Published onThursday, May 25 2017 by Tyrell Gittens
Discussions on Trinidad and Tobago’s national economy usually include a focus on diversification, especially since the economy, heavily reliant on oil and gas, faces some level of uncertainty to the global fall in prices and cuts in production.
Recognising the need to create new revenue streams, there has been a push to identify and potentially develop, new economically viable yet profitable sectors in TT.
With the global fashion industry being valued at trillions of dollars its potential role in TT’s diversification efforts cannot be underestimated. In an interview with Business Day, local fashion designer Liesl Thomas spoke of her fashion brand and the push to develop fashion in Trinidad and Tobago, while navigating challenges in entrepreneurship.
Thomas said when she recognised that what she termed ‘local vibes’ were under represented in everyday Trinbagonian clothing, she saw a potential to develop a brand that embraces local culture. She established Dingolay Designs in 2016, named after the song Dingolay by Winston “Mighty Shadow” Bailey.
She describes it as a fusion of music and fashion, and its essence of representing ‘local vibes’ can be seen in the design prints that range from the steelpan to popular local lyrics. Addressing possible perceptions that her brand pieces are essentially souvenirs, Thomas says while souvenirs are a great representation of local culture, she wants her designs to have an identity of its own.
The music of Dingolay Designs wasn’t always sweet, however, and Thomas explained that she faced financial challenges in starting up her brand, a common problem among new small business owners.
She noted that while embracing financial challenges provided an opportunity to be creative and insightful into how resources are managed, she advised young entrepreneurs to seek help. She points out that there are several organisations such as NEDCO that can assist.
Initially concerned that she did not have a business background, Thomas encouraged young entrepreneurs like herself not to be discouraged, but to be “resilient to face the ups and downs of the business world.” It is important to learn about the mechanisms of business along the journey, Thomas said, using tools such as free workshops that are available for young designers and entrepreneurs.
Thomas said she sees promise in the push to promote fashion locally, however, she wants to see more people and organisations joining the movement.
Her brand is currently being sold at the Shops of Normandie, in St Ann’s, an initiative to push local products. She applauds the hotel for its efforts in giving local artists an opportunity to have a home.
Thomas admits her brand is not 100 percent local, citing numerous reasons that were beyond her control. The T-shirts and other garments used to produce the brand are imported but the screen printing is done locally.
Based on her research, she said she found quality and comfort were major consumer preferences. She says it is hard to find locally made T-shirts that suits the quality she requires. However, she said she is exploring the option of producing her own T-shirts when she sources the proper fabric.
Her vision for Dingolay Designs is to one day employ people and make an investment in local talents. She also envisions the brand being sold at the Piarco International Airport and in Tobago, as well as being included in a fashion show by the end of 2017.