Up the road from Kisementi in Kampala, Bukoto Street is known by many, but until now more for the number of corporate services (and strangely, dentists’ surgeries) along the street. However, it now houses a hidden gem for retail enthusiasts. Two minutes from the new Acacia Mall, Plot 50 Bukoto Street is a new space in Kampala, hosting two fabulous stores under one roof. Kampala Fair and Good Glass, social enterprises producing different but equally high quality products. Both been selling at local fairs, markets and homes for some time, but have now teamed up to take the plunge into formal retail. In my opinion, they should have done it ages ago!
Plot 50 is a sweet little house slightly set back from the road with an inviting garden and an open verandah with a cozy couch to tempt you to stay for a while. It is light, airy and laid back, with lovely wood interiors designed and built by Kevin Sutton Design. The welcoming scent of Kigezi Special Coffee brewing in the corner greets us as we walk in. Molly, the new guard puppy, is delighted to see us, but is ushered out before she becomes too much of a distraction. They still have the cutest little rabbits – called Freckle and Dash, but don’t ask me which is which – hopping happily on the front lawn.
Both shops have much to say for themselves. Kampala Fair is a riot of colour, displaying well-cut women’s and children’s clothes in countless African print fabrics. There is truly something for everyone, from the stylish and relaxed everyday Signature range, to the stunning Angelique bow and Sophia dresses (the latter named for Sophia Loren, who apparently said ‘Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.’ That woman is my kind of lady). Their incredibly beautiful rugs, round and rectangular, will find a place in every home. When I wanted to try on a dress, I was shown a large, light-filled room with large mirrors. Exactly the kind of dressing room that makes you want to try on a few more items as there’s room to move and plenty of attention from the shopkeeper to get you the perfect size and cut.
The understated simplicity of Good Glass’s beautifully designed household items, made from carefully recycled glass rescued from landfills, is a lovely contrast. There are two one-of-a-kind chandeliers decorating the shop, both products of Good Glass. They can even design and install one for you in your own home. If you’re looking for gifts, look no further! Good Glass carries something for everyone on your list. Even tough to shop for men enjoy the unique tumblers for their beverage of choice. Good Glass also makes custom wind chimes that you can personalize for birthdays, weddings or just for fun. If you have special bottles, you can bring them in and have them made into your choice of product just for you, or you can donate your old bottles to Good Glass (just drop them at the shop) to recycle and help do something to ease the way rubbish is managed in Kampala.
Between them, they offer a range of fashion and houseware that really have something different. But I also wanted to know how and why Kampala Fair and Good Glass had set up in the first place. Both businesses were founded to provide work in a city that just doesn’t have enough for the many people looking for jobs. Kampala Fair was the vision of Mette Islandi, a Danish designer with a professional background in vocational training. It’s now owned and run by two entrepreneurs: Mette and fellow director Louise Graymore, a British marketing and management professional. They employ tailors, rug makers, and more recently two office workers (who may sit at computers but at least get to look at colourful fabrics some of the time). Good Glass is owned by Angela Inglish, an American NGO worker turned businesswoman who also teaches yoga classes at various locations around town. Good Glass has a wonderful team of eight employees, all with their own unique skills along the production line and their own insight into the way the business can grow.
‘We want to give people work, and we want it to be high quality, which means decent pay and working conditions, skills training, and meaningful things to do. We’re proud of the fact that the people who work for us are proud of what they do – it’s a great feeling .” So says Louise when I talk to her, and I wonder aloud what else is great about working out of Plot 50?
For Mette, it’s a joy to work with the African print fabric that Kampala Fair uses to make both its fashion and home ranges. “I buy all our fabrics in the markets downtown, and sometimes it feels like walking into a candy store: the colours are so vivid and the colour combinations so daring, it’s really exciting to see them. There is subtlety too – not everything is ‘in your face’ – and, sometimes, some surprising designs.” Louise chips in to agree: “I’m not a design person, but my favourite so far has been one called ‘Michelle Obama’s Handbag’!” Then comes the thinking: which fabric would look best for which design. Michelle Obama’s Handbag was used to make a cushion cover and no further, but most fabrics are made into a range of dresses. Mette’s other joy is seeing the customers’ expressions when they try on something new that they love. “Those of us from colder climates can be afraid of colour, but I genuinely believe that colour brings its own happiness! We certainly see customers leaving with a real spring in their step, which is great.”
Fabric remnants are put into making the beautiful multi-colored rugs that adorn the shop. “We are as sustainable as we can be” comments Louise, “and we have very high production standards: people buy our products because they’re well made and look great, and the ‘ethical’ bit is an added bonus. We don’t think people should have to choose between the two.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Angela from Good Glass. “Our products are incredibly eco-friendly: we’re not melting glass, which is really bad for the environment, and we’re socially responsible, too. In addition to employing our own staff, we also work with artisans in the community, like iron and woodworkers: paying them well for their work and helping them to develop their skills for our market. As well as getting rid of some of the trash, we make genuinely gorgeous products: my favourite thing is when our whole crew is thinking of new ideas we can do with our bottles.” Good Glass carries a whole range of products from the most obvious, glasses, to garden torches and lanterns, wind chimes, bowls, cheese trays and even egg cups. Their latest products include some really cool electric lamps that look genuinely chic, not crafty. Good Glass also promotes a small selection of products from other social businesses in Uganda, including hand thrown pottery from Nakagwe, funky wine bottle bags from Def.in.ition, and quality candles made by Hands for Hope and Products of Prisons.
In addition to all this, Plot 50 has plans to host a variety of events. Just recently it was the stage for the pop up shop Fashion Corps, enticing a large crowd for a fun social scene including free drinks and a great shopping experience. Future events include, but are not limited to, a Christmas fair and exclusive art exhibits. I find it’s best to keep up with such events by ‘liking’ them on Facebook.
Moving to Plot 50 is a risk for two small companies, certainly, but one that so far looks like it will pay off. “Attracting new customers will make our businesses more sustainable, meaning that the jobs we can provide aren’t just good, aren’t just interesting, but are secure in the long term,” comments Angela. “Every ex-pat here has had the experience of being approached on the street and asked for a job. We know people here want to work, there just aren’t enough jobs to go around.”
As we leave, a lady is making rugs on the front porch, and it feels good to be at the end of such a short production chain. All in all, Plot 50 Bukoto Street is a relaxing and fulfilling shopping destination. Find it – predictably for Kampala – nowhere nears plots 48 and 52, but between the Corporate Heights building and the Turkish dentist (of course!).