Choose a field you love, put your mind to it -Owori

She has come up against all odds to overcome the mentality that women are not cut
out for business. Listening to her speaking about career alongside business moguls;
Sudhir Ruparelia, Patrick Bitature and Robert Ahimbisibwe at the 360 Network ‘Ask
the Entrepreneur’ Forum that took place Thursday evening at Rooftop, I couldn’t help
but admire her charisma. She is stylish, successful, believes a great deal in her
work and herself. Sylvia Owori has done more than people believed she could. Her
break into fashion happened when she took on the challenge of revitalizing the ‘Miss
Uganda Beauty Pageant’, which following her input became one of the most significant
events on the Ugandan social calendar. She revealed her innovative talent by
designing outfits for the contestants of the M-Net Face of Africa. A pioneer and
role model in the East African fashion industry, Owori started Uganda’s first
Fashion House –Sylvie’s Boutique which has a number of shops in up market shopping
centres; Uganda’s first modeling agency – Zipa Models and in 2005 she launched
Uganda’s first glossy women’s magazine, African Woman, which is circulated on a
monthly basis in five different countries. Listening to her talk about her career,
Owori is that woman that every working girl should use as constant reminder that it
is possible to make it in the male dominated business world. Here are excerpts from
her talk at the 360 Network ‘Ask the Entrepreneur Forum’.

Is business just for men?
I don’t believe that. Just look over here; I am a female panelist seated with very
successful people: Sudhir, Bitature, Robert Ahimbisibwe and I’m not intimidated! It
is not easy for a woman in business because if you are married, your husband doesn’t
want you dress well and you go for a business meeting you will look attractive. But
men you need to support your wives, your mothers, your sisters.

Does the fashion business make money?
I started out in 1998 when I came back to Uganda. Everybody wrote me off before I
could even start. They claimed I was bringing clothes to sell to prostitutes. So no
one took me seriously. But no one is naked: in fact, second to food, everybody needs
an outfit to put on. It all depends on how much you want to spend on what you wear.
Right now I can clothe the whole country. So yes, this business makes money!

Starting Capital
I come from a very humble background: my dad passed on when I was little and our mum
had to toil to raise seven of us. So I didn’t have family money but I had a rich
boyfriend. I knew what I wanted to do; he gave me the capital to start out. It is
one thing to have the capital but if you don’t have the skill, you gonna waste it.

About success
I was bold and persevered – I kept pushing! When I started out, I didn’t know much
about the culture of the corporate world. I remember the first meetings, I used to
go in a meeting with a vest and torn jeans – I didn’t know better. I remember some
time after I started out, Sudhir told me something that has become a great
inspiration. He said, “I see a little bit of myself in you!” Every time I feel a
little bit discouraged I tell myself Sudhir believes in you!

Losses and challenges
Anyone successful in business knows there are so many losses and challenges. I have
faced financial challenges and have had to resort to loans sometimes. I learnt at an
early stage that banks give you money if you have money. You have to keep track of
your business expenses and bank your money so that the bank can trust you, should
you ask for a loan.

Prevail over competition
Knowing your competitors is key. Once you do that, you market continuously. Every
industry is different; mine is luxurious and trend based; so you have to constantly
create a brand!

Message to the young women who want to do business
Anyone can do business. You just have to believe in yourself. You have to choose a
field or industry that you love. Don’t just go out there and start business because
you’ll fail. You have to be passionate about what you do and put your mind to it.