AFTER more than two decades of foundation-building contributions to the fashion industry in TT, Coco Velvet International Fashion & Model Management will be taking its expertise to Africa in October this year.
Executive creative director Christopher Nathan explained that while the decision to the brand elsewhere was heart-breaking, he felt it was necessary because of the direction fashion in this country is heading. Nathan believes that unless some drastic changes are made the fashion industry will always be belittled and sidelined.
He is leaving the country without attaining his ultimate goal which was to establish Port of Spain as the fashion capital and commercial hub of the Caribbean, a dream he now fears will never be realised because of the general perception of fashion being just a cottage industry.
“Over the years Coco Velvet has contributed significantly to the development of the fashion industry in TT. However, we could have done a lot more if we received more support from the government for initiatives, as well as if there wasn’t so much fragmentation among the constituents and stakeholders of the industry,” he said while being interviewed at the Newsday office in Port of Spain.
This fragmentation exists at all levels and often those in the industry are not willing to work together for the progress, he continued.
“There is a lot of fight-down in the industry and the stakeholders don’t support each other’s initiative generally. So as a result we are still where we were in 1997, as far as I am concerned.”
He plans to focus on emerging technological advances in the industry. This is something he has been trying to push here but has been largely ignored, he said.
Many fashion centres around the world are embracing the technology for fashion design and garment manufacturing, but in developing countries fashion is still using too many traditional modes of production, which is costly.
“I believe that the opportunity is there for me to become a fashion technology specialist in Africa and become an adjunct professor in fashion technology lecturing throughout the continent.”
Nathan has chosen to establish his new headquarters in Mahe, Seychelles. because he admitted he is a bit afraid of the turmoil in some African countries at present. From this base he will also ply his trade in Cape Town, South Africa, and Lagos, Nigeria.
He will continue his fashion model management career as well as lecturing at some universities in these locations. Nathan hopes models from the all over the continent will come to his headquarters for training and management.
The move means the usually highly-anticipated summer fashion workshop that Coco Velvet has hosted in Trinidad to help train young models, especially coming out of secondary school, will be no more.
At least ten models, including Naomi Chin Wing, Crystal Noreiga and Michelene Auguste, all have successful international careers because of this workshop, he added. Chin Wing won the 2015 top model TT competition and in 2016 signed a contract with IMG and has gone on to model for several top brands globally.
It is partly because of her rise to fame that Nathan's organisation has been gaining a lot more attention, some in the form of offers from Africa. One of the offers that he hopes to work on is a collaborative effort with a Lagos model agency to host Nigeria’s Top Model competition in 2020. He also credits his international booking agent Cristel Vonhueck for helping Coco Velvet find the new markets in Africa and around the world.
“I will be moving that part of the business (management) to Africa to scout African models and develop them for the fashion capitals. Africa has become a hotspot for international models. Finally we are seeing diversity in the modelling industry and luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Saint Laurent, Versace and Ralph Lauren are using African models to headline their advertising campaigns.”
Nathan, who once also managed former Miss Universe Wendy Fitzwilliam, wants to help this new crop of talent while developing his own skills. These new models will need his skills, as he thinks he can give proper training and management.
“I like blue ocean territory and I like to be able to initiate successful projects, and I believe that Africa right now is a ground zero in terms of becoming a fashion centre. However, there is tremendous talent in Africa which will see their fashion industry becoming very high profile over the next few years.
"What I think is lacking is the marriage of the creative energy with advanced manufacturing technology.”
So Nathan intends to share many of these technological advances, which he has researched, with the developing African market, like 3D printing and nanotech styles technology.
Another well-known fashion event that will be no more when he relocates is Fashion Week. Even though he loves producing this show, he admitted funding was not forthcoming to help it grow. The continuous lack of funding has significantly stunted the growth of the industry, he said.
Nathan also reminisced about when he and his colleagues lobbied for ten years between 2000-2010 to have the fashion industry recognised in this country as a viable economic contributor. One of his greatest achievements was helping to establish the Fashion Industry Development Committee (FIDC) at the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
But the FIDC was eventually decommissioned in 2012 to make way for FashionTT, and he believes the new incarnation is not serving the industry as it should – another reason he has decided to take his talents elsewhere.