Designers dazzle

Vibrant colours, sumptuous fabrics and captivating silhouettes. These words describe the scene at the Calabash Literary Festival at which the handcrafted work of artists Mark Daniel, of renowned fashion label Avark, and Vanita Comissiong, of the distinctive Very Vanita line, was showcased as part of the Caribbean Export Development Agency’s (Caribbean Export) creative industries showcase Design Caribbean in Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth, Jamaica, from May 30 to June 1.

A beautiful Avark creation.
A beautiful Avark creation.

The seducing displays of both designers served to concretize why Barbados is the island of many people’s dreams. The pieces spoke to the vivacity and undeniable pride of the country’s landscape and its people, and were well received by the throngs of attendees at this year’s Calabash. The artists had the opportunity not only
to bring their brands into a new market, but to literally rub shoulders with some of the regions most talented and tenacious creative entrepreneurs.

Calabash represents the perfect platform to showcase work like that of Daniel and Comissiong. The festival, as the critically acclaimed premier literary festival in the English-speaking Caribbean, has become not only an attraction for disciplines of the word, but of fine food, art and craft.

The three-day event attracts visitors from across Jamaica and across the world to experience the festival’s unique environment and offerings. The inclusion of the Design Caribbean pavilion in this mélange of delights was a strategic move on the part of the agency to fully capitalize on the audience for the creatives of the countries which it represents. The pavilion was an undeniable success, forming a key feature of the festival’s extracurricular component.

Mark Daniel, who represented both his brand and his business partner and wife Ava (the first half of the company’s name), arrived with the intention of simply promoting his handcrafted and hand-painted line of bags, a second line of which he is developing specifically for export.

He was, however, surprised by demands for on-the-spot sales, which he happily acquiesced to, in addition to receiving larger stock orders from retailers. The appeal of his product is a testament to the vision behind the bag: a classic and yet cutting-edge design made unique by his intricate stitching and painting.

The bags are the manifestation of a vision that originated in 1983 and has taken on various forms, such as clothing, home furnishings and sandals. The bags are Daniel’s most recent and most concentrated project. He hopes that Design Caribbean at Calabash has served as a catalyst for his line as he propels it into foreign markets.

“I had no expectations of the [Calabash International Literary Festival nor the Design Caribbean staging]. However, it turned out to be a phenomenal [experience] both in terms of the literary aspect and in terms of the response that the Design Caribbean booth [received],” Daniel remarked.

“I was able to use this opportunity to complete a vital part of my market research. I had my concerns about whether the bags would be [suitable for the preferences of the Jamaican consumer] but . . . the bags were loved by everyone [who visited my stand]. I was also able to network with the other designers, as well as with other Jamaican entrepreneurs,” Daniel added.

He went on to reveal that as a result of the show, “. . . through dialogue with my fellow exhibitors, I am looking to travel to Guyana and Haiti to have consultations with potential manufacturers. In order for us entrepreneurs to really move forward, we have to put things in place in terms of manufacturing and marketing. Amongst the 11 people that participated, I saw products that were, beyond a shadow of a doubt, ready for export. We are ready!”

Like Mark Daniel, Vanita Comissiong is a seasoned producer with a distinct vision for her line and her products. The collector’s items fuse fine art and technology through the digital printing of the cloth and other materials. The result is craft made practical, everyday home items turned extraordinary by the vivacious scenes that they depict. The line is its essence, representing the ethos of the modern Caribbean artist: telling the Caribbean story through the manipulation of technology and environment in an aesthetically appealing way.

Design Caribbean was the first trade show experience for Comissiong, who particularly enjoyed “being able to fraternize with other neighbouring artists and designers, sharing and further exploring issues and experiences that we encounter getting our work to market and generating sales”.

Comissiong further noted that “the networking was very beneficial and we were able to come away with contacts and links into areas where sourcing of materials and talent could foster collaborations on future projects”.

The strongest impression which the Barbadian entrepreneur came away with was that “we Caribbean artists and designers have a shared vision in what defines our creativity, one that transcends our nationality and that unites us far more than the waters that keeps us apart”.

These two artisans are part of a regional network that is constantly seeking new avenues and opportunities for market entry and penetration. Caribbean Export recognized the need to create these opportunities through events such as Design Caribbean at Calabash. Through such a platform, the agency hopes to promote the high standards of quality, craftsmanship and innovation across all disciplines towards to creation of a synergistic Caribbean brand. (PR)

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