The local fashion industry continues to make significant strides in showcasing T&T’s talent and, more importantly, proving to be a potential economic growth pole.
Vashti Guyadeen, CEO of the T&T Coalition of Service Industries (TTCSI), told the Business Guardian that the industry comprises fashion designers, jewellery and accessories designers, and functional designers and also includes support services such as models and model management agencies, cosmetologists, creative directors, and production facilities which continue to flourish.
She noted that stakeholders are diverse—ranging from sole-trader entrepreneurs operating at the cottage level and servicing select clients in the local market, to companies employing dozens of people and working towards export-readiness, if not already exporting their products and/or services.
In fact, Guyadeen said micro, small and medium-sized entrepreneurs dominate the local industry, across the full spectrum of the industry’s connected ancillary services.
Revolutionaries in the industry, who are doing their part to make the sector, sustainable also shared their perspectives.
Christabelle Skinner, founder of the Central Institute of Cosmetology, for instance, has made the nurturing and educating of young talent her raison d’être.
“We have to stop training people to go rent a workstation or to go and open a small shop, and you live there, and you retire from there or you die there. If you make it, you make it and if you go belly up, you go belly up.
“We have to open up their horizons. We have to show them what they are learning is a stepping-stone,” she said.
Skinner also noted a growing sub-market in the local fashion sector.
“There are female executives who have their personal cosmetologist and hairstylist on speed dial. They don’t make a public appearance without their ‘style team’ preparing them first before they show their face in public. This is an ever-growing services market for the new young talent emerging and graduating from training programmes every year,” Skinner explained.
Another growing trend she noted comes from an unlikely place—the funeral market.
“Preparing the dearly departed for their final rest also calls for skills in cosmetology. Family members saying goodbye want to remember their loved ones as they were in life. That means dressing them well, and ensuring their hair and make-up present them in a beautiful way and shows them at peace. People with that kind of skill make it easier for family members during such a difficult and emotional time. And it can be a lucrative career option, too,” Skinner noted.
Further, she said there are opportunities in the local entertainment industry with all the commercials, music videos and films that are being produced.
And there is another area that many be overlooked—providing fashion-related services to tourists.
“Our, cruise ship industry is developing, for example. People are coming to our shores, visiting our beaches and other attractions. They may want their hair trimmed or styled, or to retouch their hair colour that went crazy in a swimming pool. What about people coming here for medical treatment? Being able to access fashion and cosmetology services could give them the emotional and psychological boost they need to get through a particularly scary time. These are services our young cosmetology graduates can consider specialising in and earn a very good living,” Skinner noted.
Additionally, she said men are taking their appearance and fashion choices more seriously, providing yet another avenue for fresh new talent to explore for opportunities.
“I think even before the pandemic, barbers started exploring how to give their male clients that finished, complete look,” Skinner said adding, “They started arching their eyebrows and marking their haircuts in innovative and artistic ways. Some barbers now even do chemical work as far as texturising and even colouring,” Skinner said.
She further noted that men’s skin care and personal grooming is now a lucrative market, as men are embracing the concept that not only women need to do facials, moisturise, and have manicures and pedicures.
The local garment industry also continues to thrive.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry recently reported that from 2016 to 2021, T&T’s manufacturers exported over $121 million in garments to various destinations.
Rodger Montano, a fashion design as well as a cosmetologist, advised that if the next generation of T&T’s fashion industry stakeholders is to grow, they must be exposed to ideas which can open doors for them locally and internationally.
“Many young people in disadvantaged communities as well as those coming from a middle-or lower-income background are unable to make a connection between being an excellent seamstress or tailor, or hairstylist or make-up artist, and what they see on the international fashion runways,” Montano explained.
In this vein, he applauded the Government for assisting young women and men to learn skills that could help them become entrepreneurs, in programmes offered by agencies such as YTEPP, which business support via entities like Nedco.
However, Montano wants them to go beyond just hustling to make a living, and to thrive in a career.
“It starts with the quality of training they receive. In today’s world, sciences such as chemistry, bacteriology, biology are important components in the education received by cosmetologists and hairstylists. One’s ability to sew really well does not make one a designer. One would need to further one’s education and learn about as many aspects of the fashion industry as possible—inclusive of cosmetology, hair and make-up—and become a professional,” he explained.
Additionally, Montano said mentorship by the elders and masters in the industry is also another critical element that must be employed, to give young people a competitive chance on the international market.
During the month of November specifically from 20 to 24, 2023 the TTCSI will be focusing on fashion in its services week which Montano said is a key spot for this country to dominate and ensure it gets on the international calendar of fashion events.
Next year, Montano hopes to have a major fashion expo that will see stakeholders in the fashion industry cosmos exhibiting their products and services.
“It will be a major networking event for designers, seamstresses and tailors, cosmetologists and beauticians, barbers and hairstylists, and the retailers/buyers and suppliers who support and/or wish to access their services,” he added.
Lynette Headley-Atherley, president of Fashion Entrepreneurs of T&T (FETT) said one of the biggest challenges the industry faces is on the manufacturing side.
“New designers are emerging every year, but who is providing manufacturing for their designs? Who is doing the construction of their garments?
“We don’t have a ‘fashion district’ like in other countries, and we still import so much of our clothing,” Headley-Atherley said.
Stating that there is a place for fashion entrepreneurs at every level, Headley-Atherley also echoed similar sentiments that programmes under Servol and YTEPP—for seamstresses and tailors— provided many young people over the years with the skills to set up their own small businesses and gain a certain level of financial independence.
Despite the flood of cheaper, imported clothing, she said making a career out of being a seamstress or tailor is possible because there is still a market for people who want hand-made clothing and not factory product.
Just before the pandemic, FETT launched its own training programme, teaching young people fashion industry basics such as the right way construct clothing pieces.
“Then we would specialise them in that area, so a person would become a specialist at making skirts or pants or tops.
“We believe this is important for industry growth, to ensure we will have people to produce the clothes people want. We don’t just need designers; we also need production,” Headley-Atherley explained.
She also maintained that creating a fashion district is another important key to developing a sustainable fashion industry in T&T.
“We need to create a place where people can go and shop for designer pieces. People want that unique touch in clothing the designer made especially for them, reflecting their personality and flattering their figure.
“People want to look good, and they don’t want to see every Tom, Dick and Harry in what they have,” Headley-Atherley emphasised.