Guyanese Fashion: The Chameleon of the Caribbean
Dating back to the 1950’s Guyanese fashion has always exhibited a desire to be fluid, able to exhibit the influences of the outer world and what may be the fad of the season while still maintaining its own intricate nuances; these elements that still make it Guyanese so to speak.
This characteristic of the small yet rich niche market is one that has been maintained over the years. It is one that has never been too fond of holding on to the past but looking to the future while exploring the creative trends of the day. Many Guyanese to date, should they be challenged to do so, would find it almost impossible to resurrect a piece clothing from the 1960 or 1970 era. Traces of those styles aren’t event prevalent within the society. Its evidence enough to show that the fashion industry in this country, is a fluid, chameleon of all things present and to come.
But fashion nonetheless, is big business in the developed world from Paris to Tokyo, Africa to the Caribbean. In Guyana, a small number of enterprising designers were able to break into this lucrative scene and managed to secure niche markets in the Caribbean and a bit further afield, but their most outstanding deterrent has been the availability of adequate funding.
Fashion designing in Guyana has grown from the manufacturing of clothing to include jewellery, accessories and household artifacts like bed and bath linens and window treatments.
But the Guyana market is miniscule, unable to consume the amount of products manufactured by established designers of the ilk of Derek Moore, Pat Coates, Sonia Noel and Marcia Fraser, and by lesser known gems in the business. In spite of this, effort s are made locally to change this state of affairs.
Guyana Fashion Designers Council
With the undeniable potential for fashion to become a true revenue earner in Guyana, the international community in 2013 gave a helping hand in this arena so as to provide it with some structure, guidance and a platform for growth.
The Delegation of the European Union in Guyana is part of the European External Action Service – the EEAS, which is the European Union’s diplomatic corps. The Delegation was established in 1975 following the signature of the First Lomé Convention, and currently represents the European Union in nine countries and territories in the region. These are Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago as well as six Overseas Countries and Territories belonging to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, namely Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, St Eustatius and St. Maarten. The Delegation also represents EU interests in CARICOM, whose Secretariat is headquartered here in Georgetown.
The Delegation actively promotes the values and policies of the European Union in an open and equal partnership with the Governments and peoples of the countries to which it is accredited. It plays a key role in the implementation of the EU’s cooperation programmes and trade policies focusing on poverty reduction and the smooth and gradual integration of the countries into the world economy.
In fact, EU cooperation is funding fashion design in Guyana via the Caribbean Export Development Agency – CEDA. This would see the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association obtaining in 2013, a grant of 30 Thousand Euro from CEDA for capacity building in different areas, one of which is fashion design.
This funding assisted in the setting up of the Guyana Fashion Designers Council, and the funds will also be used to fund capacity building activities for operators in the local fashion industry, including training by professionals from abroad and visits by local fashion designers to centres overseas.
The Council which was established in May 2013 is made up of various fashion designers and experienced enthusiasts.
Public Relations Officer of the Guyana Fashion Council (GFC) Andrea Braithwaite is optimistic about what the new organisation can do for the sector in Guyana.
She says the council goes beyond the decorative appeal which might often be described as the vanity-driven world of fashion. It seeks to embrace the fashion industry in its broadest sense, from high-flying clothing designers to modest investors in decorative jewellery. That way, she says, everyone’s interests get taken on board.
Braithwaite is unsure of the size of the industry and asserts that there is a lot of hidden talent. “Though if you assess it from a household perspective I am pretty sure that fashion can contribute significantly to employment. That, in my view, is one of the challenges confronting the council. We have a lot of work to do.”
The Guyana Fashion Weekend
Though many of the remarkably talented local designers may find it challenging for various reasons to penetrate the international market, the Guyana Fashion Weekend which has been going on for over seven years provides the perfect bridge for local, regional and international designers to work together and even display their work on the same stage.
The Guyana Fashion Weekend is the brain child of local and international Guyanese designer, Sonia Noel. In 2007, the show was debuted at the then Buddy’s Hotel and saw an extreme level of preparedness. There were swimsuit and lingerie pieces on display by models of different ages and body types. The red carpet event is always a jaw dropping one that is usually sold and showcases the best of Guyana whether in fashion, tourism or food. Guyana has really become a fashion mecca with this event.
The biennial show was expected to take place this year in November but it has been postponed to next year May where it will be one of the major events that will culminate with Guyana’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
The Guyana Fashion Weekend is the second longest running fashion event of its kind in the region and has served to launch many careers of makeup artists , stylists , set decorators, hair designers and graphic artists just to name a few. They have all found a home at the fashion week experience.
The event has proven itself to be indispensible to the country’s cultural policy development as it seeks to invest in the burgeoning creative industry.