; we have gone online, we have also gone to our clients to say, 'look, you may not necessarily want to be exposed to the crowds at the malls, so come to our outlet.' And we have found that our clients are within a very special niche, they are not showy people and have a very busy lifestyle. When they come to our outlet there's almost no one, there's no one watching - they come in, get fitted, get measured and are left in peace. They are even working while they're with us so, there's a lot of adaptability but, also, re-imagining ourselves for the future."
Ssettumba appreciates the fact that ARAPAPA has gone on to tap into a specific clientele who like certain things, and recognizes the importance of targeting them now. "They have always been our target audience," Santa explains, "we have always attracted people who are very confident of their African-ness or their Uganda-ness, and they want to showcase this in their dress code." This leaves Ssettumba with the burning question – how do you reach this audience online? "I know for a fact, from the research we are sharing on an international forum with global fashion designers, that, it is very true that many online retail stores - especially in Dubai - have closed down, and that means everywhere else too. Because people are not buying clothes right now. People are buying essentials and, although we are the second most important survival economy, food and health are number one. People are buying food and pharmaceuticals, medication, exercise, they are feeding their minds spiritually, they are praying more and reading more uplifting books. Hence, at the end of the day, you don't want to assert yourself so much as to insist - buy me, buy me, buy me. That's very insensitive at this time because our pockets are limited. Ultimately, what we are trying to do is to feed our clients on an emotional and mental level. We want to communicate the brand but at the same time we want to tell them - we value you more than the money you give us."
"How can a small business – not a big brand like you – get people to buy a few dresses so that they can have money for food?", Ssettumba wanted to know. Santa, who’s brand ARAPAPA translates to “butterfly” in her mother tongue, is quick to answer. "This is a time for us to birth new ideas, new strategies, and also new products. Now, to the small businesses: don't rush it. Be careful - we are in a part of the world where there is very little mentorship and genuine, honest advice, especially from competitors. Based on my experience, my advice is to go very slow, don't invest big - especially in things that will take money out of your pocket like rent, for instance. Start small - small does not have to be significant, it can be very valuable and very wise."
"Does the COVID situation redefine anything for the fashion world? What has changed, what can we learn from?" Ssettumba poses the final question of the interview. "COVID has come with so many challenges but, like I said, I am a very optimistic person and, from the word "go", the minute the government announced a national lockdown, my paradigm shifted," Santa admits. "I had a very quick paradigm shift and I thought, 'Santa, this is the time to launch into a new territory.' And so, we have new opportunities. Why did we close? We could not get our suppliers to supply us with fabric in a timely manner; we had a new line coming from Milan that died a natural death - we couldn't even reach the supplier. So, I thought, 'OK, my livelihood depends on my suppliers in Italy, in Dubai, in South Korea, all over the world? No! This must end. My life cannot depend on fabrics I get from Nigeria or the Ivory Coast or the Netherlands. No - I must make myself sustainable.' We as fashion designers need to write to the government and the president and push to reactivate. Let us relaunch ourselves as brands "Made in Uganda", wear outfits from fabrics made here. There should never be a time again in this lifetime, where we depend on others. We should produce our own fabrics and we should make our own clothes, and we can make it happen right here in Uganda."