“If you can think it, you can wear it”- Ohana Apparel

Ohana Apparel is a fast rising clothing line located in Kampala at the commonly known “Nasser Road” that prints anything anywhere. Ohana Apparel was systematized by Derrick Rwebembera, and he holds a Bachelor’s degree in Commerce. He was one of the hopefuls who expected to get a job after school. The world seemed to serve another slice of cake. He is now an innovator, who juggles his arduous eight to five job schedule with a venture in the line of art and printing. He shares his story at a time when thousands are receiving their academic transcripts, but have not invested in the trade of thinking.
Who is Derrick?
Derrick Rwebembera is a humble mukiga. He did his first degree at MUBS, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in commrce. He also did a post graduate degree in Marketing management at UMI. He is the founder of Ohana Apparel. He works the 8-5 with Prudential Uganda limited as a Financial Sales consultant. He also deal in cars and co-owns a cocktail business with Ms. Jonna Musiime called La Conga cocktails. He like sports, movies, music and having a good time with family and friends

How does the idea of starting a printing line come up?
Well, There was a time when Ugandans fell in love with statement T-shirts taking ideas mostly from the phrases made by celebs. I remember my very first statement T-shirt was the then famous phrase by Eddy Kenzo “Uganda Gavumenti Weyaayu” So whenever I would put on a statement T-shirt, I’d often be asked where I got the T-shirt and I would say “I made it myself” and just like that, the orders started coming in and I was in business.

How did you come up with the company name?
I am so much a people person, and in every environment that I’ve been, I’ve made so many friends who eventually become family. Family, whether by blood or by choice! And that’s very important to me. So when choosing a name for my Apparel, I wanted something that is Family themed, one of my siblings “Emperor” brought to my attention that we could get the word family in another language. The one that stood out the most was OHANA which means family in Hawaiian.

Many people out there have not started because they fear to start small, what was your experience?
Starting small is always the best especially if you have limited capital. In my experience, I took advantage of the digital era. Just as many others have noticed, online businesses are one of the best to start if one has limited capital because it cuts out costs like rent, and investing in stock. This means one can always deliver on order without fear of having their merchandise flop

What has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced so far, and how have you over come it?
Balancing my 8-5 job with the business. Sometimes, I get orders that are needed in a timeframe that is not in line with what what you are accustomed to for example a group of like 10 people may have a road trip on a Friday evening and they’ll make an order on Thursday evening or more expressly; people that have lost a loved one and need the T-shirts ASAP. All this yet you are stuck answering “hope this finds you well” emails
I have often sought help from fellows in the same line of work in such circumstances. My vey close friends Emmie Imunat of Imunat designs and Brian Abenawe of ABAN have often assisted. I am so indebted to ABAN designs with whom I share workspace on Nasser road who stays at workshop full time and helps me with things like design, print and delivery despite having their own workload.

Risks, the will to start, source of funding are some of the most common challenges in any business, but there’s one that’s adeptly skipped; building a loyal and satisfied customer base. Beside recommendation, how have you managed to get and keep a customer base?
“Customer is king” is one of the most common phrases in the business world. This is true beyond doubt. And because customer is king, we must always find ways of keeping customers satisfied and happy. You need to value them and treat them with utmost respect. This will in turn keep you at the forefront of their minds (top of the mind awareness) whenever the need arises. Of course some are stubborn and difficult to deal with but then we need to find ways of handling those ones as well.

Derrick,(second right) posing with friends in T-shirts he printed

What is your definition of success?
“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.”-Winston S. Churchill This is one of my favorite quotes about success. I can’t say I have a definite say on what success is because success is also objective but in my opinion, For Ohana, I would consider myself successful when I become a household name i.e. when Ohana becomes the first printing line people think about when they want or are asked to recommend about anything concerning Print.

In Uganda, research shows that many SMEs do not live long enough to celebrate their first birthdays, do you see consistency and growth with Ohana Apparel, if so, how evident is it?
Patience is not a virtue for most of us. When things get tough, majority would rather give up than persist and see it through the storm. That is why, in my opinion, some businesses don’t live long enough. I see consistency and growth for Ohana because I am proud to say, I am way better off now than I was a year ago despite 2 lockdowns (Derrick mumbles feebly)

Do you think there is a chronological way any business person can/ should follow to get to success?
In my opinion, there is no particular pattern. What works for you may not necessarily work for me. Some work hard, others work smart. Some invent whereas some innovate.. To each his own;

What has been the most satisfying party of printing so far?
I would say meeting people from all walks of life. You learn something new everyday. And in my case, it’s how to deal with different people with different ideals.

If you had the chance to start over again, what would(n’t) you do to ensure that Ohana Apparel is where it is now, but in a less time?
Be braver and also, take on more advise from peers and those who have been there before me me. This includes both those who have failed and those who have made it.

Printed T-shirts at Ohana Apparel awaiting packaging and delivery

Who has been your greatest inspiration?
This is a no brainer, my father. I now understand the sacrifices he made for his family. He worked hard to give us what he saw fit as a comfortable life. He is the most honest man I know and he took pride in what he did as a teacher till he retired to focus on his businesses

If you were to write a book about your journey, where you were and where you want to go, what would you name it?
One step at a time, There is room for everyone, It’s lonely at the top, I’d honestly publish all the three titles at once; each with it’s content.

Could you explain the rationale behind your career moves, what has it been like since graduation?
It had been tough, we all dream of the perfect job. This is not the case for most of us. We end up working in fields we don’t want or even understand just for the sake of working or gaining experience. Along the way, we get lost and no longer know what we want or where our strengths lie. This should not deter us though! Take this time before things are set in stone and find what you are good at and then incorporate that in your next moves.

The motive is to have another young Ugandan start, in your own words, what would advise that person that would like to join business?
Find what you love and make it your passion e.g if you love food/cooking, consider catering. If you love fashion, consider a boutique/makeup. If you love cars, consider selling cars. Comparison is a soft killer. As I said earlier, To each his own. Do not compare yourself to other people. They had their own path and you have yours. Focus more on how to build yourself and your business.

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