Establishing a Trinidad & Tobago fashion industry
Fashion Week Trinidad & Tobago
For decades, there has been a quietly flourishing fashion and design industry in Trinidad and Tobago, inspired by the colour and vibrance, 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), and 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.
One of the first leaps forward for the fashion industry was Fashion Week Trinidad & Tobago (FWTT), established in 2008 to take the industry to another level. In its first four years of existence, FWTT had become a standing-room-only event. Showcasing the creativity of local designers, FWTT was the only local forum for designers, upcoming and established, to present their designs in a professional setting.
FWTT was a concept that has been decades in the making. Its establishment came at a time when fashion as a local industry was beginning to gather momentum, with fashion degrees now being offered at the University of Trinidad & Tobago and the formation of the Fashion Association of Trinidad & Tobago to promote the industry.
In its first year, the event was held under a tent at Adam Smith Square in Woodbrook in similar style to the prominent New York Fashion Week. In 2009, the event moved to the prestigious Hyatt Regency Trinidad on the redeveloped waterfront, where it stayed for the Trinidad leg.
The week-long affair attracted Trinidad’s glitterati: beauty queens, sports personalities, soca stars and prominent members of the business community.
In 2009, the event saw the return to the ramp of designers such as Sonia Mack and introduced soca star Machel Montano as a designer with his children’s line Boy Boy. Regional designers are also a part of FWTT, using the forum to boost their profile in the lucrative Trinidad market.
The 2010 edition, under the patronage of then newly elected Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, saw the event showcase some 50 designers, and 40 from Trinidad & Tobago – the largest ever number of local participants featured in their own country in a regional fashion show. Seven runway shows were hosted, with five in Trinidad and two – for the first time – in Tobago. The 2010 edition also introduced a buyer’s gallery and a series of seminars to help promote the local and regional fashion industry.
Designers featured original works under the following themes: Caribbean Cutting Edge, Cosquelle Swimwear, Nouveau Caribbean, New World Style and Haute Caribbean. The 2010 event debuted in Pigeon Point, Tobago, hosting events on the sister island for the first time. The Tobago leg featured resort wear, swimsuits and collections exclusive to the Tobago shows. It even featured Tobago’s traditional Moriah Wedding as part of the festivities. The Festival also featured designers showing for the first time in Trinidad & Tobago, including swimwear designer Johnny Vincent, who has produced pieces for Rihanna.
Filling the space
Tobago Fashion Weekend
Unfortunately, after initially being postponed from May to September, Fashion Week was cancelled in 2011 due to difficult economic and socio-political conditions. Following the success and boost to the local industry following former Miss Trinidad & Tobago Anya Ayoung Chee‘s winning the US television series Project Runway in 2011, FWTT returned in October 2012 but once again was absent from the scene in 2013.
But nature abhors a vacuum, and Tobago Fashion Weekend – started in 2011 and held annually – firmly established itself as a standalone event.
The Trinidad and Tobago Fashion Company Limited (FashionTT) was established in 2013 with the mandate to stimulate and facilitate the business development and export activity of the fashion industry in T&T. It aims to provide services for local fashion industry stakeholders, primarily fashion designers in the areas of fashion apparel, functional apparel, and accessories. The strategic plan for Trinidad and Tobago’s fashion industry can be found at: www.fashiontt.co.tt/strategy
Fashion meets mas: K2K introduces Carnival Couture
Despite bringing out a section in Poison previously, the Norman twins – Karen and Kathy Norman – introduced their first Carnival Couture Collection – The Waters: Seas of Consciousness – for Carnival 2012. Heralded by some as “saviours of the mas”, they blend contemporary, edgy, fashion-forward haute couture trends with traditional mas-making elements, with an eye to extending their brand to include traditional fashion collections. Since then, other bands have followed suit — introducing a bit of haute couture to their mas offerings.