The news broke in mid January that Paul Mwesigwa had been signed by Twenty Model Management, a South African modeling agency based in Cape Town.
This made him the first Ugandan male model to get signed to an international agency. The agency represents more than 250 male and female models and is dedicated to helping them build viable and sustainable careers.
Twenty Model Management has done campaigns with FENDI, Levi, Gucci and many other international brands, which Mwesigwa will likely work with in addition to opening up jobs for him in Paris, New York and Milan, given the agency's worldwide reputation. He is signed to Joram Model Management, locally.
SAMSON BARANGA caught up with him at Water Front, Sea Point in Cape Town.
How did all this begin?
One day Joram Muzira called me at 5am and asked me to send him polaroids (fresh photos) wearing a black or white T-shirt with no makeup) and a video of myself. I did not know what was happening. A few days later he called me and said, "Paul, you have been signed to Twenty Model Management." I was so excited.
Is that something you had been working on?
When I signed with Joram last year I was looking at advancing my career to the next level. This opportunity is really huge and somewhat a big surprise. I wanted to be signed to an international agency, but the way it came so quickly was so mind-blowing for me.
When did you decide that modeling was what you wanted to do?
I started in 2012. Initially I had not thought about becoming a model. Designing is what I wanted to do. After I did a casting with Forever Love, a friend told me to push on and see what happens.
I decided to keep going and see what it had to offer. I was intrigued by how people appreciate different works of art and how designing and modeling complement each other.
How was the beginning?
It was tough. The modeling industry in Uganda is not that strong, although it's growing. Being new made it even harder because there were already known faces that had established themselves. Castings and jobs were few but I persevered. My first big job was the 2014 edition of Kampala Fashion Week.
I walked for Eguana and Martha Jabo. It was a gate opening for me; so, I am forever grateful to them. Gigs started coming up but I was on and off because I had to go back to school.
In 2016, I got back into it, starting with a photo shoot and look book for Eguana and that's when I signed with Joram Model Management (JMM) and everything started happening very fast. Everything changed for me. [year] 2016 was the turning point for my career and a few months later; here I am in Cape Town.
I understand you are still a student...
I am a student at Kyambogo University pursuing a degree in Art and Industrial Design with Education. It's also a great experience that has helped me learn to relate with different people. I was in second year before coming to Cape Town. It doesn't mean that school is done for me.
What's the deal with your stay in South Africa?
I signed a three-year contract with Twenty Model Management. It helps me to communicate and relate with my mother agency back in Uganda and I can do jobs there as well.
Cape Town has been my first stop. I had never travelled anywhere else. I had my passport and always prayed for God to bring something for me. This was a breakthrough for me.
By the time I reached, the casting for South Africa Men's Fashion Week was done but the agency had forwarded my composite card [a form of business card featuring a model's portfolio]. I had been booked for Imprint. I was opening for him! It was huge for me. I could not believe I was opening the show. It was mind-blowing but I knew I had to carry Uganda's flag high.
How has it been since?
I have been going for castings; a couple of test shoots and upcoming look books that I cannot disclose. I did the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Cape Town, walking for David Tlale, Vernac and Jenevieve Lyons.
Lucky enough I have family here. So, I was welcomed so well and shown around. I have made friends with international models here and we share a lot of ideas. I have really learnt a lot.
How different is the industry here?
This is a bigger industry. All the big fashion brands come and shoot here. This is the African base for fashion. I know one day Uganda will get there. It's really professional.
You cannot go to a casting unless you have been called. Sometimes the clients make requests for particular models. It is very competitive. As a model you have to go and do your best. You need to bring your A game.
What is on the cards for your future now?
I have a few things I'm working on that people will be seeing in the near future. I also see myself advancing to other markets - something I really want to do. Initially I wanted to be a designer; so, I'm looking at going back to that and bringing my brand to life.
Any message for fellow models in Uganda?
Be yourself. Never forget who you are as a person. I follow five principles that guide me: prayer - you cannot survive in this industry without God - determination, focus, a good personality and a good attitude. It does not matter how long it takes. I waited four years.