Designer goes from suits to sweets

Geneva Henry
Geneva Henry

After 30 years as a designer and seamstress working on suits, gowns, and dresses for some of the most prestigious women in the country, well-known dressmaker Geneva Henry decided to expand her horizons and venture into the culinary arts and gardening.

In a candid interview with Newsday, the Belmont resident talked about her new business venture and how it has given her new purpose.

Baking and cooking are by no means new to her, as she has been in the kitchen for as long as she has been behind a sewing machine.

Although Henry has not given up her work as a seamstress, she decided to share her baking skills with the world after being motivated by the pandemic to try something new.

“After a while you want a change,” she said. “Since I’ve been sewing all my years, I think I want to focus a little bit more on baking and gardening.”

Henry’s career began in her late 20s after she watched her mother sew clothes for her and learned to do it herself. She and her mother disagreed on the style of the time.

“My mother wanted one style of clothes for me and I wanted something else. For me to dress up as much as I wanted, I had to make most of the clothes for myself,” she joked.

“My friends complimented me on my clothes and asked me to make for them as well. That’s where I started.”

Word spread and people began contacting her for work.

Henry’s business grew in popularity over the years and she eventually opened a garment factory, Geneva Age, in 1988, and she has made clothes for many well-known figures, including government ministers, former Miss Universe TT Nicole Dyer-Griffith, and the Prime Minister’s wife, Sharon Rowley. She still does work for business owners such as the Bhagwansinghs and made the bridesmaids’ dresses for Dr Rowley’s daughter Tonya Rowley-Cuffie’s wedding.

Nicole Dyer-Griffith and Gary Griffith on their wedding day. Dyer-Griffith’s bridal outfit was designed and made by Geneva Henry. -

She said one of her favourite pieces to date was the suit she made for Nicole Dyer-Griffith’s
wedding in 2006.

“She was ahead of her time,” she reminisced. “I loved her wedding. She chose to do pants.”

After her mother’s death in 2016, Henry scaled down the business.

“I gave up the store and stuck to the factory and now I just do clothes for selected people.”

In late 2021, Henry decided to experiment a bit more with her baking skills.

Among the baked items coming out of Geneva Henry's kitchen are pineapple upside-down cake, sweetbread, fruit cake, old-fashioned coconut drops, ginger and oatmeal cookies. -

“The thing is, with covid19, you have to change some of your plans. It’s almost as if the pandemic has to direct some of your plans.

“I come from a background of food. My mother was a caterer, so my first official business was catering. I worked with her.”

She said her Grenadian grandmother also made food to sell in her community.

“I came from food first. Most people who know me know I like to bake. With the pandemic, I decided to fall into a little more of that. I did a (baking) course with the Ministry of Social Development, but still focused on my sewing.”

Henry said, inspired by her mother’s and grandmother’s recipes, she makes old-fashioned favourites, but also tries new flavours and ingredients.

She makes coconut rolls and drops, oatmeal cookies, saffron-ginger cookies, sweetbread, beetroot and carrot muffins, black cake and pineapple upside-down cake.

Her customers’ favourites are the cookie and muffin recipes.

“I focus on health-conscious food. I want to put more of my energy into that. Everything you eat must be doing something positive for your body.

“When people hear ‘cookies’ they tend to think about sweets. My cookies are something you can have for breakfast or with tea, I pulled back on the sugar to put other natural sweeteners.”

She said she uses hearty ingredients like cranberries, raisins and coconut, which she said also allows her to reduce the amount of sugar. She is also working with monk fruit sugar, which is said to have zero calories.

Geneva Henry’s love for food extends to her home garden where she plants tomatoes, kale, zucchini, bodi, sweet potatoes, chive, celery, garlic, swiss chard, soursop, paw paw and other fruits.

Henry and her business partner sold in the Queen’s Park Savannah, Port of Spain market for a while.

“You won’t believe how many people have diabetes in Trinidad,” she said. “In the market, a lot of people are saying they want to try (my products) but can’t because of diabetes.”

She said even before the price hike in flour, she would use alternative options including almond, oat and cassava flours.

“Those flours are so expensive, we can’t use them fully, (so) I incorporate some regular all-purpose flour. The product will be way too expensive if we did those flours alone. But we are trying to raise the health benefit of what people eat. The main thing we’re focusing on is (less) sugar.”

She said she tries to have new goods at every market such as sweet-potato muffins.

“If you have something good and you can get people to sample, they will come. That’s how it started, with samples, and people are really responding well to it.”

Henry, although motivated to see how her business grows, is finding joy in exploring the possibilities of her passions.

“I have three things in life I like to do now: sewing, gardening, and baking. I still sew for selected customers.”

Designer Geneva Henry at her Belmont home. -

She also grows and sells ornamental plants from her garden and for her personal use she plants kale, tomatoes, pimento, sweet potatoes, bodi and other local vegetables. She has maximised the space around her yard to include fruits such as soursop trees, paw paw, sugar apple, plum and even a West Indian cherry tree.


"Designer goes from suits to sweets"

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