Is Caribbean Fashion in Need of an Urgent Makeover?


ACUBIEN’s Gus Franklyn-Bute recently wrote a provocative piece entitled “Caribbean Fashion Needs Urgent Style Makeover.” This article caused a bit of a stir in social media and elicited responses from various designers and players in the Caribbean region and beyond, all of whom welcomed reading about the ‘unabashed truth’. Soon after,, one of the most innovative digital platforms for contemporary designers, re-posted the piece as an editorial entitled: “Is Caribbean Style in Crisis?” See excerpts from the original here, with a link to the full article below:

[. . .] Authentic Caribbean Style | The ABC: I pose the same question to Caribbean people, and anyone who would take up the challenge: “What is Caribbean style?”  I dare anyone to provide a definitive answer which the region may gleefully embrace. And what is the point, you mutter?  Simply ABC [AMBITION, BUSINESS, CREATIVITY].  It is too important a cultural and livelihood concern that the Caribbean region and Caribbean people must deliberate and find solutions, as we become further embedded in the complexities of global consumption-led economy, which is dominated by only a few predatory players. [. . .]

Unmasking the Hype | Caribbean Failing Itself: For many years, the regional agency, Caribbean Export has been genuinely trying to support businesses with export potential.  Yet its hands are tied by multiple factors: not least, the restrictive terms for disbursement of grants from funders; poorly structured programmes that preclude too many excellent SMEs and entrepreneurs; a myopia vision and weak execution of programmes with potential to drive real revenue and create employment; and inadequate connectivity to real world business communities, leaders and movers and shakers beyond the Caribbean’s boundaries. Private sectors initiatives like Caribbean Fashion Week (Jamaica), Islands of the World Fashion Week (Bahamas), Fashion Week Trinidad and Tobago and an assortment of other fashion, creative and cultural programmes have been launched one by one into the stratosphere, only to return to terra-firma fragmented into more components than their original design.

For events like Caribbean Fashion Week which still have a pulse, while they capture media columns inches and create impressive digital footprints, which is essential to success, the glitz, glamour and commotion perhaps mask an epic failure to generate a sustainable economic footprint throughout the Caribbean region. The track record is a limited revenue-earning-value-added contribution to the Caribbean’s business of fashion, creativity and culture. The influence of such extravaganzas has therefore been negligible in elevating the Caribbean’s immensely talented, ambitious, hard-working designers and design services onto the global arena, and into the minds and pockets of international lifestyle consumers. [. . .]

Kudos to Caribbean Designers and Creatives: Caribbean people are not consuming high-end luxury brands with the same ravenous appetite as their former colonial cousins – but they are no less guilty. [. . .]  Perhaps, a concept store carrying the best of Caribbean’s designs would not only entice luxury lifestyle visitors to depart with unique, quality designs from around the region, but may also demonstrate to reluctant Caribbean people the value in buying local and regional.

While Hong Kong would survive and indeed continue to prosper, the Caribbean region and Caribbean consumers must not continue along its current trajectory as a passive player of Western Creative Imperialism – blindly replicating design ideas, instead of redefining, localising, thinking and creating differently. We must fight to ensure we become discerning consumers in the global arena.  Failure to change will undoubtly result in a perpetual state of dependency, where our children and their children will never ever see, know or experience their own uniqueness as they step out adorned in garments and styles that has no connection to their culture and heritage – that is an Unstylish Caribbean.  After all, our clothes help to express our individually and identity, so ‘What really is Caribbean Style?’

For Franklyn-Bute’s full article (including great photos), see

For follow-up editorial, see

[Photo above: 5th Element, Barbados.]

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