KIERAN ANDREW KHAN
While there have been dozens of attempts to revitalise the fashion industry over the past two decades, the goal that many should have been aiming for instead, is to institutionalise the industry. That is where Lisa-Marie Daniel, general manager of FashionTT, one of the companies operating under the umbrella organisation CreativeTT, comes in. FashionTT’s team has been surmounting the bureaucratic strangleholds and analysis-paralysis so common in state entities and has recently made impressive strides towards empowering a creative community and fashion industry locally. It all started with a plan.
“There are three primary developmental goals for the sector as outlined in the strategic plan, namely, to foster export-ready products, to create jobs and to further develop capacity. Out of these three focal points, the plan points to a multi-pronged approach to reach each of these,” Daniel noted in her interview with Business Day. The plan that the general manager referred to is the Strategic Plan for the Fashion Industry of TT, officially launched in 2015 after extensive interviews and research done by Syntegra Change Architects.
This year, the focus for FashionTT’s team is the value chain investment programme, primarily the non-global value chain programme (non-GVC) currently underway. The non-GVC is one of the four mechanisms by which the organisation hopes to set alight the fire of a fashion and garment production industry in TT.
“We have 10 designers benefiting annually from the non-GVC programme which pairs them with mentors for a five-year period with a view to strengthening their design offerings and creating a sustainable business for them,” Daniel noted. “This year, we are entering the second year of this programme and we’re already seeing a real, viable change in the business models and plans for these designers.”
Apart from the non-GVC programme, there is also the global value chain (GVC) programme which has seen three designers being selected to work with consultants for three years – those being Meiling, Charu Lochan Dass (CLD) and Ecliff Elie.
Apart from working with consultants in the spaces of business strategy, operations and product quality, FashionTT also provides support in helping these designers, selected through a rigorous screening mechanism, with direct, international B2B (business-to-business) meetings, fashion trade shows and trade missions. The goal at the end of the three-year period is ensuring that these three designers are able to penetrate international markets.
The other two mechanisms under the venture capital incentive programme are the incubator and future support programmes which currently have 35 and 52 participants respectively. “There were 114 applications for the overall FashionTT programmes and we are happy that we were able to accommodate 100 designers in total across all; as many persons as we possibly could at this time,” Daniel noted.
While TT once enjoyed reasonable success as a garment manufacturing destination, successive attempts to activate this locally have been difficult. Using the strategic plan to convince central government of the possibilities for the sector, Daniel and FashionTT are coming the closest anyone has in years to achieving this again.
“We hope to establish the garment production facility here by November of this year. It has been earmarked for the John Donaldson campus of the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) and we intend that current designers in our programmes as well as students of the Caribbean Academy of Fashion and Design (CAFD) would have the opportunity to use the facility to achieve their production demands,” Daniel noted. Such a facility would redound to numerous positive benefits to the wider national community as well, chief among them being an increase in exports and employment and a positive return for foreign exchange. For those in the creative community, they would now have access to a world-class production facility that ascribes to the TT Bureau of Standards’ Garment Construction Requirements 2013 handbook which speaks to manufacturing standards on a national and international level. They would enjoy reduced production costs as well.
The expectations of the strategic plan include the realisation of at least two firms in the fashion/apparel sector achieving international sales in excess of $10 million, and collective sales across the industry of $75 million. In addition, the goal is also to empower in excess of 300 fashion service companies and fashion companies in the export of their products.
It may seem to be a small step for diversification of the economy but any segment of the US$1.2 trillion global fashion industry that TT can attract within the next few years can lead to year-round revenues outside of the energy base from which the country currently operates. It is especially worth noting that while many design houses continue to operate in the fashion capitals across the US and Europe, most of the work is being executed offshore. The real value would be in establishing TT not just as a production centre but as a source of design and inspiration, something so easily readily found in pop culture in the US and Europe.