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 Jewellery Designers Ready to Dazzle at Top UK Trade Fair

Four Caribbean jewellery designers will be taking their collections to Birmingham in September as they attend leading UK tradeshow ‘Autumn Fair’.

Jamaica’s Rêve Jewellery & Accessories, St Lucia’s Designs by Nadia, Trinidad and Tobago’s AYA STYLER, and Dominica’s Gisselle Mancebo Jewelry, are all exhibiting at the top retail event with the support of the Caribbean Export Development Agency and the European Union.

Autumn Fair will give these Caribbean creatives a chance to present their individual brand story, whilst interacting with major buyers and retailers from around the world who are looking for the next big thing in jewellery.

Rêve Jewellery & Accessories will be sharing its authentically unique, trailblazing, and contemporary line of couture jewellery, which merges elements of goldsmithing techniques and the legacy of craft.

Founded in 2006 by sibling entrepreneurs, Teasea and Duane Bennett, Rêve is an award-winning company based in Jamaica which offers ready-to-wear and custom-made jewellery.

Rêve’s flagship store, which opened in Kingston in 2009, is not only a place where you can find their revolutionary, handmade jewellery line, but also provides a bricks and mortar location for other Jamaican and regional accessories makers to sell their clothing, bags, and footwear.

Rêve’s co-founder Duane is a highly qualified and skilled goldsmith who is known as a trendsetter in his field. He is also currently a guest professor at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, where he is training the next generation of Caribbean jewellery designers.

Over the past decade, Rêve has built a reputation for excellence and developed a strong and trusted brand image, based on exceptional customer service. It is a registered and trademarked company (including industrial) and currently exports to the Caribbean, US, Canada, UK, Germany, and France.

Teasea and Duane are ambitious and aim to create a long-lasting legacy business. They plan to elevate Rêve into a globally recognised Caribbean jewellery brand that is known for high quality, bespoke, and original designs.

Caribbean jewellery designer Nadia Jabour will also be attending the Autumn Fair to highlight her brand ‘Designs by Nadia’. Originally from Guyana, Nadia began designing jewellery from her home in Canada in 2007 and continued producing her pieces after relocating to St Lucia in 2010.

Designs by Nadia offers one-of-a-kind necklaces, earrings, and bracelets, created from indigenous and naturally occurring material such as fish scales, seeds, wood, sea glass, stones, leather, and metals. Most of the material used in Nadia’s jewellery is sourced from islands around the region.

Nadia initially built her brand through hosting pop-up events around St Lucia and at local hotels. She also created a website to showcase her creations and grew her social media presence on Facebook and Instagram. Nadia’s jewellery has been sold to customers in Barbados, Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica, Canada, the US, and the UK.

‘Designs by Nadia’ is available at Nadia’s shop (Island Mix) in St Lucia where buyers can also get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into her production process. Two local hotels also offer Nadia’s jewellery to international guests.

Nadia says her jewellery attracts a varied clientele who are looking for bold statement pieces to complement their outfits, as well as those who are fascinated by the uniqueness of the designs, and the material they are constructed from, especially the fish scale selection.

The AYA STYLER (aka AYA) accessories brand originates from Trinidad and Tobago. Aya designs and makes retail-ready earrings, necklaces, anklets, and bracelets from high quality materials such as cultured pearls, wood, shells, rose quartz, and jade.

AYA STYLER offer clients a timeless feel by fusing classic, vintage looks with international and island trends. The brand’s Caribbean influence can be seen throughout its product range in the textures and colours, as well as in its marketing and promotion material, which utilises paradisical imagery.

As a female-led business, AYA STYLER is focused on women’s empowerment and development. Its clientele includes women of all ages, but it is especially popular with fashion-loving millennials who are looking for jewellery that is uniquely flavoured with tropical undertones and suitable for every occasion.

The AYA STYLER brand is gradually evolving into the largest distributor of locally made fashion accessories in Trinidad and Tobago. It is a well-respected label that is known for its exceptional shopping experiences, affordable prices, and assortment of pieces.

Gisselle Mancebo Jewelry is a high-end Dominican brand established in 2007.

Gisselle trained as an industrial engineer before becoming a jewellery designer “out of passion and conviction”.

She adds: “Since I was little, I had a great admiration for the world of jewellery, crafts, and fashion, because my maternal grandmother Gisela would adorn my neck with beautiful pearl necklaces and semi-precious stone chokers. Ever since then I have been delirious about exotic, different, unique pieces.”

Gisselle started off making jewellery for family and friends, but as word spread and the orders kept coming in, she realised that her part-time hobby was really her lifelong calling.

Gisselle is driven by a desire to add Caribbean character to the commercialisation of high-quality jewellery pieces and to share a slice of Dominica with every one of her clients. Her brand embodies the art of exclusivity while fulfilling its main objective to lift its Caribbean roots to the highest level.

Every Gisselle Mancebo Jewelry item is born out of the wealth of natural resources in Dominica, utilising materials such as larimar, Dominican Amber, cow horn, and wood which gives customers a product line that is truly authentic as well as sustainable and environmentally responsible.

As Giselle’s brand has grown over the past 15 years, she has not lost her love for making showstopping earrings, necklaces and bracelets, or her determination to learn from the continuous cycle of experimenting, failing, and starting over to produce the most striking jewellery possible.

Fashioning a Dream into Reality

When thinking about fashion, places like New York, London, and Paris come to mind. But within what was once labeled the poorest country in the world, a burgeoning fashion industry lies; one that invokes axioms like “glamour”, “couture”, and “avant-garde”. Haiti is a country known for its enthralling artwork and flamboyant surroundings. Therefore, it is only natural that this instinctive artistic talent would manifest itself in Haitian fashion as well.

On any given day, you can see a diversity of fashions depending on the time of day, or even day of the week. From children in uniforms with colourful hair accessories, to men and women in decked out in their Sunday best making their way to church.

David André

At the centre of this veritable industry is Haiti’s own David André. Educated in one of the country’s most prestigious fashion design schools, Académie Verona d’Haiti in Pétion-Ville, the 35-year-old studied design, fabrics, sketching, and pattern making.

In 1998, while still studying, David’s business had a very modest beginning, but his passion was limitless.

“I started with nothing big in my pocket or in my account. I bought my first sewing machine and had one employee,” David shared. “Now, I have plenty of machines, 10 employees, and a very good clientele list.”

David admits that it took him a while to find his niche, noting that he first wanted to produce haute couture, but then realized that this was not for Haiti, particularly in the late 1990’s.

“I decided to focus on ready-to-wear cottons and linens because it was less expensive, and more suited to our tropical environment. I became focused on delivering quality at an affordable price.”

Today, his company produces and sells custom design clothing for men and women, along with a unisex beachwear line, and wedding pieces, which can be found in boutiques in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Martinique and Guadeloupe. David also designs costumes for dance companies and music troupes as a part of his portfolio; and showcased in a number of regional and international fashion weeks including the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Trinidad, Bahamas, Martinique, New York, Toronto, Paris, and Berlin.

David André’s relationship with Caribbean Export started in 2009. “I was approached by the office in the Dominican Republic, to showcase at Dominicana Moda. I was one of six designers selected to exhibit in the Caribbean Designers Showcase.”

Since then, his company has also been chosen to participate in Caribbean Fashion Week in Jamaica, the European Study Tour to France, Germany and the United Kingdom, and London Engage during the Summer Olympics.

“Caribbean Export has been a tremendous resource and a major supporter of the regional fashion industry, especially here in Haiti. Each initiative I’ve been involved in has proven beneficial, but the most impactful has been the Study Tour to Europe. I was able to meet with other regional designers and engage with international counterparts.”

David credits the Agency for exposing him to international markets and the requirements for these markets.

“Caribbean Export took me to places and events that I would’ve never afforded to visit or attend on my own. Even though I was not able to secure clients, I now have a better understanding of what is expected and I believe that with the right support, I can successfully penetrate these markets.”

Acknowledging that it is a work in progress, David wants to educate Haitians on the quality fashion that local designers create.

“Growing up in Haiti, most people bought their clothes from boutiques that import from the US and the UK, but today Haitians have their own sense of style and this augurs well for local designers like me who have something unique to offer on the way to building the Haitian brand.”

A major step in the creation of the Haitian brand was realized with the development of the Haitian Fashion Week. The 3-day event, which commenced in 2012, was free to the public and featured collections by 30 emerging Haitian designers worn by 20 Haitian, and 10 international models.

From swimsuits and formal gowns, to hand bags and accessories, the Haitian Fashion Week delivered all the same features you would expect in any international fashion week, but with a local flare.

David André has a dream to take over the world. But first he wants to start with Haiti.

“I want to be the Yves Saint Laurent of Haiti. He is a huge inspiration for me, as he is someone who started with little to no money, and now he is global brand.”

A part of his dream has already been achieved with the opening of his first store in Haiti in 2011. Aptly labeled David André Collections, his store caters to clientele ranging from young professionals to wealthy retirees, and offers an array of clothing including high fashion, wedding wear, uniforms, and accessories, to name a few.

“I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. My parents owned a boutique and fashion was a natural part of my life, so I always knew I would open my own store, but this didn’t come without its share of challenges.”

One such challenge was securing capital, especially as a fashion designer.

“Many banks and financial institutions don’t believe that fashion is a high income earner, but my mother was a huge supporter and she gave me the backing I needed.”

As a testament to his tenacity, David constantly seeks new clients and projects to support his staff and grow his business. In fact his next major project is the launch of David André Bridals.

“I am experienced in creating a few bridal wear pieces for clients, but now I have the opportunity to expand into an entire line, and it is exciting.”

David has successfully carved out a market for himself in Haiti, but he also dreams of expanding his brand across the region.

“I have done work throughout the Caribbean, but exporting is a challenge because of the limited space and human resources within my company right now. I also need a strong financial partner, and someone with the commercial contacts within the fashion industry.”

David believes that regional designers can attain success on the global stage if they collaborated more.

“We can come together and support each other much like other designers have done in Europe, the US and Asia. If we take our business seriously, we can be successful”.

David further shared that Caribbean Export is in a prime position to enhance the capacity of regional designers, especially as it relates to brand development and market access.

“Regional fashion design firms need a good structure to able to move forward. This includes financial and technical support, training and information on the best markets within which to sell our products.”

When asked about his recipe for success, David quipped that there were five key ingredients: dreams, passion, patience, devotion and humility. He further encouraged entrepreneurs, particularly those in Haiti, to work on building their dreams, implored them to always ensure they were giving the best quality and keep improving their craft.

“You need to believe in your dreams and never stop dreaming. Once you stop dreaming, you stop working. All you have in this life is your talent and your dreams. Use them as your escape from poverty and as your keys to success.”

This article was originally published in Primed for Success Vol. 3.