YOUNG fashion designers from TT, Grenada, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, St Lucia and Tortola – to name a few – have been brought together for the Fashion and Contemporary Design Accelerator, which participants said left them feeling empowered and ready to contribute to building a stronger regional fashion industry.
The course sought to strengthen ties in a regional industry which has shown room for greater expansion as designers gain increased international recognition. Instructors included a range of experts who operate both regionally and internationally. Instructors included fashion writer for Refinery29 Channing Hargrove, Ouigi Theodore of the clothing brand The Brooklyn Circus, international fashion marketing specialist Hannah Hafeez, illustrator James Hacket of The Lush Kingdom, Broom Betoni Rauseo, Maria Cooper, Michael Lalla and Sharif Murdock.
In February 2018, for instance, a number of regional designers, including Meiling from TT and Arlene Martin for drennaLUNA from Jamaica, were featured and had their work displayed at the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange at Buckingham Palace.
The two-week programme which began on May 6 was hosted by the University of TT (UTT) John Donaldson campus in Port of Spain, in collaboration with the Caribbean Export Development Agency, the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the Cultural & Creative Industries Innovation Fund.
Programme leader at UTT Academy for Caribbean Fashion and Design Sandra Carr said the participants were selected from an application pool of 78. Requirements included designers having been established for at least five years, with a line of products and other features in place including a website. "Selecting the participants was a rigorous process."
The intention of the programme was to empower designers by strengthening their technical skills and add to their business approaches by expanding their understanding of what is required for effective trade and export within the region and beyond.
Speaking at the closing ceremony, Barbados-based services specialist at Caribbean Export Development Allyson Francis said the creative industry is an important sector for Caribbean Export. “We have been doing work in this sector for years. The focus for this year is the creative industry with emphasis on fashion, music, animation and film.”
Francis said Caribbean Export was pleased to contribute to designers' receiving the finishing touches required for marketing their products. She said when considering export, the first thought is generally in reference to shipping products to the US and Europe. However, an intention of the programme was to encourage the first step being export and trade within the Caribbean. This, she said, would contribute to a strengthened culture of regional integration – which would, in turn, affect the strength of the regional economy.
“I hope that through their networking, the designers will come together to show the world even more of what the Caribbean as a whole has to offer to the world of fashion.”
Co-ordinator at the Cultural & Creative Industries Innovation Fund Marielle Barrow said the programme facilitated sharing a vision for collaboration as a way for growing the sector. She said the fund, which was established in 2017 through the CDB, wanted to instil the idea of partnership as the best way forward.
"As our fashion designers would have learnt in their export development class, we cannot stand alone. We must work together to form agile initiatives that are sustainable."
TT-based designer Daniel Clarke, owner of the band Florescent Black, said it was an intense programme, and he learnt more about the strength of collaboration and the ability of that to take the industry further.
Barbados-based designer Melanie Thorpe said she learnt more approaches for fine-tuning her brand as she seeks to embark on a global market.
Owner of KimmysticClo, based in St Vincent and the Grenadines, Kimon Baptiste-St Rose said the programme helped her fine-tune her technical and business skills.
"As much as many of us think we are export-ready, there are still so many things we still need to know and learn, which includes the details of what it means to meet international standards."
Jamaica-based owner of ASD Ayanna Dixon said, "For our businesses to grow, we cannot stay within the confines of the countries we are from. Now we are able to meet the needs of a broader market, which is great for any industry. This is a positive transition for any entrepreneur in any industry."
She said the information she received throughout the programme made the concept of exporting less daunting. "It was invaluable information as it was my first time figuring out how I can move my products beyond borders. Exporting products, regional trade shows, labelling laws and connecting with presenters added to my confidence for making new moves in business."
Business Day spoke with two local designers who have made an impact on the regional and international industry for feedback on their thoughts about integration and collaboration for trade and commerce in the Caribbean fashion industry.
Meiling said even though many people throughout the region buy fast-fashion imports, inter-island support contributes to the growth of the region's fashion industry, and any programme or initiative to nurture regional integration in the creative industry is important.
"Initiatives such as Caribbean Fashion Week have been expanding across the region, showcasing the wide range of talent and exposing the work of artisans and designers – thus creating a space for further collaboration, trade and commerce.
"Caribbean Export has been influential in the process of integrating the region's creative industries. Sometimes the returns may not come right away, but it makes the rest of the region aware of what every island is doing."
She said social media apps such as Instagram and technology overall are powerful forces for the discovery of regional designers and create a space for establishing a space for collaboration and the maintenance of relationships between those in the creative industries and their potential clientele throughout the region.
Robert Young of The Cloth said he considered the programme forward-thinking and worthy of congratulation. He said his company has been sending products to Barbados since 1986. However, the flow in trade within the industry was slowed by the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York and the increased presence of Chinese businesses which brought low-cost clothing options in the region, owing to tariffs introduced by the World Trade Organisation.
Young said while the region is going in the right direction regarding greater collaboration for economic growth within the region, greater emphasis should be placed on manufacturing fabric in the Caribbean, which would increase the rate of production of Caribbean-based producers. He said The Cloth is built on a concept of celebrating cultural differences and merging the aesthetics to create something that can represent the Caribbean space.
He referred to the work of University of the West Indies senior lecturer in the department of liberal arts Paula Morgan.
"She had a piece called Pan-Caribbean World, using CLR James' thinking, where she said anything that touches the Caribbean Sea is the Caribbean – which is a space to trade, from Miami to Guyana and Belize. Anything that can help to make that come into being is significant."
Young also mentioned Caribbean Fashion Week, which will have it's 19-year staging in Kingston, Jamaica between June 13 and 16 this year, as an exemplary initiative for showcasing Caribbean fashion. He said it creates a space for greater exposure and collaboration, adding that fashion shows throughout the region help bring fashion designers together – facilitating collaboration between the English, Spanish and French-speaking territories. For non-English-speaking territories, such as Guadeloupe, he said, greater collaboration and integration means they would have a strong market within the region, rather than seeking only to ship products to France.
Carr said she was pleased to be part of a programme that polishes both the skill sets and business acumen of regional designers., and she anticipates young Caribbean designers being more prepared for global competitiveness.
"Our young designers are talented, but they needed further guidance with getting their products in wider markets regionally and internationally."
Carr said this was the first of what UTT and its partners hope will be an annual programme.