Young bajan wedding planner makes mark in Paris
My name is Tonicia Gilkes; and I’m 25 years old. I left Barbados three years ago, after the closure of Warrens Motors Inc., where I was BMW marketing co-ordinator and then acted as brand manager.
I had a desire to transition from working with a luxury automotive brand to a luxury fashion brand. I came to Paris and pursued a MBA in fashion business (a programme that only allows 25 people in the world entrance) at the International Fashion Academy, Paris (IFA Polimoda, Paris), and have since then been working with luxury fashion brands such as Michael Kors and Diane von Furstenberg, mainly here in Paris, and also in Milan.
Today, I am the founder of Paris Weddings By Toni G. Also, I am very active in the local church here (after taking a nerve-racking decision back in 2011 to live for Christ, which completely changed my life). Now, I’m a part of the worship team and also stage design team at Hillsong Church, Paris.
Hillsong is a huge church in Australia that has subsidiary churches in most major cities of the world, including New York, London, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Berlin and, of course, Paris. We like to think of it as one big house (God’s house) with many different rooms (being our various locations), spreading the same message.
Where do I see myself five years from now? I will be married, hopefully with one or two kids. I also want to have a ministry to impact the situation of orphans worldwide. If only seven per cent of the world’s two billion Christians each cared for one child, the orphan crisis would end.
I would like to really establish my company in Paris and Barbados. However, I would more than likely continue working with luxury fashion brands here as a consultant. In addition, I would love the opportunity to work with and educate those in retail on island Barbados, because fashion is way more than buying and selling. I want to change their perception.
Instead I desire to see more retailers taking steps to creating an identity, finding their audience, creating a brand and an image, and having their unique voice. To see them create a story and tell their story to their target!
Thoughts on fashion retail in Barbados. I think people will soon realise, if they haven’t already, gone are the days where travelling to the United States and returning with a few bags to sell bits of everything would be even to survive in business. If you are speaking to everyone, you are speaking to no one.
I spent the last Christmas holiday on island with my family, and when I toured Bridgetown, I was saddened by the number of retail businesses that had folded up. I really felt an urge to meet with those retailers who are there and really help them to understand the possibilities and how they can turn the market right around, as currently every retailer continues to sell the same thing.
Who we are and the possibilities. Barbados has marketed itself as a luxury vacation destination and has done an awesome job at that. However, now it is time we step it up a bit. I would love to see an increase of local designers and manufacturers of clothing, offering our talent when tourists are on our shores. I see so much potential in the youth.
I am often asked by others to bring something unique from my country, and all I can offer is what? Rum? Okay, we were the pioneers; however it’s time to develop new industries.
People are travelling to the United States and many other countries; they don’t want to buy the same products they can buy back in their countries when they come to Barbados.
The fashion industry. Today, so many people continue to underestimate the fashion industry. I would like to put it into perspective. Fashion is the only multibillion-dollar industry that has not declined within the past five years, while both music and film for the past two to three years have. After coming to Paris and being schooled here, I realized that fashion was more of a science.
Take, for example, why the rent on the world-famous Avenue Champs Elysees here in Paris is higher on side than the other. Although the average man would not appreciate this study, the flow of pedestrians is affected by which side the sun sets. More people gravitate towards one particular side resulting in lower revenues for brands in that location.
There are even studies on how the human brain works in relation to the flow of customers in a boutique; whether they walk from the left side of the store to the right, or the reverse. And, determining the visual merchandising of the store (how you should actually display your merchandise).
After seeing major luxury brands such as LVMH open doors in Barbados, my beliefs became stronger. This move says a lot about our potential, as we are the only Caribbean island that has attracted such prestigious fashion houses. Why are we still not taking it seriously?
My desire is to see new, youthful and ambitious entrepreneurs being birthed from the difficult position we have found ourselves in. It is in crisis that the greatest opportunities are born –– through fearless persons who are willing to take risks. That is what I did and will continue to do.
You can’t be afraid to fail; we fail many times before we see success. We just need to ask ourselves: what would we do without fear? I always, when in a challenging situation, say to myself: “I am doing it because nothing great happens when you hold back; because ordinary is so painful when you are built to be extraordinary.
Why Paris Weddings By Toni G. I have a passion for fashion and interiors (which I acquired from parents who are interior decorators). Combining both was like magic; and so Paris Weddings By Toni G was formed. I have positioned myself for people outside of France who are clueless as to where to start to have their one-of-a-kind experience in Paris.
I really try to make my clients’ dreams a reality. Reducing issues from language barriers to choosing the best spots for their shoot, or where they have to go for a memorable romantic dinner, to deciding what colours they should choose . . . .
With each couple it’s about storytelling. I set the mood for the event, the colours, bridal party collection and definitely styling of photo sessions.
“It’s about paying attention to what is necessary and making those necessary elements beautiful”, whether it is the elopement for two, an extravagant event or vow renewals. When I receive a budget I usually design what is possible for the client. They may have fewer bells and whistles, but living happily ever after.
Being economical doesn’t have to be “cheap and cheerful”, but can be with style and elegance.
How I survived living in the world’s second most expensive city. I am a believer, and I believe God brought me to this city to fall in love with Him, because I had no one else to depend on, or call for the many intimate conversations I have had with Him.
I really learnt how to pray without ceasing, because living in a city where less than three per cent are Christians and less than five per cent have actually seen a Bible, is far from easy. Lastly, I definitely couldn’t do it without Toni and Grecia (my parents). Yes, you caught me; that’s where my name derived from –– Tonicia.
I know many parents push their kids to choose a wise profession or what persons regard as professions that are secure (that is, law, medicine, and so on), but the truth is, there is no room for any more in those fields. It has all been exhausted.
The fact is we spend more than two thirds of our day in our jobs, and we need to be happy.
My parents usually supported whatever decision I was leaning towards, once it made me happy.
As Steve Jobs said, “the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle! As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it”.
I also believe that we should never compromise our uniqueness for what we see as an advantage of acceptance; and I stay true to this. It is the insecurity of the times that defines who you really are.