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UTT Fashion: Path to new careers

Janine Charles-Farray

Friday, June 3, 2015

As a part of the celebration of UTT Fashion Week 2015, the five top fashion students of the 2015 graduating class of Caribbean Academy of Fashion and Design (CAFD) shared their stories after four years of fashion study at UTT. Before entering the CAFD, 31-year-old Paulene Dennis was a self-taught seamstress with 15 years’ experience having learned the trade through practice and reading drafting books. 

However, she frustrated with what she perceived to be the stigma attached to the role. “I don’t like the word seamstress anymore,” she said. “It’s almost degrading.” “I say that because of the mentality surrounding it. People who go by a seamstress do so largely to get something cheaper than in the store even though the quality from a seamstress should really cost more, because it is basically bespoke,” she lamented. 

Dennis saw the CAFD fashion programme as a chance to upgrade her skills and demand the prices and respect she thought she deserved as a professional. Shurland Pasea, a self-described “born tailor” agreed enthusiastically with Dennis. “I’ve been a tailor for over 20 years and if I was still doing tailoring now, I would have probably stopped doing it.”

Working out of his workshop in Five Rivers, Arouca, Pasea was a tailor by profession for both ladies and men. “People don’t have respect for the skill and the quality of work at all,” he added. “I actually think tailoring is a dying trade.” During his career, Pasea who admitted to getting bored with tailoring,  attended Farah’s Dressmaking and Design school. 

Years later, he saw the CAFD Fashion programme advertised and registered immediately. “The fashion industry has a lot more to offer than tailoring and seamstress work and when I looked at runway shows, I knew that there were a number of things I could not do unless I learned the art of draping.”

Gaviann Mitchell of Lambeau, Tobago also grew up around sewing and plotted a determined course toward her dream of fashion design.  First, limited by the curriculum at her school at Scarborough Secondary, she could not pursue Clothing and Textiles as a subject. Then, straight out of school, she attended Trinizeula College, Tobago for a year to do a City and Guilds course in sewing from an institute in the UK.

“In the end I was so disappointed and discouraged because they gave us the wrong syllabus and had to scrap the entire course. I was 16 at the time. “I was encouraged to get back to my goal. When I saw the requirements, I only had the CXC qualifications. So I did two YTEPP courses in tailoring and dress making and I attended the 48-hour total drawing class with Tomley Roberts, an artist and a teacher in Tobago.”

Renee Williams, make-up artist and Carnival costume designer is a US citizen born in Miami to Trini parents, who moved to Trinidad many years ago with her family. At Holy Name Convent, Port-of-Spain, Williams discovered her talent as an art student and focused almost exclusively on its pursuit. 

After school, she considered several interests including culinary arts, but finally settled on make-up artistry after her mother encouraged her to go on a make-up short course. “I realised I was good at make up because it incorporates drawing the facial structure, and I mixed colours well.” Williams pursued make up for a while and during this time, she developed a customer relationship with CAFD alumni designer Synovia Francis, from whom she learned about the UTT fashion programme and the sketching for design process.

Williams was eventually encouraged by her father to consider entering the CAFD programme to increase her value as a make-up artist by acquiring additional skills which could be used in the general beauty industry. “I didn’t know how to sew, and I didn’t know anything about fashion,” she laughed. 

“But my Dad said that since I already work in the creative field, I could enhance my skills and get people to hire me. Like, if I’m at a photoshoot, I’m not just a make-up artist, I know how to hem something or take in a garment. I could definitely increase my value, so I was okay with entering the programme.”

Kaleen Sanois, is another student with strong family ties to tailoring through her father and grandfather. A graduate of South East Port-of-Spain, Sanois always liked sewing. During the last few years of secondary school, Sanois took up sewing more frequently, especially for her friends through bold experimentation, trial and error and instinct. It was her mother who eventually suggested the UTT CAFD programme and got Sanois interested.

In spite of her success in getting accepted to the CAFD, Sanois reflected on her less-focused moments, specifically those just prior to entering the programme, when post-secondary school partying interfered with her ability to secure passes on her year one and year two courses. “I failed probably four courses in my first CAFD semester,” she recalled. 

However, Sanois was able to recover. The turning point, she acknowledged, was in comparing herself to her classmates. “It was in the second half of my second year, I realised that, I don’t know anything and I needed to get it together. I didn’t want to be the one black sheep in the class that’s failing everything, for no reason.” Sanois eventually began excelling in her third and fourth years at CAFD and is now one of the top five students of the graduating class.

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