STEFAN SEALY has come a long way since his humble beginnings. He grew up in a board house on the banks of a river on Riverside Road, Curepe. But believing in the power of hard work and education, he was able to project himself along a path that would ensure a successful future.
Now at 25, he is a fashion model and entrepreneur. He has a degree in strategic leadership management and sociology from the University of the West Indies (UWI) St Augustine, and is doing a master's degree in strategic leadership and management.
And he is ready to add fashion designer to his name after launching the Sealy fashion collection last November.
Newsday spoke to Sealy, who shared what inspired his move from modelling fashion pieces to designing them.
"Some people might believe in doing just one thing and being known for that one thing. I think that’s boring. It's always good to keep growing and exploring."
At 17, he caught the eye of photographer Eustace Dyer, who recognised his potential as a model and wanted to do a photoshoot. Sealy sought his father's opinion – which was not favourable.
"My dad really wasn’t too interested in me modelling, because of the industry. It's not really an industry that people speak well about."
So Sealy waited until he was 18 and could decide for himself.
Since then he has worked on billboard and commercial campaigns with local brands like Bang Bang Clothing, Courts Optical and Pallet Stick Clothing. He modelled in TT's 2018 Style Week and the 2019 Port of Spain Fashion Week (POSFW).
His father is now supportive and proud of his accomplishments.
"I think he, like many other Caribbean parents, focuses a lot on academics, as they don't see the viability of other career paths. More and more we are now seeing Caribbean parents opening up their minds to seeing the arts as a real career path."
After the 2019 POSFW, he was inspired to start his own fashion collection and step out of his comfort zone.
"I would always model at fashion shows and see things I wanted to change, but I didn't have the power to change it, as I was not the designer or co-ordinator behind the show. I decided to put myself in a place where I am now able to create my own show and do it the way I think it ought to be done."
His inspiration would lead him to Los Angeles, California, last September when he explored the city's fashion district and bought fabric to experiment with designing. When he came home, he used the fabric he had bought to create test pieces, which he presented to the owners of local clothing store 212. Through his modelling work, he had got to know the owners, and on seeing his test pieces, they expressed interest in carrying his creations.
He had no formal training or direct experience, so how did he do it? "Step by step, I learnt different things."
He assembled a team of seamstresses, tailors and a graphic artist who worked alongside him to create 300 pieces of clothing for the collection. To ensure that each piece in the collection was close to unique, no design was used for more than four garments.
"No one would believe it, but I started the process of creating the brand in September 2019 and launched in November. It was a matter of just me being brave enough to take a 'yes' or 'no' when I approached them. I was not scared to hear 'no.' It was just a matter of making a few phone calls and getting the right people to give me the right kind of direction."
He is grateful that 212 agreed to carry his collection, because, he says, getting their clothes into retail stores can be a stumbling block for emerging designers.
Local designer Anya Ayoung Chee and her success on US reality show Project Runway has been an inspiration.
"Watching her on Project Runway made me love fashion even more and made me feel that there is a way to take your fashion perspective to the world."
Asked what international brands inspire him, he said, "Rihanna's Fenty and Zara Man. I love so much aspects of their models and how they have been able to build a strong worldwide brand."
On the business side of things, not only was the information he gained from his UWI studies helpful in the new field he was entering, but so were his entrepreneurship experiences.
In 2016, after graduating, he started a business called Cater Express, which arose out of his love for food and watching his family bond over cooking at gatherings.
"Cater Express was my first experience entering the business world. I am not new to business, since I have been doing the catering business for three years.
"Starting a fashion line was not so much of a jump, but more me expanding my business portfolio."
To him, business and entrepreneurship is an innate ability that can be released under the right circumstances, rather than something that is taught.
"Somebody might be able to teach you how to manage your resources but nobody could actually teach you to see a gap in the market and find a solution to fill that space."
He thinks his fashion collection fills a gap of clothing accessibility and affordability.
"This brand is targeted towards the young modern man who's looking at all these fresh clothes, on social media, and trying to figure out where are they getting these clothes. How are they getting those pants? That type of jacket? Those shirts with the cool prints?
"I just want to bring those clothes closer to customers and ensure that my costing doesn’t affect the pocket of the customer, while still giving them an expensive and finished look."
He wants customers to feel young, important, sophisticated and current. While his brand is marketed to men, he has sold pieces to women, which adds to the brand's appeal.
With his 300-piece collection being sold out in 12 days on its release last November, he is optimistic about the future.
"Right now I am working on Carnival 2020, which is supposed to launch in late January, and I also want to do a collection for the end of 2020.
"I am seeing the brand growing and Sealy becoming a name in the fashion industry that people will want to be associated with."
As for his modelling career, he hopes one day to headline fashion shows in London, Paris and Milan.
Confidence is not a problem for Stefan Sealy.
"For the young person reading this article: being brave is super-important, and 'no' is just evidence that you are knocking on doors. Once you keep knocking, a 'yes' will come. Determination, persistence and innovativeness must bring you results. And remember – failure is never an option."