My Style: Derreck Kayongo, CEO of National Center for Civil and Human Rights

Where he shops, his fashion secret, and the accessory he can’t live without
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Derreck Kayongo
Photograph by Ben Rollins

“Fashion in Uganda,” says Kayongo of his home country, “is flamboyant and loud.” Kayongo’s colorful, fun style offers a contrast to his very serious work as the new CEO of downtown’s Center for Civil and Human Rights. Having fled Uganda with his family in 1981 after enduring the tyranny of former president Idi Amin, he was once a refugee himself. His first goal in his new role, he says, is to raise money to “expose the historic work of human rights defenders, so that all of us can enjoy the freedoms we now take for granted.”

Occupation: CEO of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights; cofounder, Global Soap Project

Born in: Kampala, Uganda. I came to the U.S. when I was 21. I first landed in Philadelphia and then moved to Boston to go to school at Tufts.

Neighborhood: Lawrenceville. I’m more of a village boy. I love being on the outskirts because it’s much more natural and organic out there.

Influence: My mother, who was a wedding gown seamstress. She didn’t have mannequins for flower girl dresses, so I joke all the time that I’ve been a cross-dresser since I was five. My son hates that joke.

Soap story: My wife, Sarah, and I founded the Global Soap Project, which cleans and remolds used bars of hotel soap for people in need, like refugees and natural disaster victims. We no longer run it, but it’s now sending more than 5 million bars a year to more than 90 countries.
Style icon: Lady Gaga is a new version of Prince. You look for people who push the edge—that’s where the real fashion is.

Can’t live without: My rings. They remind me of home; I’m so far away. They are connectors. This big copper ring was a gift from my mom. It reminds me of doing big things. My mom never does anything small.

Pop of pattern: I get my scarves from [the women’s section at] Zara. Some have big polka dots; they’re just fun.

Where you shop: Fashion is all about finding the unique, the hidden little secrets. I go to Labels, a used clothing boutique in Buckhead.

How you stay fit: I run a lot, but I also love to salsa. If people want to catch me, they can come to Eclipse di Luna.

Leisure time: I love to read and to travel. But I also love politics; Meet the Press is a must-watch. I enjoy watching my son play basketball, and my daughter plays piano, and we listen to music together. And then of course, I love to shop. I’ll spend three hours a week looking for new pieces.

Fashion secret: Borrow from the ladies. I have a women’s Boden jacket that I got at a thrift store, and if I don’t tell men that it’s for women, they’ll totally be the first ones to say, “Wow, I love that.”

This article originally appeared in our March 2016 issue.

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