Growing up, Danielle Benskin wasn’t very interested in playing with dolls or even getting them as presents.
Instead, she was happiest when she got art supplies for Christmas and her birthday. So, her parents recognised and nurtured her interest. Apart from providing art supplies, she was enrolled in art classes at the age of 14.
Now 27, Benskin has turned her childhood interest into a full-blown career.
Trained in the field of accessory design, she is also the owner of a fashion design brand called D Benskin Design House.
And her parents are proud.
To this day, Benskin’s father keeps one of her Sunday school art pieces in his Bible.
“Since I’ve known myself, I have always been that creative person wanting to create something,” said Benskin in a recent interview with WMN.
From Benskin’s earliest recollection, growing up in St Augustine, art has always been a central theme in her life.
When she was a third form student at St Joseph’s Convent, St Joseph, and selected to do visual arts at the CSEC level, she was enrolled in additional art classes at the St Joseph School of Art owned by Anne Marie Howard.
“The first day I went to art class, she (Howard) sat me down and had me do this painting.
“I was so fascinated with how well I did that painting with her direction.”
Benskin credits Howard for helping her hone and refine her natural skills.
During her time in the art classes, Benskin wrote the University of Cambridge general certificate of education (GCE) exam in art and got a grade A.
She would also go on to earn a grade one in the 2010 Caribbean Examiniation Council (CXC) CSEC visual arts exam.
While Benskin wanted to continue her sixth form studies at St Joseph’s Convent, she would not have been able to do the CXC CAPE art and design subject as it wasn’t offered at the school.
So, she made the decision to do sixth form at Bishop Anstey High School East and Trinity College East where the subject was offered.
Upon finishing form six, in 2012, she took a gap year during which she researched different high learning art schools abroad and did SATs.
Eventually, she successfully applied to the Savannah College of Art and Design in the US state of Georgia.
At the college, Benskin did a bachelor's of fine arts in accessory design from 2013-2017.
Primarily a fine artist with a focus on paintings and drawings, Benskin credits the college experience as a turning point in her career. There she would learn more about accessory design and fall in love with the artform.
“My university experience was me really and truly figuring out what exactly I wanted to do. I always knew I wanted my career to be within the realm of art, but I didn’t necessary want to be a fine artist where it was just painting and drawing.”
Though accessory design may allude to designing jewellery, Benskin explains that isn’t quite the case.
Accessory design relates to the designing items like bags, shoes, and small leather goods, to accessorise one’s clothing. And leather is one of the most widely used materials in accessory designing, she said.
Upon returning to TT in late 2017, after graduating, it was time for Benskin to find her lane.
Throughout 2018 and 2019 she experimented with helping Carnival bands design costumes. But it wasn’t enough.
Benskin knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur and have her own brand.
“I always knew that I wanted to do my own thing (in the field of art). But, at that point, I didn’t know how or what.
“Usually when you graduate from university, you would look for a company or someone to work for.
But I never saw myself working for a design brand or something like that.”
After much contemplation and self-reflection, Benskin decided it was time to make that dream a reality and so, last June, she created D Benskin Design House. Apart from being the brand’s founder, she is also its creative director.
“I have done a number of collections since the brand’s creation. The first collection of items would have been a collection of small leather statement pieces.”
Thus far, the brand has released several collections including a summer inspired handbag collection named JAVA Please! last July and a recent Valentine’s Day collection.
The Valentine's Day package was a collaboration between Benskin’s brand and two other local, small businesses (Shea Caribe and For Heaven's Cakes).
To help expand her clientele to include men, Benskin also released a collection of items named STREET last October.
But the decision to launch the brand last year wasn’t an easy one given the covid19 pandemic.
“At the start of covid19, a good friend of mine who I would have known since my school days, invited me to a creative chat being hosted by Ain Earle.
“We were in the middle of a pandemic with a lot of uncertainty, so she (Ain) created a safe space for creatives to come together and talk.”
To Benskin, the chat and Earle’s advice didn’t only help her be more motivated, but it also pushed her to launch the brand earlier than expected.
While her goal was to launch D Benskin Design House last October, she was able to do so four months earlier.
Benskin is now calling on other emerging creatives to find a way to pursue their passions even if they may have self-doubt or face challenges.
“Definitely thinking about pursuing this field from a financial aspect would be a little roadblock for most.
“But, for me, I say start with what you have. So, when I returned from Savannah College, I would have had a whole lot of material I brought back with me and that is what I did my first collection with.
“I understand the feeling of not having everything aligned the way you want it, but I’ll say don’t let it hinder you. If you don’t start, you’ll remain the same place. It doesn’t make sense to wait until things are perfect.”
Finding her voice in art, Benskin wants others to do so as well and is making that possible through tutoring.
While some people think they don’t have the ability to do art, she said this a misconception as everyone possesses talent.
“Besides D’ Benskin Design House, I also tutor part-time. This (tutoring) is something that I never necessary ran towards, but it is always something I got the feedback that I’m good with.
“I remember recently posting a review from one of my students. One of my university roommates reached out and told me that I’ve always been good at teaching and that I helped her through university.
“That’s an aspect that I’ll also like to introduce to my brand where I can share my knowledge.”
As she moves forward, Benskin hopes to expand her platform and help create a space for other designers.
In everything she does, she credits her success to God and is a parishioner at Our Lady of All Nations RC Church in D'Abadie.
“My existence and all that I do is because of God’s presence in my life.
“My faith in God governs my existence. I believe this life is a journey of finding my assigned purpose and God's word is the blueprint.”
Anyone interested in Benskin’s work or tutoring services can find her on Facebook at D Benskin Design House and on Instagram @dbenskin_designhouse