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Craze for Customised T-Shirts Gives Ugandan Artists More Cash

Derrick Pwoch, an artist at Makose Art and Design shop in Gulu City, says he started getting orders for customized t-shirts three years ago. Before then, he could only print words on T-shirts for schools, organizations and other institutions.
01 Dec 2021 17:04
A lady wearing a personalised T-shirt. Photo by Caroline Ayugi

Audio 3

When Alfred Oryem and his wife just started dating, he bought two t-shirts and printed  “king” on one and “queen” on the other for him and his date, respectively. This was to echo what kind of treatment they each expected from the other.  

During their wedding, about two years ago, they chose six bridesmaids and six groomsmen to don t-shirts inscribed with things each should do to steer their marriage… “honour her, trust her, please her, protect her and love her.”  “Inspire him, honour him, love him, encourage him, cherish him and trust him.”   

For Oryem and his wife, the words they printed on the t-shirts were what they considered the attributes of a happy home, such as love, respect and trust. “The words were a reflection of our feelings for each other, our journey to the altar and expectations in the years to come as a married couple, “Oryem said.  

Besides these expectations, Oryem said they also wanted to “own” their wedding, by having something specifically and uniquely designed for their occasion.  “We wanted something we could identify with and be proud of. So, we even customized the water bottles with specific words we chose from the Bible.   

The love for customised made t-shirts with catchy words is now a common sight among Ugandans. Some of the lovers of such t-shirts explain that they choose such words to express their feelings, towards their partner, dreams and expectations and even love for a football star.   

Derrick Pwoch, an artist at Makose Art and Design shop in Gulu City, says he started getting orders for customized t-shirts three years ago. Before then, he could only print words on T-shirts for schools, organizations and other institutions.

Pwoch reveals each month he gets between 200-300 orders for customized t-shirts. He says people choose words to be printed on t-shirts depending on what they are doing or to express in writing what they can’t, verbally.  

//Cue in; “Amaro timo…

Cue out…even do their marketing.”//  

This trend is good business for the artist who is sure of at least UGX 2 million from such orders only, per month.   

Patrick Ocan an artist at Ginger Artist in Kitgum municipality has been in the business for 10 years. But since four years ago he started seeing a growing trend in customized t-shirts with each season bringing equal or more clients.  

//Cue in; Jami macalo meno…

Cue out…about ten of them.”//  

Fred Olwata, the founder of OLW Trust Garments located in Equatorial Mall in Kampala, who gets between 40-50 orders for such t-shirts each month, says the growing love for customized t-shirts is to identify one’s tribe and give them a sense of belonging.  

//Cue in; “Normally dano coyo…

Cue out…that sense of belonging.”//  

Besides clients coining their own words to be printed on t-shirts, says 90 per cent of the words on customized tee shirts are inspired by events, thus, are printed by his company before clients even order.   

For instance, a day after the bomb explosion, on November 16th, Olwata says his workers had already printed 20 t-shirts inscribed with writings about the tragic event.  “If tomorrow something happens, then we jump onto that as well. It is all about being creative,” Olwata says.   

He says the price of customized t-shirts ranges from UGX 20,000 to UGX 50,000, depending on the quality of the T-shirt.   From displaying ones’ roots, tribe, residence, birth date, birth order etc., t-shirts have not only become a form of identification or a platform for communicating but an ideal place to scream one’s thoughts to the public- without saying a word. 

Colin Symes, an author and independent researcher from Australia in his article; Keeping Abreast with the Times: Towards An Iconography of T-Shirts, notes that clothes don’t only cover the anatomy, but reveal much more about the person’s drives and inclinations, internal state and external status.   

“Nowhere is this more evident than in that most linguistically direct of garments, the t-shirts embellished with slogans and images of various kinds.”