...Taylor Montano gives unlikely models, beauty and fashion creatives an outlet
Bursting from the starting blocks post-pandemic, creative Roger Taylor Montano founded Fashion Festival Week Trinidad and Tobago (FFWTT). Collaborating with Fashion Entrepreneurs of Trinidad and Tobago (FETT), he has already launched a series of events designed to empower creatives in FFWTT’s first edition which will culminate from May 19 to 25.
Taylor Montano decided that 2023 would be a good year for Caribbean people involved or interested in beauty, modelling and fashion to emerge from the background and onto the front stage as they take charge of their destinies, himself included.
“We’re trying to bring everyone who was backstage to the front of the stage. We’re using average, everyday people and training them to become models, make-up artists, designers, photographers, so they could build their portfolios,” Taylor Montano revealed in an interview last week.
FFWTT’s vision is to foster an appreciation for and generate excitement about Caribbean models, fashion designers, hairstylists, make-up artists, and young creative entrepreneurs among buyers and the media, creating a first-class platform for creatives. Emphasising diversity and inclusivity, the festival offers creatives a chance to promote and sell their products through networking with local and international fashion industry stakeholders, especially those in the Caribbean diaspora.
Leading off FFWTT’s events was the FACE of Fashion Festival Week Trinidad and Tobago competition held on February 11 at the Lions Club, Port-of-Spain, which Taylor Montano described as a modelling competition with a difference.
It featured 21 contestants–the very young, the mature, the full-figured, a contestant with albinism, a deaf contestant, a Miss Plus Universe Trinidad and Tobago 2022 participant, as well as a Miss Universe Trinidad and Tobago 2022 participant, among others. Ranging in age from four years to 55, all had answered FFWTT’s online model call for candidates with little to zero modelling experience.
“People tell a lot of these models that they aren’t good enough. We were looking for all kinds–short, tall, plus size, mature models–trying to give all who want to be on stage a chance because, in the modelling arena, you could be a hand model, a face model, a foot model. You don’t have to be six feet tall, you don’t have to be a runway model, a high fashion model per se,” he explained.
Eleven winners were awarded across various categories and will be heading to Toronto to receive further training from the True Colors Model and Talent agency and possible international exposure. The 11 will represent Trinidad and Tobago at the Montreal Caribbean Fashion Week in September this year.
A Fashion Design and Cosmetology graduate of LaSalle College Montreal in Canada, Belmont-born Taylor Montano lived in Canada from age five when his parents packed up the family and sought out opportunities in the North American country. The hairstylist, fashion designer and entrepreneur has been based in T&T since 2000, working under his self-owned company TAYMO Creations.
Natasha Francis Joseph
Natasha Francis Joseph, 49, a social worker for 26 years and certified elder at Canaan Presbyterian Church in Duncan Village, San Fernando. She captured the Miss Big and Beautiful and Miss Mature titles at the competition.
Why did you enter the FACE of FFWTT competition?
I entered the competition after I saw the ad while walking through the mall. I didn’t think of being an elder, I just thought of it as having skills and qualities and showing the church in another format. It’s not in any way ungodly or indecent I spoke to Roger at the mall and he said models don’t have to all be a specific height and weight etc anymore, so try it.
What have you learned from the experience thus far?
I have learnt that you can recreate yourself even after 40. When you think you are coming down in age and you think God says slow down and think about living life less, God has put me in the forefront to show that this is who I am now. I learnt to be confident and to recognise that who I am–which is God’s creation–is worthy.
I’ve also learnt the importance of maintaining a certain level of sophistication and elegance and presenting yourself well. Even more so because I won the Big and Beautiful, and Mature awards, I must ensure that when I’m in the public, that is who I am.
How can you now inspire other women, especially, through your field of work?
I am single and unmarried and at this age, I can offer people a new understanding that you can recreate yourself. To a woman who is tired, and looking for a new slant in life, I can show the importance of walking with esteem, the importance of understanding that you are wonderfully and fearfully made and that you can participate in activities in fashion and still be well-dressed and still be decent and upstanding. God interacts in every aspect of life and people should realise that God is not caught in a box. Through this, young men, children, and even the church could see a new aspect of womanhood.
Tenicia Gay, 37, customer service representative who is a person with albinism (someone who has a reduced amount of melanin, or no melanin at all which makes his or her skin and hair very light in colour and makes the person vulnerable to problems with eyesight and skin cancers). She won a Commercial model title at the competition
I entered the competition to help me build more confidence and to try something new that I would have been scared to do before. Also, to show that people who are born with albinism can do anything that they put their minds to.
Tell me a little about your cancer journey and the issues you had to face when your mom passed during that time.
In 2014 when I was diagnosed with a skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, I wasn’t sure what it was because when it first came out on my skin, I thought it was a cut and I completely ignored it until the day I went to the doctor and got it tested. During that time, I had a lot of medication to take before I had major surgery. The week of my surgery, my mom fell ill. My mom died the same day as my surgery, so while I was in the hospital, she was in the hospital and I didn’t know.
After she passed, my journey was really hard because I had multiple surgeries after that–close to 12. What people don’t know is that people with albinism are not supposed to be in the sun or any heat. When things come out on my skin, they have to be tested and once they show any form of skin cancer, they have to be removed. There was one year I had to do chemo. That was hard.
During my journey, I had to thank God for being so amazing, because during chemo, it was me alone. My mom wasn’t there anymore and my family support system was not great. So, I had a lot of breakdowns but I kept in prayer and I thank God for my church which is Flaming Word Ministry and for my boss. She has been super supportive.
What is your message to the public about the albino community and what do you mean by having been “othered”?
My message to the public about people born with albinism is something I have never been asked before but I’m glad you asked it because a lot of people are not educated about people with albinism. We are normal human beings, the only difference is we have no melanin. If you cut us, we bleed the same blood. We are educated, and we are fun. We can do anything other humans can do. All I ask is that they respect us and educate themselves about people with albinism because a lot of people don’t know that I have to apply sunblock and use long sleeves, and umbrellas to beat the sun. They don’t know if certain things touch our skin it can burn us and that we can get any form of cancer easily. The respect that the public demands is what they should give us.
What have you learnt from the experience thus far?
It opened up my way of thinking and boosted my confidence and I’m excited to learn more. I have learnt that once you put your mind to something, anything is possible and the fact that I’ve been through so much, this is a win for me and I know that my mom is up there looking at me smiling because she was a person who always encouraged me.
Deaf model Lisa Ramansar (Lisa communicated via texts, but in the absence of an interpreter, a previous statement is used below). She won a Commercial model title.
I was born and raised in Rio Claro and I am the only deaf child among four siblings. Despite this, I have always been determined to live a fulfilling life. One of my passions is sewing and I enjoy creating beautiful dresses, handbags, satin robes, hats, and many other items for fun. My clothing brand is called L’Wink Designz. I have always had a love for the fashion industry and have been fascinated by pageants and modelling.
I believe that it is important for the deaf community to see someone who looks like them succeed in the industry. I hope that my journey will inspire others who are deaf or have a disability to chase their dreams and not let their limitations hold them back.
Karissa Aliyah Halliday
Karissa Aliyah Halliday is 15. Her interests are writing, Art, music, reading, modelling, designing, gymnastics.
I chose to enter this competition as I have an ardent passion for modelling. As a dark-skinned young woman, I believe there needs to be a wider portrayal of our beauty not only in Trinidad and Tobago but worldwide.
I absolutely love being on stage! When I’m on stage I am in my element. I knew that this process would not only further my knowledge, skills and career aspirations in fashion and modelling but would also build me strong social connections and opportunities.
What have you learnt from the experience thus far?
From this venture, not only did I gain hands-on experience but I was afforded an opportunity to help me improve and further fine-tune my assets to be able to further my career.
I also learnt the need for resilience in this industry as you have to be sure of yourself, and your potential and not be reliant on others’ opinions, as well as be able to get back up and try again when you make a mistake.
I am profusely grateful for the quality of the training, the experience and the FFWTT organisation. I cannot wait to see what is the next step in my path!
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