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Monday 16 September 2019
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A stitch in time…

Maria Burnette-Rochford comes full circle

Maria Burnette-Rochford
Maria Burnette-Rochford

She ran from her true calling until reality, necessity and the influences of her childhood caught up with her and threw her headlong into a burgeoning bag business.

Maria Burnette-Rochford grew up in La Lune, Moruga, where she was surrounded by nature and sewing. In fact, in her village, her relatives were known for their expertise on a sewing machine and many expected her to follow in their footsteps.

"I would hide, and one day I remember my aunt warning me that I would one day regret not having learnt to sew. She told me when I had my first child, particularly a girl, then I would regret it the most. She was most certainly right," the 58-year-old mother of four told WMN.

Burnette-Rochford said she flourished under the guidance of her paternal family in deep south, where entire villages met on the beach on Sundays, and only grew to know her mother from age 15.

"We lived off the land, we had almost every fruit, provision, tree, vegetable, medicinal bush, you could image. Our Sundays were spent on the beaches and I loved living in a learning environment," she said.

Maria Burnette-Rochford

Now living in Sangre Grande, Burnette-Rochford said her aunt's words were prophetic: not learning to sew when she had the opportunity meant she couldn't clothe her daughters in the way she wanted. It wasn't until she was 35 and had already had her four children she learned the skill through pure necessity and a desire to see them dressed in the finest at a reasonable price.

Armed with scissors, needle and thread, and clothing from her children that had seen better days, Burnette-Rochford began a project which would eventually lead to a business venture.

She told WMN, "I would lay an old dress or blouse of my girls' on the ground and resting the (fabric) on it I would cut out the same pattern." Once she got the hang of it, her children wore clothing she had sewn.

Over the next 20 years, Burnette-Rochford, as if making up for lost time, dedicated herself to sewing and now holds certificates in drapery, tailoring, soft furnishings and pattern designing.

However, it took a health scare to set the business wheels in motion. Burnette-Rochford worked as a certified nurses assistant and care-giver. After years of caring for others, she tore her rotator cuff (shoulder) while lifting a patient. But worse was yet to come. "I had a heart attack, not too long after, and my kids said, 'that's it mammy, you done work'. They said we will take care of you for the next three months, and they did. My doctors said 'change your diet' and I did."

As part of the diet change, she researched healthier foods and drinks and an idea to create her own brand of health drinks took root. But she quickly found that juicing equipment cost "a pretty penny."

Maria Burnette-Rochford

She turned to sewing,, but only as a means to fund her juice business. Or so she thought.

Just as she had taught herself to sew her daughters' first dresses out of necessity, so too did she sew her first bag. She brought an old, threadbare handbag back to life. And so began her new business.

Wanting her items to stand out, she makes her bags reversible. She said her customers don't just get bags in sets of threes and fours, they get bags that can be worn on either side.

Burnette-Rochford said she was truly surprised with the general response to her bags.

Before launching her business for others, she said her daughters were her models and she would give away two bags each month. The aim was that word of mouth advertising would bring new customers. Her marketing strategy worked, along with the photos she posted on social media.

Calls and orders poured in, so much so, that she is in the process of registering her company, finalising the name of her brand and finding markets across the country. Customers often give their input, as far as colour and sometimes even features.

"They have to wear this. It's their accessory, so what they want, I work on giving them. I do have some features that other totes don't, at least I have checked in some stores and that's why I think of and labelled my product, The Unique Tote Bag."

And while she isn't sold yet on the name and shape of her business, she is making her success, one stitch at a time.

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