SANDILOU: Resort Wear Made in Haiti

Unique hand-painted pieces, drawings reproduced on clothing or beach accessories, stencils, silkscreens print or dyes, SANDILOU has developed a very original, “Made in Haiti”, resort wear garment collection that is just waiting to be exported! And this is what Caribbean Export wants to help make happen…

Under the arbor of SANDILOU’s workshop in Delmas 64, in the Port-au-Prince greater metropolitan area, the shimmering colors of the scarves and dyed fabrics flutter in the breeze. They will then be washed and dried in the sun, before being embellished and sewn.  

In this large garden, which is home to a hundred-year-old tree, the team members are concentrated on their tasks: some paint the backgrounds with dyes, others add outlines with brushes on dyed fabric canvases stretched on frames. Here they paint freehand and without pre-established drawing, on natural fabrics such as cotton, linen or rayon, using special fabric paints.  

Sandra Russo shares her inspiration for a collection with her team of artists (which is very family oriented: several family generations paint or sew). It is up to the team to interpret the idea on canvas….  “I decide which tone and colors to be used and everyone has free reign to deliver a different piece… that’s the beauty of unique handmade pieces,” she says cheerfully. And that is the essence of this small Haitian brand that wants to grow! 

In 2012, Sandra Russo registered SANDILOU as a “textile handicrafts” company. A very specific classification, obtained thanks to her determination and which allows her to operate within the taxes and transport rates bracket set forth for the handicraft industry and not the textile industry.  

She has been immersed in the painting and art world since childhood. “I was surrounded by women painters, starting with my mother, I grew up surrounded by artists. This led me to pursue painting, and then to SANDILOU. For the record, this name is the combination of my nickname and that of my sister… given by a family member who could never tell us apart, so he combined us into a single nickname…”, she concludes with a laugh. The small brand reflects the owner’s upbringing: it offers its pictorial art on several textile materials, a whole range of beach clothing and accessories, leisure-type garments, and also home goods such as tablecloths and a collection of cushions, each more colorful than the other. Many different techniques are used: tie-dye, stencils, silkscreen printing, airbrushing, printing… All of this contributes to making SANDILOU’s collections very original and unique works of art hand-painted on scarves (their best sellers) or reproduced on beach towels and cushions. 

When original accessories and garments are produced on an island, the challenge is to export them. For SANDILOU, as for many Haitian designers, the local market is always a useful laboratory for testing products, but only export can guarantee real growth. It is through this lens, and in particular to encourage a connection with the Dominican Republic (DR) market that Caribbean Export, through a program funded by the trade and private sector support component of the bi-national HT-RD program within the framework of the 11th European Development Fund (EDF) of the European Union, has tried, for several years, to guide and assist the value chain of handicrafts companies, including SANDILOU.  COVID 19 slowed down these plans, but the meetings finally came to fruition through the virtual presentation of several Haitian companies to potential buyers from the neighboring country. The meeting with the Jenny Polanco company allowed SANDILOU to present its samples to a brand that is already well established in the DR. Sandra Russo also worked on the Symbiose project, another program initiated by Caribbean Export, which brought together the two countries on a jewelry design training course, to dress the models who will present these works during an exhibition that should take place in 2022.  


While waiting for opportunities to materialize on this side of the island, SANDILOU is working on its website and marketing tools, thanks to a direct grant obtained from the Caribbean Export’s Private Sector Development Support Program. “We have produced a short video and website ourselves and will improve or develop more relevant and up-to-date marketing and communication tools to tackle the market. With kaftans, scarves, beach dresses and colorful towels, our collection is really a typical resort-wear and leisure style product, and the Caribbean is one of the regions most receptive to this type of product. However, this market has changed drastically due to COVID-19: some resorts and stores have disappeared, and others are emerging,” explains Sandra Russo, convinced that the real challenge today is to conquer these new players. 

The Caribbean is an essential market, the Dominican Republic remains to be explored, especially in its resorts and hotels component, and in the United States, museum shops and marketplaces already offer interesting opportunities. SANDILOU has just created a collection that will be presented this summer at the Smithsonian Institution’s “Artisan Marketplace”. Sandra recalls with nostalgia the fairs which used to be held throughout the Caribbean islands until the arrival of COVID-19: “This is the real meeting place for buyers and artisans. Some things are done online, but us islanders we need the human touch, we need to feel the materials, to meet in the flesh…to know who we are dealing with” So the main challenge for the Haitian small business in 2022 will be to find ways to present its collections and penetrate markets. With a collection of approximately 2,000 to 3,000 original designs in its inventory, SANDILOU will not be short of inspiration and is ready to take up the challenge! 

Heart and Sole: Regional Footwear Makers Aim to Impress at UK’s ‘Autumn Fair’

Christmas is coming and retailers around the world are getting ready for the so-called ‘Golden Quarter’ between October and December when sales traditionally spike.

This is an important time for shops everywhere and usually involves an intense amount of preparation for the rush, which includes attending trade shows and finding products that purchasing agents hope their customers will love.

In the UK, one of the biggest retail tradeshows is held just before the busy festive season gets into full swing. ‘Autumn Fair’ is a four-day event in Birmingham from 4-7 September that is billed as “a vibrant hub where ideas flourish and community, connection, and collaboration thrive.”

Autumn Fair has four distinct buying destinations – Home, Gift, Moda (fashion) and Design & Source – where over 600 exhibitors are hoping to attract the attention of leading buyers and retailers scouting for exceptional and unusual products to ‘wow’ their customers.

The Caribbean Export Development Agency and the European Union are supporting 10 regional womenswear, jewellery, and shoe designers who are travelling to the UK to take part in this important industry event.

The attendees include three established footwear brands, Catori’s Barbados, FETE-ish from St Lucia, and Haiti’s SANDILOU.

Catori’s Barbados was started by husband-and-wife team, Carson and Twena Cumberbatch, and is named after their two daughters Cara and Tori.

Carson has been repairing shoes and bags for almost 30 years and opened his own heel bar and shoe repair shop in Barbados’ capital Bridgetown in 2003.

A few years later, when Carson needed a pair of sandals, he decided to design and handmake a pair from scratch, and from there his business model expanded to include bespoke shoes for men and women.  

Since then, Carson has significantly advanced his repertoire and now also designs and crafts a full range of leather accessories including belts, purses, bags, wallets, passport holders, cell phone cases, and business portfolios.

Carson’s years of repairing shoes and bags have given him invaluable insight into what it takes to construct a product that will last, especially in the tropics, where the heat often causes inferior materials to quickly peel and fall apart.

He utilises hardwearing materials like burlap and denim to enhance longevity, with bamboo handles for the bags and stitched, brass ring details on the shoes.

Carson also credits additional training on shoe manufacturing and bag making which he underwent in Colombia, for improving his craft, and giving him the skills to make leather goods that are chic and classy with a Caribbean touch.

Fete-ish is a customised footwear company founded in 2019 by self-taught St Lucian entrepreneur Kayle Cassius.

Kayle started designing and making leather sandals as a side hustle but soon turned it into a fully-fledged business when interest in her made-to-order shoes steadily grew beyond just her close family and friends.

Fete-ish is different from mass produced or large-scale manufacturers because Kayle works collaboratively with her customers to design sandals that reflect their personality, colour preferences, and personal style.

She says her brand represents “uniqueness, individuality, beauty and strength”, and these values influence every pair of sandals she creates along with an “artsy and whimsical” feel which is 100% inspired by the charms of Caribbean life.

As a lover of shoes herself, Kayle is particularly proud of the fact that her shoes are built to last, and because of that, as well as her eye for every detail and willingness to please the customer, she has had many repeat orders.

Fete-ish has been featured in Elle Magazine, LIAT airline’s in-flight magazine Caribbean Beat, Tropical Traveller, and several other regional publications and Kayle plans to turn her brand into a global household name.

Sandilou is a passion project for Haitian businesswoman Sandra Russo. She started the business with her husband Fred in 2012, and currently works alongside a team of 10 artists to bring her designs to life.

Primarily focused on resort wear, soft furnishings, beach towels. and flip flops, Sandilou offers hand-painted products which express the unrestricted Caribbean ‘joie de vivre’ and love for everything colourful and exuberant.

All Sandilou’s designs start off as a sketch on a blank fabric like rayon, cotton, and linen, then the artist paints freehand using dyes, silkscreen, and paint directly onto the ‘canvas’ and the item takes shape naturally.

Every item is different depending on who painted it. Some artists prefer abstract or organic concepts, while others might use folk and traditional Haitian imagery for inspiration, and a local team of female seamstresses sometimes add appliques and embroidery.

Sandra explains: “We are not a fashion house with collections. We produce easy-wear, just like the Caribbean – we are happy and easy, we’re a lifestyle that’s a visual feast, effortless, with little stress and in no hurry to change what is comfortable.

“We still enjoy moments with nature, friends, family (close and extended) and have fun at carnival, where time has another rhythm and light makes everything beautiful.”

Caribbean Fashion Aims to Steal the Show at Leading UK Retail Trade Event

Bold, bright and beguiling! Caribbean fashion is as expressive as the region it comes from and just as captivating.

Designers can be found on every shore, from Anguilla through to Turks and Caicos, with many Caribbean creatives drawing influence from the vibrancy around them in the people, places, food, history, art, and culture that intwine to tell each island’s distinct story.

In September, four Caribbean womenswear designers, with the support of Caribbean Export and the European Union, will be given the chance to showcase their unique fashion perspective at the UK’s leading retail home, gift, and fashion marketplace – ‘Autumn Fair’.

Exhibiting at the Autumn Fair in Birmingham will give these regional fashion entrepreneurs the ideal platform to connect with influential UK, European, and international buyers and retailers who are scouting for products that stand out from the crowd.

Let’s meet the three designers who will be attending the Autumn Fair.

Theodore Elyette is a multi-award-winning designer from the Bahamas. He grew up in a creative household and started designing at just 13 years old after spending many days at his mother’s textile factory.

Theo’s brand ‘TE’ offers clothing with a free-flowing, island silhouette that is sophisticated, feminine, and modern.

Theo loves colour, texture, and print, and this comes through in his sought-after custom designs which have adorned several celebrities including British actress and singer Cynthia Erivo, Real Housewives of Atlanta stars Eva Marcille and Porsha Williams, and Destiny’s Child singer Michelle Williams.

Lauded as one of The Bahamas’ most celebrated and recognisable labels,
Theo has worked alongside some of the industry’s leading celebrity fashion stylists and has featured in Essence Magazine, Cosmopolitan Philippines, and Vogue Italia.

In 2018, Theo also made history when he became the first Bahamian designer to showcase his fashion at Buckingham Palace before a royal audience which included the Duchess of Cambridge.

Theo is a proud Bahamian and recently conceptualised a resort wear collection with local screen printer ‘Bahama Hand Prints’ which incorporates his love for his island’s joyful culture.

The retail line includes dresses, tops and trousers in floaty, comfortable fabrics, and an eye-catching blue and white print with seashells and sea turtles. All the fabric is printed using traditional methods at a factory in the Bahamas and handsewn by local people.

Kimon Baptiste-St. Rose is a self-taught Caribbean fashion designer from St Vincent and the Grenadines.

She started her award-winning line Kimmystic.Clo in 2007, when she was still working as a junior accountant. Kimon’s day job initially funded her passion but after she was made redundant in 2012, she decided to become a full-time fashion designer, and has not looked back since!

Kimon prides herself on producing custom and ready-to-wear clothing that is ‘functional, timeless, and versatile’ while exuding Caribbean chic.

Kimon’s clientele is as diverse as her inspiration, from a classy college graduate to a business professional, or a fashionable mother who is always on the go. The Kimmystic.Clo woman, Kimon says, is “comfortable in her skin and wants to be comfortable in her clothing”.

All Kimon’s designs are environmentally friendly and made from 100% cotton or 100% linen fabric. The brand is currently available to international customers online and regionally via a flagship store in St Vincent and a small network of retailers in Barbados, Saint Lucia, Antigua, Anguilla, and Jamaica.

Kimon believes her brand can become an international fashion powerhouse, but she wants to keep production facilities in St Vincent and the Grenadines to provide employment for the local population.

Loud by Afiya (also known as Loud) was officially started in 2012 by Trinidadian designer Afiya Bishop as a jewellery line before evolving into an online retail clothing brand.

Afiya always had an eye for fashion and studied Fashion Management at the University of Trinidad & Tobago. She also worked as a freelance stylist on commercial shoots and TV shows with local entertainers while maintaining her full-time role as a marketing executive.

Afiya’s clothing embraces bright colours and printed fabrics and consists of accessories, tops, pants, shorts, t-shirts, dresses, jumpers, rompers, and kaftans which are available at her boutique in Trinidad or via an e-commerce website for regional and international clients.

Appealing to the “modern-day superwoman”, Afiya describes Loud as a “female empowerment brand”, carefully crafted to make every client feel strong, confident, and fabulous, regardless of size or shape.

Afiya is always looking for new and exciting ways to build her brand including having a section in the Trinidad Carnival, pop-up shops in America, Jamaica, and Barbados, and launching an annual Afrobeats Brunch Event.

Loud’s social media presence is strongly established with over 27,000 combined followers on Facebook and Instagram. They are attracted to Afiya’s unapologetically Caribbean and African aesthetic which merges casual comfort with unmistakeable island elegance.

ATELIER CALLA: Timeless and Beyond Borders

When a passion becomes a profession and materials combine to support creativity and quality… Atelier Calla strives most earnestly to attract markets, with the Caribbean in mind! Caribbean Export intends to support the company’s approach and help Atelier Calla to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the region.

When Christelle Chignard Paul started to imagine jewelry and accessories out of horn or wood, it was more a hobby than a profession. Raised in Belgium, each stay in Haiti was an opportunity for her to find the beads and materials t traditional craftsmen used to produce all kinds of souvenirs. that inhabited her childhood memory.

In 1998, when she returned to her country, she realized the immense possibilities these materials offered. In 2007 she started a small production workshop, making pieces mainly from ox horn, which she assembled herself. After the earthquake, solicited by distressed artisans, she decided to formally establish Atelier Calla in 2011.

Paradoxically, the disaster marked a turning point in Christelle’s career and in the future of Atelier Calla. Donna Karan came to visit Haiti, which was under rubbles at the time and was captivated by Calla’s approach and products. She discovered the burnt appearance of the horns that the artisans removed through polishing that Christelle keeps in her creations. The American designer added her personal touch to this technique by working with the Calla workshop on original collections. This gave new visibility to Haiti and its artistic potential.

A showcase…that is exactly what Haiti’s creative craftsmanship needs, and even more so that of Atelier Calla, whose refined, contemporary and indeed timeless productions appeals to an international audience. Atelier Calla has already evolved from jewelry to tables setting accessories, which tastefully combines the noble pieces it transforms. And it is a success! In the workshop on Rue du Centre street, in the heart of downtown Port-au-Prince, twelve people, including five artisans, work with Christelle. Three young women work on assembling and finishing the products before they are shipped. She teaches them about quality control and the importance of being consistent in putting the final touches to the products and in their packaging.

Atelier Calla grows through innovation, focusing on research and quality. “Horn is a living material, which evolves according to the amount of humidity. You have to find the right glue and the right materials”, explains the entrepreneur, who continuously invests in creativity, quality and sustainability. Her designs are often copied, which is one of the challenges she faces in Haiti, however her strategy is to move on to another product when the market is flooded with copies, often of lower quality.

Following Donna Karan’s visit, it was Macy’s, the famous American retailer, who took an interest in Atelier Calla’s products. At that time, around 2015, the country’s leitmotif was “Open for Business” and Haiti was buzzing with activities and NGOs. It was then that Atelier Calla became acquainted with Artisan Business Network (ABN), an NGO that took her to a fair in New York and introduced her to the U.S. market. “Participating in a fair gives you a certain credibility. You have to have the means to participate and have inventory. This reflects on the seriousness of the company. It is an industry where you have to see, touch, meet and make sure that the person you are talking to is there for the long haul”, explains the entrepreneur.

Atelier CALLA was exporting its products while still satisfying the local market that appreciated its creativity, when COVID came along and put an obstacle in the way of its expansion…

At that time, Atelier Calla was working on a bi-national collection, within the framework of the Symbiose project, initiated by Caribbean Export. The initiative brings together students and designers around jewelry.

Caribbean Export is also supporting another project that will allow Christelle to get a foothold in the Dominican market, through a programme financed by the trade and private sector support component of the bi-national HT-RD programme within the framework of the 11th European Development Fund (EDF) of the European Union.

Invited to a training in digital graphics design for jewelry, Atelier CALLA met with representatives of Jenny Polanco. Something clicked! The Dominican brand was captivated by the contemporary aspect of Calla’s creations, which were different from the often very ethnic or folkloric connotation of local craftsmanship. The combination of traditional materials such as horn and wood with modern lines and trendy designs, appealing to a wide range of cultures, hit the mark. Atelier Calla received an order for samples and then a test order for table setting accessories: napkin rings, knives and cheese boards. “It’s a great opportunity to be able to work with Jenny Polanco’s team. Their open-mindedness, their encouragement in providing a sophisticated and luxurious touch to the collection…. They trusted me and I think I convinced them of our ability to create and produce accessories under the Polanco brand name.”

Atelier Calla has seized the opportunity given this first commission and will continue the artistic collaboration by proposing its own creations, and making products which reflect the style and specific esthetics of the Dominican brand’s collections. The small Haitian company is familiar with manufacturing for foreign designers. Approximately 30% of its production is destined for these brands in the U.S. market, the most buoyant export market for Atelier Calla. To meet this demand and these orders, “the biggest challenge today is the supply of raw materials and the rising costs of energy and transportation, which affects everything. Every time we get back up after an obstacle, we are presented with another imponderable one”, says Christelle Chignard Paul. But the small workshop has managed to build an image and a reputation that allow it to envisage real regional and international expansion. The important thing is to be known and represented, to find opportunities and to attend trade fairs abroad. In our very promising Caribbean region, the first country we have conquered is the Dominican Republic!

Meet The Designer – Ilashan

Ilashan, the Brand

Owner/ Designer – Indira Moss

The Caribbean is bursting with beauty, and is a source of inspiration for designer Indira Moss. Owner of the Bahama-based fashion brand Ilashan.

From a very young age, Indira knew she wanted to work in the fashion industry and was focused on making it a reality. That reality turned into her collection of resort wear and custom dresses for special occasions, designed and crafted under her brand Ilashan.

The Ilashan website shows Indira’s natural talent as a designer. Each design is complemented with a unique embellishment and her love of vibrant fabric colours are a recurring feature with many of her creations.

Ilashan’s Inspiration

Two piece gown inspired by the petals of the double hibiscus made of a combination of two shades of red shantung fabric. Trumpet skirt. Strapless bodice made of over 90 individual pieces of fabric. Contrasting corded lace applique at waistline. 

The rich island tones in her designs reflect Indira’s source of inspiration. The plants, trees, flowers and creatures found in the Caribbean, are just some of the colourful elements that influence Indira when creating her collections. Caribbean nature is her muse.

Ilashan’s custom designs are made with consideration for her client’s preference of style and body type to ensure they are comfortable.

“My ideal customer is a woman that is not afraid to be noticed, likes fashion with an artistic flare, embraces her own personal style, and knows that they can be stunningly dressed at any shape or size.”

The Ilashan brand is a great representation of Indira’s skills as a designer who can create designs for different types of occasions. Her ready-to-wear dress collection can be worn to a casual event or as a beach cover-up. Her custom designs have proven her talents in creating unique features that complement the outfit and the client’s silhouette.

A satisfied client is what Indira enjoys most as a designer and her goal is to expand Ilashan’s operations to include an in-house manufacturing facility. She would also like to continue offering couture pieces for international clients.

Providing an Educational and Creative Space

In addition to creating her own designs, Indira shares her expertise with young people through her sewing and fashion classes. Her role, when teaching her classes, connects her with up and coming talented designers. Offering this creative space is valuable as Indira is able to inspire her students that a career in fashion is possible.

The Caribbean Fashion Industry’s Future

Enchanting long sleeve A-line gown of ivory and gold embroidered lace. Pleated skirt with a Sweep rain.  Front and Back V-Neck.

Her views on the future of the Caribbean fashion industry are optimistic, as she believes designers from the region have the ability to receive recognition on an international scale.

As an experienced designer with an impressive portfolio of work, the Ilashan brand can carry the torch as a credible contributor to Caribbean fashion.

Meet The Designer – Rêve Jewellery & Accessories

The Brand

Founders: Teasea & Duane Bennett, sibling entrepreneurs of Rêve Jewellery & Accessories

Rêve Jewellery & Accessories is an award-winning family owned jewellery brand by sibling entrepreneurs Duane and Teasea Bennett.

Rêve Jewellery & Accessories specialise in handmade custom jewellery, sandals as well as their own product line of beauty and skincare products such as perfume fragrances, creams and deodorants.

Based in Kingston Jamaica, Duane and Teasea launched their brand in 2006. Over the years, they have steadily grown their customer-base whom they affectionately refer to as “RÊVEllers”.

Turning A Dream into a Reality

The word Rêve is french for Dream and the duo have successfully combined their expert skills to make their passion for the arts a reality.

As the Director of Concept & Design, Duane is a master at creating unique jewellery and prides himself on his ability to craft original pieces for RÊVEllers to enhance their outfit.

Teasea’s role as Director of Sales & Marketing has taken the Rêve Jewellery & Accessories brand beyond Jamaica, with their pieces being featured in international publications and TV shows. The brand also has a strong online presence with an online store that ships internationally, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube channels as well as a five-star rating on TripAdvisor.

In addition to offering high quality products, Duane and Teasea have been instrumental in giving back to their community as well as providing a platform for other entrepreneurs to promote their own businesses. In 2012, they launched the Reve Wellness Festival, where local small businesses can promote and sell their products alongside their own brand.

Fashion in the Caribbean

Rêve Couture SS19: model Kellon is wearing -Rasta Couture Necklace -Venus Cuffs in Copper & Teal -I’m Plastic Ear Rings -Framed, lens less Bronze glasses 

As a company that has grown over the years and gained international attention, there is no doubt that brands such as Rêve Jewellery & Accessories can make a great impact on a global scale.

Teasea’s confidence in her company and the region’s talent is justified.

“It’s very exciting and we feel very optimistic about the future. I believe it’s a matter of time that more brands including our own will take centre stage and it starts in our own home…Others will desire to be a part of what we are offering.”

Building a Global Brand

‘Follow Di Arrow’ Strap Leather Sandals in colour, POP of Orange

Teasea and Duane are determined to keep up the momentum of growth for Rêve Jewellery & Accessories. Their vision for the future is crystal clear as Teasea states:

“We are laser focused on our mission and vision of being a top Jamaican (Caribbean) global renowned jJewellery and accessories brand delivering authenticity, quality and positivity to all stakeholders, community and environment.”

The team has been diligent in their business goals, whilst nurturing their customers along the way. The result has been the expansion of their products (body butters and natural oils) and a community of RÊVEllers who are loyal to the brand.
Rêve Jewellery & Accessories are on the right track for growth as they have proven they are adaptable and responsive to gaps in the market. This Jamaican company is a great example of how to build a successful brand.