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CFW forum explores the business of fashion

BY KEDON WILLIS Observer writer

Monday, June 16, 2014    

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Behind the glamour and shine of haute couture is the numbing grind of planning, buying and selling to make a profit. In short, the thread of business is intrinsic to fashion. That was the underlying message of the Caribbean Fashion Week Business Forum held Saturday morning at Spanish Court Hotel in New Kingston.

The panel comprised women who have made powerful marks in fields ranging from public relations to financial planning, and offered designers in attendance an opportunity to understand the business aspect of clothes design.

Rozan Ahmed, motivational speaker and founder of the PR and branding organisation Bougi, spoke to the importance of authenticating a local style. It's essential, she said, to make local style "more visible". As a branding expert based in Dubai, she explained she was disheartened to see major Western brands dominate shopping districts in the Middle East and Africa in place of local designs.

Jessica Huie, public relations expert and founder of the London-based agency JHPR, gave a crash course to designers on how to efficiently use PR on a budget by explaining, among other things, methods for targeting an audience and highlighting the importance of defining one's brand.

"Investors don't buy into the business," she explained, "they buy into you."

International branding expert Kubi Springer agreed, and further lectured on strategies for taking a brand global. Springer, who has worked with international superstars such as Justin Timberlake, stressed the importance of "glocalisation" to the designers. When thinking of selling to a global audience, it's important, she pointed out, to understand how to tailor one's product to specific markets.

"Think globally, but act locally," she said.

Springer has also partnered with Huie and Pulse Investments Director Kinglsey Cooper to create the fashion e-commerce site, Shopcaribbean.com, which will allow designers who participated in this year's CFW to market their designs to a global audience.

Peta-Gay Miller, a financial advisor at Jamaica National Fund Managers, explained to designers specific financial tools at their disposal to help operate their business and even plan effectively for retirement.

Guests in attendance were enthused by the advice they received. Yvonnie Jewnell, a young fashion designer in New York who graduated from New School of Fashion and Design in Parsons, described the forum as inspiring. She explained that she faced challenges as a black designer who draws heavily on her culture. "The most important thing," Huie responded, "is resilience."

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