Fashion is in fashion! However the story of Caribbean fashion design has not yet been written…
Although import and distribution dominate a large part of the market, let’s try and have an objective view on design.
all historical studies highlight its youthful character, focusing mainly on style and accessories, to the detriment of the textile industry.
just as a regional culture with a strong discourse, this fashion evokes spontaneous creativity in a popular cultural dynamic, affirming its authenticity.
just as regional identity, caribbean fashion isn’t one-dimensional but diverse, knowing it boasts influences from Latin, anglo-saxon, French and creole culture.
but aside from the magnificence of oscar de la renta, or the versatility of stella jean, design that is directly inspired from the caribbean has not yet truly been acknowledged on international markets. succeeding in this sector requires a specific skill set. Fashion has defined itself as one of the major economic players, offering more than a limited display of trends during runway shows.
“Fashion isn’t art, it’s an industry.” in his opening statement at the Kréyol Fashion days (KFd) in 2012, the iconic French designer jean paul gaultier insisted on the economic realities of creative industries.
in this new paradigm, a new approach must prevail. the era of the reigning designer-maker is over, and the key to success is now defined by collaborative processes.
this is the challenge behind being able to keep a balance between the traditional role of seamstress and that of the artistic director, now at the forefront of design, but also the visuals, in line with the commercial objectives.
moreover, the shy interest of distributors reflects the low competitiveness in terms of proposals from the majority of local designers, based on the criteria used to analyse the collections.
beyond the real problems of sourcing, our designers still have to reinvent themselves.
such a step ought to be followed with a critical approach, one that is self-built and independent of the type of feedback you would find in the media.
The quality of the training in our regions also remains far below the level required in contemporary markets.
apart from the recognised institutions such as altos de chavon in dominican republic or, to a lesser degree, the university of trinidad & tobago and edna manley college in jamaica, our current educational systems do not produce the necessary generations of designers and managers.
The sometimes unipersonal nature of the structures, the absence of effective economical models, the deficiency of brand strategy, financial instability or weak positioning in terms of distribution are all considered as the liabilities of local businesses.
in the middle of all this, fashion is not reduced to products, but requires an influx of senses and values through branding.
as the sociologist marcel mauss stated, fashion is
a “social fact” based on the fact that it feeds from everything. it is an amazing reflection of society.
the capacity of caribbean fashion design to generate visuals and sell dreams will act as a way to enrich itself of synergies, with its literature, its arts, sociology or even mythology.
moreover, in today’s globalised markets, the success of the caribbean will either be a collective one, or not.
The fact that cuba is gradually opening up should only whet the appetite of some international brands, particularly the ones wanting to acquire some of the caribbean touches that echo their own dna.
If we have the right to be proud, we also have the right to be lucid.
caribbean dna is also shared with other parts of
the world that demonstrate much more proactive development strategies. south africa and brazil are perfect examples of this.
nevertheless, some of the hopefuls include local brands such as the cloth (trinidad & tobago) or Vèvè collections (haïti).
in order to increase the amount of local brands, specialised support for these companies is an undeniable tool for success. in guadeloupe, the pilot initiative emergence (Feder region), is able to accompany 9 creative businesses over the course of 2 years, with a tailored educational programme, catering to the entire sector.
in addition, the younger generations, adequately trained, and of caribbean identity but responsive to new markets, progressively affirm themselves as our gateway to expansion.
ultimately, it is by revisiting our heritage, developing products through the right design, and creating seductive storytelling of brands that match the expectations of contemporary audiences, that caribbean fashion will reach its full potential.
the Kréyol Fashion days forum brought by guadeloupe for the interreg regional cooperation integrates all of these work ethics. provided that industry players agree to remove themselves from the wrinkles of individualism.
otherwise, others will start telling our own stories.
as recommended by the parisian style office, martine Leherpeur, an associate working with the buzz caribbean program, “we must act quickly.”
Looking at the year 2020, i would be tempted to say “we must act quickly and well.”