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Jamaica’s Next Biggest Thing is a Foray into the Fashion Industry

By Sadeke Brooks
Jamaica has made its name in tourism, athletics and music, but fashion is fast becoming an industry that has been helping the country to gain even more international attention.

With the Caribbean fashion industry valued at approximately US$110 million — Jamaica has a huge chunk — as well as yearly fashion events like Saint International Style Week and Pulse’s Caribbean Fashion Week, it is no surprise that Jamaicans have made their mark on the international market.

Ashley Martin, for instance, has found herself in the Guinness Book of World Records for creating the first and heaviest dress that was made entirely of glass. She has also designed pieces for Tyra Banks’ “America’s Next Top Model” and “Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Model.” She believes her line, Attitude by Ashley Martin, is highly regarded for its edginess and clean finishes. “My edginess and red carpet-style gowns can be easily compared to a Versace or a Roberto Cavalli piece,” Martin says. She commends other Jamaican designers like Carlton Brown, Courtney Washington and Bill Edwards and says they are amongst the best on the global market.

Whilst Martin has been around for years, Kurt Campbell is already making a name for himself. He won the 2014 season of designing competition “Mission Catwalk.” He has already shown at Milan Fashion Week and Saint International Style Week.

Like Martin, Campbell says he often leaves his global market in awe. “The international scene is becoming more and more appreciative that Jamaica is more than reggae music, beaches, great weather, athletic prowess and great cuisine, but that we also have world-class fashion designers,” says Campbell, who bought his first sewing machine in 2006.

But Keneea Linton-George, the creator of “Mission Catwalk,” believes the sun, sand and reggae culture have helped to create the stereotype. “People are usually surprised that the designs coming out of Jamaica aren’t all beach cover-ups and Rasta T-shirts,” says Linton-George, who has shown in Miami Fashion Week and London Fashion Week.

However, she noted that Jamaican designers are influenced by designers in Europe and North America, and that is usually reflected in the designs.

Whilst she has seen an increase in her overseas clientele in the past two years, Jami Spence, owner of Yahdie Conscious, says she knows there is room for improvement. In an effort to ensure that every customer is pleased, the 2014 finalist in the First Global MoDa Grant competition says, “This means going over each item meticulously before they are packaged, snipping at loose threads, steaming pieces and ensuring that the product received is exactly what was advertised.”

Despite the advancements, Linton-George says more needs to be done. “[Jamaica needs] education and training,” she says. “We need better programmes to train our workforce to manufacture at international standards. This will help us secure international retail contracts for boutiques and department stores worldwide. We also need capital investors to help with areas like international marketing once we have the foundation right.”

Photo courtesy of Jami of Yahdie Conscious