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Barkcloth Innovation in Uganda: Celebrating Creative Visionaries

As we journey back in time to the year 2011, we can’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia for the incredible experience we had when our very own Sarah Nakisanze was featured in the “Ugandan Bark Cloth Project.” This piece showcased the people, places, and organizations involved in the preservation and use of Ugandan barkcloth. As we reminisce about those remarkable days, we can’t help but marvel at the growth and progress we’ve made since then.

Sara Katebalirwe: Pioneering Innovation

The reader’s journey begins with Sara Katebalirwe, the owner and lead designer of Marie-Sar Agencies Limited in Kampala, Uganda. Back in 2011, Sara was already making waves in the world of design. Her transition from a self-taught garment designer to an advocate for barkcloth and raffia showcased her innovative spirit. She had been recognized for her groundbreaking designs, including a nomination for the ‘Pan-African Women Invent and Innovate Award’ and the ‘Canada Gift and Table Association’s Top 10 Product Winners 2007’ Award. These accolades celebrated her dedication to innovation.

Ivan Yakuze: An Artistic Journey

Moving on to Ivan Yakuze, a graduate from Makerere University. His journey was one of artistic exploration and discovery. Conversations about the cultural heritage of Ugandan bark cloth deeply influenced his work. Ivan’s belief that everything has a purpose and function drove him to create works that found their way into collections in the United States and Uganda. His collaboration with Fred Mutebi in bringing art to rural communities in Uganda exemplified the transformative power of art.

Renè Malcorps: A Sustainable Visionary

Renè Malcorps, the owner and head designer at Art Nature Design in the Netherlands, brought a unique perspective to the exhibition. His focus on the relationship between the environment and sustainable product design was ahead of its time. Renè’s commitment to using natural materials from Uganda to create sustainable products under the brand Kingskin was both innovative and eco-conscious. His future partnership aspirations with the Jane Goodall Institute highlighted his dedication to making a positive impact on the local economy and environment in Uganda.

Emily Brewer: Sculpting Sustainability

Emily Brewer, a UK-based designer, demonstrated how barkcloth could be harnessed for sustainable interior textile objects. Her journey of working with bark cloth for close to four years led to the creation of intricate patterned structures that responded to the material’s unique qualities. Her work, now found in private collections in the UK and the United States, was a testament to the beauty of using sustainable materials in design. Emily’s participation in exhibitions and fairs in Europe and the United States showcased her dedication to sustainable design principles.

Gloria Wavamunno: A Rising Star

Gloria Wavamunno, a London-trained and Uganda-based fashion designer. In 2009, she unveiled her label, Gloria WavaMunno, at Africa Fashion Week in Johannesburg, South Africa. Gloria’s fusion of printed kitenge fabrics with silks, cottons, and other textiles earned her well-deserved praise. Her designs were nothing short of spectacular, and her work reached new heights when her creation graced the cover of Arise Magazine in July 2009. To top it off, she was honored as the Overall Designer of the Year at the Afrikan Fashion Awards in 2010. Gloria’s influence extended beyond the runways as she became a sought-after video stylist for several Ugandan musicians, including Navio and Mys Natty.

Susana Duarte-Pinto: Texture Explorer

Nusana Duarte-Pinto, whose fashion design label, Losgeloest, was based in Freiburg, Germany. Her work was an exploration of texture, where she manipulated sustainable materials to create innovative surfaces. Five years before the exhibition, Susana was introduced to bark cloth through Oliver Heintz at Bark Cloth Europe. Her remarkable ability to transform bark cloth into soft, wearable garments showcased her talent. She delved into various surface techniques, including felting and dyeing, and her innovative approach earned her the prestigious ISPO BrandNew award.

Peter Boehm: The Carpenter’s Vision

Peter Boehm, who considered himself a carpenter first and foremost, was another noteworthy feature in the article. In 2000, he founded his company, Inform, specializing in custom-designed furniture and cabinetry. His fascination with art, architecture, and design significantly influenced his work. In 2010, he ventured into a new project: the KUHLT furniture line, where he explored the use of new materials. This exploration brought him to bark cloth, and his creations soon found their place in private residences throughout Germany and Luxembourg.

Markus Werner: From Clay to Eco-Footwear

Markus Werner’s journey was driven by a childhood dream of making shoes. His passion, which began at the age of 10 with clay creations, took a detour but eventually found its path. After graduating in Integrated Product Design at the University of Applied Sciences in Coburg in 2006, he embarked on a mission to create eco-friendly footwear. In 2010, his project, Vimagana (Norwegian for “we want to go now”), was born. Markus aimed to replace traditional materials with exciting, non-polluting alternatives like Ugandan bark cloth. His dedication to sustainable design made him a standout artist.

Oliver Heintz and Mary Barongo Heintz: Exploring the Potential

Oliver Heintz and his wife and business partner, Mary Barongo Heintz, were pioneers in exploring the potential of Ugandan bark cloth. For a decade, they had been on a mission to introduce this remarkable material to artists and designers worldwide. Their company, BARK CLOTH® Europe, had offices and workshops in Uganda and Germany, where they pushed the boundaries of bark cloth through various techniques. Their dedication led to numerous design awards, including the Innovation Award BioMaterial of the Year. They had even collaborated with companies like Mercedes Benz to explore the use of bark cloth in car interiors.

Sarah Nakisanze: A Journey of Artistry

The reader’s journey through the article continues with our very own Sarah Nakisanze (founder of Easy Afric Designs), a Kampala-based designer and lecturer. Her early exposure to her mother’s teaching and dressmaking ignited her passion for creating. While studying painting and drawing at Makerere University, she discovered the potential of barkcloth as an art medium during a printing workshop. Her journey included business training sponsored by the United Nations Textile Development Agency (TEXDA), which equipped her with the skills to turn her artistic pursuits into a successful career. Sarah’s work had been exhibited internationally, and her commitment to culturally relevant materials and fair trade made her a true artist and entrepreneur.


As we revisit the “Uganda Barkcloth Project” article from April 2011, we can’t help but feel a sense of pride and nostalgia. Each of these exceptional artists and designers brought their unique vision and creativity to the piece. They embraced the incredible potential of bark cloth, and we were honored to be part of that transformative feature.

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