Fashion Dreams and Business Realities

Photo caption: FashionTT Mr Oliviere and Dr Burke: Veteran fashion designer Shurnel Oliviere (seated) gets advice from Dr Suzanne Burke, who facilitated the FashionTT Business of Fashion Workshops on July 14- 15 at the Centre of Excellence, Macoya



On day one of the FashionTT Business of Fashion Workshop, session facilitator Dr Suzanne Burke told participants that entrepreneurship means “taking resources from a place where there is nothing and adding value”.

In her presentation, Business Planning for the Creatives: The Fashion Sector of T&T, she guided participants to consider their passion and heart as well as business tools and skills such as leadership and communication.

Burke is a cultural studies lecturer at UWI, St Augustine, and was the researcher behind the Ministry of Arts’ Cultural Mapping Exercise a few years ago.

The data from that exercise is now being used to develop policy and programming for the sector, she said.

There were some 30 participants at the July 14 and 15 FashionTT free workshops at the Cattleya Louge, Centre of Excellence, Macoya. Participants included clothing designers Shurnel Oliviere, Shaun Griffith Perez and Sheldon Warner; accessories designers Alana Ramlal of the brand Body Frosting and J John of Wrap Crush; fashion publicist Ain Earle of The Fashion Arch; and tailoring/ dressmaking tutor Doreen Williams. They ranged from relative newcomers to those with more than a generation of experience.

Fashion entrepreneurs are business people, but many of them keep their business plans in their head, Burke indicated. She was there to walk participants towards making vision and mission statements and business plans they could actually use for themselves, not just as a means for applying for bank loans.

“Information that I wanted for a long time was put into this package,” said Perez, who has 23 years’ experience in fashion. “I am going to take this and put it into my brand,” he commented at the end of the workshop.

Much of what Burke said struck home for the creative entrepreneurs there.

“We need to have an understanding of how fashion is in Trinidad,” said Doreen Williams of San Fernando, who began sewing for herself and her family 45 years ago and over time became a tutor as well as dressmaker and soft furnishings designer.

Williams said she found the information from the workshop useful even though she had done training on writing business plans before. “You need to remove the jargon. Now I understand the paper behind it,” she said.

Burke drew from international examples to illustrate her points. To talk about exclusivity and branding, for example, she told the story of Sean “Diddy” Combs’ involvement with Ciroc vodka; to talk about relevance and planning she pointed to Diane von Furstenburg, who invented the hugely successful wrap dress but faded into oblivion for decades afterwards.

The example she kept coming back to, however, was the story of Mo’s Bows.

Established by a nine-year-old African-American boy and his mother six years ago, the Memphis brand of bow ties has made a bundle for its owners while staying true to its vision of making people feel stylish and happy. In March, the company got a lucrative licensing deal with the NBA to use the league’s logos on its bow ties.

The company is a shining example of how a creative entrepreneur embraced his voice and told his own story. “Vision, values, voice are the cornerstones of your business,” Burke said.

But she warned that creative businesses were risky; the trajectory of Mo’s Bows wasn’t the path all fashion businesses would take. Seven out of ten creative businesses are destined to fail, she said.

“If this is what you do you have to have belly for failure,” she cautioned, before adding the caveat that failure was, nevertheless, essential. “If the thing don’t fail first, it ent go succeed!” Resilience is key, she said. “If you don’t have that, crapaud smoke your pipe.”

Days three and four of the workshop were planned to take place July 21-22 at the same venue. The schedule included a session on production management with Sandra Carr of the UTT Caribbean Academy for Fashion and Design (CAFD) and a financial workshop led by Andre Taitt, an adjunct lecturer at the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business.

There will be a whole day workshop in Tobago on July 27, covering merchandise planning, marketing and distribution, public relations and other topics, with CAFD lecturers Hannah Hafeez and Jessel Brizan.

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