By Robert K James
Hereâ€™s a name to reckon with in Ugandaâ€™s bridal fashion industry today but make no mistake, she is also perfect for event dÃ©cor as well as bridal makeup. Itâ€™s a sunnyÂ Tuesday morning, about a quarter to noon when I walk into Suzan Kiraboâ€™s office, â€œSUKI The Out Fit Destinationâ€. Located along Sir Apollo Kaggwa road, en-route to a place many campusors hail from, the famous Makerere Kikoni.
As I settle in for our interview, I canâ€™t help it notice her phone buzzing almost every second, with clients calling in for their appointments, others asking for the location of her office and as an event planner, calls about upcoming events. A long gold and white dress that adorns a manikin in her office gives you a clear picture of what good seamstress she is.
Suzan Kirabo Mukiibi Nambalirwa, a former fashion student at Makerere University is today one of Ugandaâ€™s top bridal fashion people with 10 years of experience in the industry. When she starts to speak about fashion, her lips part in a huge smileâ€”her passion for fashion is just natural. Suzanâ€™s journey into fashion started a decade ago inside the small rooms of Sir Pinto hostel in Makerere Kikoni.
â€œI started fashion back in 2007 inside my hostel room while I was still a student at Makerere University but my lecturers didnâ€™t know that I was already into business. They only learned of it later when they saw me in the papers,â€ she says.
However, Suzan reveals that her love for fashion and design started at a very young age in Seguku at her parentsâ€™ home. â€œWhen I was a little girl, I used to admire brides. Every Saturday morning, I would stand on the main road (along Entebbe road) and wait for bridal cars to pass. I told myself that â€˜one day it will be me designing those people and organising their events,â€ she reminisces with a glowing face.
â€œI used to design my own church clothes and whenever I would go to church, big people would say â€˜wow, youâ€™re smartâ€™. Although I didnâ€™t know how to cut and fit the pieces, I would come up with the design and then disturb one of my motherâ€™s tailors (who now works for me) to fit the dresses.â€
I ask Suzan about who inspired her into fashion and she says that, over the years, a lot of people have inspired her into fashion but most of the credit goes to her dad, mum and her art teachers at St. Maryâ€™s Kitende.
â€œMy dad was an artist. He used to do art and modeling. He does more of interior design and not to mention, my mum. My mum had that thing I have right now. She would love organising her friends, her sistersâ€™ functions and make sure they are all dressed to kill. Art is in blood,â€ she smiles.
Suzan Kirabo Mukiibi Into Business
Suzan acknowledges that the start of business back in 2007 wasnâ€™t easy at all. â€œSometimes my machine would break down and I had no car so I had my boda-guy, who used to take me to have it repaired. In fact, weâ€™re still in touch,â€ she recounts.
Treating herself as her first client, Suzan later started making clothes for her friends before landing a few clients from Standard Charted Bank. With this small clientele, itâ€™s her exceptional work that further marketed her through those very people.
â€œI remember I got a client called Irene Musoke (she was a ministerâ€™s daughter or something) and she connected me to many clients. So sometimes clients would come to theÂ hostel and couldnâ€™t even fit. The room was a bit congested with a bunch of clothes,â€ Suzan recollects.
When Suzan graduated in 2009, she opened her fashion house along Sir Apollo Kaggwa Road in a single room but has since expanded into bigger space as she ventured into event decorations, bridal makeup and event planning.
â€œMy first bride was a lady that worked at NSSF. I made her introduction dress and she liked it so much that she asked me to work on her wedding. To do the maid dresses and the changing dress,â€ she says.
â€œI did fashion first but my clients pushed me into event dÃ©cor and makeup. But all in all, itâ€™s the touch of art that helps me reach another thing I want.â€
Suzan Kirabo Mukiibi, The Mother & Wife
Suzan Kirabo Nambalirwa, a charismatic Catholic is married to Robert Mukiibi, a water and construction engineer, who is also in the tour and travel business. She delights in being a mother of two, a girl, Kerstin Nabantanzi Mulungi, four years old and Killian Mukiibi, a boy of three.
â€œI met Robert at a friendâ€™s workplace. Then he called me and heâ€™s a very funny person,â€ she recalls. Suzan passionately speaks about her husband, who she says has been so supportive of her career, no wonder she said â€˜Yesâ€™ without hesitation when he asked for her hand in marriage.
Suzan introduced her sweetheart to her family, relatives, and friends on February, 12th 2011 at her auntâ€™s place in Ntinda. Five months later, Robert walked her down the aisle at Rubaga Cathedral on July 16th and hosted their guests at St. Kaloli, Ggaba where they had their reception.
However much her work is so demanding, Suzan spares time for her familyâ€”to be a mother and a wife. â€œWhen itâ€™s time for family, I donâ€™t pick phone calls. Itâ€™s just me, my kids and my husband. I take my kidsÂ for swimming, go out for dinner with my husband and maybeÂ even go for a trip, either in January or February when there arenâ€™t so many events.â€
Beyond her love for work and family, Suzan is a very prayerful person.
Advice to couples planning to get married
As an event planner with plenty of experience in the fast-growing industry, Suzan has some advice for couples planning to tie the knot. â€œI would advise couples planning to get married not plan anything if theyâ€™re not in love. They have to be in love because I have seen people here not in love but planning events and I ask myself WHY?â€
â€œCouples planning their events should take time when choosing their service providers. I advise them to use wedding companies and service providers that have a name to protect. Many people have been defrauded over the years and even as we speak simply because they trusted the wrong people,â€ she adds.
Opinion about Mikolo
â€œMikolo is a very good platform for all service providers here. And like I said earlier, brides-to-be should work with genuine people or businesses (like those listed under Mikolo).â€