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Carnival and the fashion industry

Car­ni­val is se­ri­ous busi­ness in T&T, gen­er­at­ing more than $30 mil­lion in rev­enue an­nu­al­ly.

For cre­ative en­tre­pre­neurs in fields rang­ing from mu­sic to fash­ion and art, this means op­por­tu­ni­ties to build brands and launch em­pires.

Car­ni­val al­so has an im­por­tant ex­port el­e­ment out­side of the lo­cal sea­son, as mas bands, so­ca mu­si­cians and sundry sup­port ser­vice providers work over­seas at car­ni­vals in the Unit­ed States, Cana­da and the Unit­ed King­dom.

For decades, there has been a qui­et­ly flour­ish­ing fash­ion and de­sign in­dus­try in T&T, in­spired by the colour, vi­bran­cy, and cli­mate of the Caribbean, and cater­ing to both the mass mar­ket and an elite, dis­cern­ing clien­tele. Lo­cals have come to know and em­brace lo­cal fash­ion de­sign­ers like Meil­ing, Yoko Fung, Heather Jones, Clau­dia Pe­gus and Robert An­tho­ny Young (The Cloth), as well as lo­cal brands like Rad­i­cal De­signs.

That stal­wart group has grown to in­clude an­oth­er gen­er­a­tion of de­sign­ers—CLD, Ecliff Elie, Adri­an Fos­ter, House of Jaipur, K2K Al­liance & Part­ners, the Lush King­dom, Mill­house, Anya Ay­oung-Chee’s Pi­lar, and the Wada­da Move­ment.

For Janelle Forde, style is in­stinc­tive to Car­ni­val.

The self-taught de­sign­er and own­er of cloth­ing line JAn­gelique, whose bou­tique lo­cat­ed at St James, has spread her wings to oth­er Caribbean coun­tries while con­tin­u­ing to fly the T&T flag high in the world of fash­ion.

This is es­pe­cial­ly de­pict­ed in her Fes­ti­val Fash­ion col­lec­tion.

“Car­ni­val is al­most num­ber one in our busi­ness. We do a lot of things re­gard­ing fes­ti­val fash­ion. We ba­si­cal­ly re­con­struct and I ba­si­cal­ly recre­ate a new busi­ness. Fes­ti­val fash­ion is def­i­nite­ly not a part of a lot of oth­er peo­ple’s busi­ness­es so for last and year we in­vest­ed a lot in­to mak­ing that hap­pen,” Forde said.

Pieces can not on­ly be worn at fetes and oth­er Car­ni­val events but year-round, en­abling clients to ob­tain val­ue for mon­ey, es­pe­cial­ly in tough eco­nom­ic times.

“It’s in­cor­po­rat­ing the Car­ni­val fes­ti­val in­to dai­ly op­er­a­tions of our ready-to-wear line. It’s a 3-D el­e­ment, very fes­tive. Imag­ine in­cor­po­rat­ing a cos­tume in a very taste­ful way in reg­u­lar cloth­ing.

“It’s my take, my in­spi­ra­tion. I have a col­lec­tion called Wild Flower and it’s very 3-D as it al­most looks like some­thing you would wear on the road but then it’s a dress which can al­so be worn af­ter,” she said.

Her ma­te­ri­als are a mix­ture of lo­cal and for­eign fab­ric.

Forde’s Fes­ti­val Fash­ion line start­ed in 2014 and since then has gained tremen­dous mo­men­tum be­cause her pieces are one of a kind.

“Car­ni­val is so much a part of what I do but it’s much more than just adding a gem. It’s about dif­fer­ent cuts, dif­fer­ent sil­hou­ettes, things you’ve nev­er seen be­fore and wouldn’t think of wear­ing but with my ex­per­tise, I try to in­cor­po­rate that in­to some­thing I would wear and want my clients to wear al­so,” she ex­plained.

Prices start at $850 while cus­tom pieces are from $2,500.

“Peo­ple want to pay for what they want and some­times it’s nice to ex­per­i­ment and peo­ple are will­ing to ex­per­i­ment with you,” she said.

Forde’s busi­ness is al­so mul­ti­di­men­sion­al as de­sign­ing Car­ni­val cos­tumes is in­te­gral to her work. Her sec­tions are show­cased at the Bar­ba­di­an and Ja­maica Car­ni­val and this year she’s ex­pand­ing to two oth­er Caribbean coun­tries.

“That’s the num­ber one ex­port area in JAn­gelique,” Forde said.

Japan­ese po­ten­tial

Japan has a huge Caribbean fol­low­ing, so Car­ni­val and its by-prod­ucts fit right in.

Cu­ri­ous about the Japan­ese mar­ket, Forde re­cent­ly vis­it­ed that coun­try to get a first-hand feel of its fash­ion in­dus­try and scope.

“I de­cid­ed to go there be­cause they have a big Car­ni­val and a big so­ca fol­low­ing. There’s def­i­nite­ly a big love for the Caribbean,” she said.

“We had a lit­tle pop-up shop there and they just ran for our pieces. This al­so gave me an ap­pre­ci­a­tion for Caribbean cul­ture and how much peo­ple ac­tu­al­ly re­spect that,” Forde said.

Her com­pa­ny al­so has an ath­let­ic line and some pieces are ex­pect­ed to be ex­port­ed to Japan soon. While Forde didn’t get fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance for her trip, she en­cour­ages oth­er de­sign­ers to ex­plore new mar­kets, es­pe­cial­ly out­side of the Caribbean.

Fash­ion val­ue chain

Forde, whose moth­er is Trinida­di­an and fa­ther Bar­ba­di­an, was one of sev­er­al de­sign­ers who took part in the Min­istry of Trade’s Val­ue Chain In­vest­ment Pro­gramme (VCIP) which pro­vides ca­pac­i­ty build­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to lo­cal fash­ion en­tre­pre­neurs with the con­tin­u­a­tion of the VCIP by the T&T Fash­ion Com­pa­ny Ltd (Fash­ionTT).

“The pro­gramme has not on­ly helped to grow my busi­ness but ba­si­cal­ly put it in­to per­spec­tive. Things that were on the back burn­er turned in­to bril­liant ideas and de­signs, for in­stance, in­creased the num­ber of my Car­ni­val sec­tions,” she said.

“It is im­por­tant to have a struc­ture, to have all your pro­ce­dures in place and to have an ac­tu­al busi­ness that can flour­ish years af­ter.”

As her busi­ness takes new root, Forde plans to have sev­er­al col­lab­o­ra­tions this year, al­though not nec­es­sar­i­ly with peo­ple in the fash­ion in­dus­try.

“My busi­ness is al­so mod­elled off things that work, to bring el­e­ments of suc­cess­ful busi­ness­es and ap­ply it to the fash­ion in­dus­try,” she said.

One of her pop­u­lar pieces is a Gre­cian dress which re­tails for $1,500 and is cus­tom made at a cost that is “a drop in the buck­et,” she said.

Fash­ionTT suc­cess­es

Fash­ionTT, es­tab­lished in 2013, has a man­date to stim­u­late and fa­cil­i­tate busi­ness de­vel­op­ment and ex­port ac­tiv­i­ty in the lo­cal fash­ion in­dus­try to gen­er­ate wealth. In 2016, sev­er­al de­sign­ers were ac­cept­ed in­to the pro­gramme.

They got sup­port to im­prove var­i­ous el­e­ments of their busi­ness­es from Fash­ionTT, the Na­tion­al En­tre­pre­neur­ship De­vel­op­ment Com­pa­ny (Ned­co) and Fash­ion In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy pro­fes­sor and con­sul­tant Vin­cent Quan.

Last year, Fash­ionTT launched the sec­ond co­hort of the VCIP with four tiers of the pro­gramme: three for the glob­al val­ue chain, 10 for the non-glob­al val­ue chain, 40 for the busi­ness ad­vi­so­ry and fi­nanc­ing and 50 for the fu­ture sup­port train­ing.

In all, 103 de­sign­ers will be get­ting men­tor­ing and train­ing sup­port through the pro­gramme in this year.

The fash­ion sec­tor has been the main fo­cus area for di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion and Fash­ionTT and the VCIP is tak­ing the lo­cal in­dus­try to new heights.

“We are very proud of the ac­com­plish­ments these re­mark­able de­sign­ers have been able to achieve in such a short time and look for­ward to what the fu­ture has in store,” said Fash­ionTT gen­er­al man­ag­er, Lisa-Marie Danie.

Since its in­cep­tion, the VCIP has pro­duced ben­e­fi­cial re­sults quan­ti­ta­tive­ly and qual­i­ta­tive­ly for the par­tic­i­pat­ing de­sign­ers and the in­dus­try, Chair­man Ja­son Lind­say added.

He said de­sign­ers have ex­pand­ed their busi­ness­es sig­nif­i­cant­ly with con­tin­ued sales in­creas­es, ex­pan­sions in re­tail dis­tri­b­u­tion and ex­port gen­er­a­tion re­gion­al­ly and in­ter­na­tion­al­ly. Two de­sign­ers from the first co­hort of the non-glob­al val­ue chain were el­e­vat­ed to glob­al val­ue chain (GVC), the high­est tier and now have the op­por­tu­ni­ty to work with a glob­al fash­ion ex­pert who will sup­port them in pen­e­trat­ing for­eign mar­kets in line with their prod­ucts and the re­spec­tive mar­ket’s buy­ing pow­er.

De­sign­ers in­volved in the VCIP have ex­pand­ed in­to mar­kets that in­clude but are not lim­it­ed to South Ko­rea, Is­rael, Aus­tralia, New Zealand, US, UK, Samoa, and the Philip­ines.

More reach for men’s wear

When it comes to men’s brands, Ecliff Elie eas­i­ly stands out among lo­cal de­sign­ers.

De­sign­ing since the age of 14, he has worked his way up with­out any for­mal train­ing to be­come an eas­i­ly recog­nis­able brand and the go-to de­sign­er for suits and ca­su­al wear.

Be­fore the VCIP, Elie op­er­at­ed out of a bou­tique at Ros­ali­no Street, Wood­brook, with a staff of 11. To­day he has 28 em­ploy­ees and opened a fac­to­ry in El So­cor­ro.

“We don’t even throw away scraps now. We put it on a shelf and prob­a­bly make ties with them lat­er. We have moved from hav­ing em­ploy­ees to ac­tu­al­ly hav­ing a busi­ness. I am able to run my busi­ness from any­where in the world now,” Elie said.

As a re­sult of the pro­gramme, sales have dou­bled even in his out­lets in Bar­ba­dos, St Lu­cia and St Vin­cent and Elie has now set his sights on e-com­merce.

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