Uganda’s Alisham Kibirige Features On Al Jazeera’s – My Eid Outfit

6 min read

Al Jazeera asked a question to different parts of the world ahead of the Muslim festival saying “What are you wearing for Eid?” Luckily enough Uganda’s Alisham Kibirige made it on the list of those that displayed their beautiful garments. Below is her story with Al Jazeera

Kampala, Uganda – On the top floor of a grimy shopping plaza in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, Alisham Kibirige delicately slides a piece of silky silver fabric under the needle of her sewing machine. Pop-art posters of Marilyn Monroe compete with shocking pink graffiti on the walls while an array of colourful Islamic clothes dangle from hangers beside the mirror.

Three years ago, Alisham was an IT student in northern India trying to work out what to do with her life. Surrounded by beautiful fabrics and sari-clad women she ended up buying a sewing machine, staying up late at night teaching herself how to sew.

When she got back to Uganda, she started a business. Lacking the funds to launch a proper advertising campaign, the 24-year-old wandered around Kampala in her creations and posted pictures of herself on Facebook as a way to market her latest designs.

Orders started flowing in, but her big break was at the 2014 annual Ugandan hijab fashion show where her “showstopper, half-drape” abaya of lemon yellow and aquamarine blue was featured in a prominent local newspaper.

“Everyone loved it”, she tells Al Jazeera. “I sold 30 of them. The show was a very good platform for me.”

As a specialist in Muslim fashion, the run-up to Eid is Alisham’s busiest time of year. In 2015, she had crowds of customers spilling out of the doorway of the tailor shop she shares with two other young women.

“We worked more than we have ever worked, till we couldn’t feel our fingers or even stand”, she says.

Since her childhood, growing up with the austere “sharia dresses”, as she calls them, that were then customary for Uganda’s 14 percent Muslim minority during Eid, she has been on a mission to bring back some colour to the festivities.

“I felt so oppressed”, she says. “They were always the same colour; there was no fashion. We used to think the sharia [outfits] were the only thing we could wear on Eid. But Muslim girls love to shine”.

For the younger generation at least, her new direction seems to be taking hold, and her design label, Shoooh, is going from strength to strength.

“Peach is really trending this year”, said a local hijab stylist who had come to check up on an Eid outfit being made for her sister. As she waited, she flicked through pictures of the latest outfits from Turkey and Dubai on Alisham’s iPad, which she leaves on the coffee table atop a pile of old issues of Cosmopolitan magazine.

It’s the embrace of colour that sets Ugandan Islamic fashion apart from other countries, said Alisham, who wears a blue floral headscarf with faux gold bangles at her wrists, and matching earrings and necklace.

“Ugandans love glitter and bright colours,” she added.

This year, her hopes for Eid sales are pinned on an elegant number in teal green as well as a mustard yellow dress that has already sold many copies. Her only sadness is that, with the business growing so rapidly and customers forever demanding new outfits, she has little time to make clothes for herself.

“Eid is a spiritual, emotional time when I feel closest to God,” she said. “But for me, it will be a day of rest”.

Credit: Al Jazeera

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