This year’s St Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival brought us a new cultural phenomenon, HOT Couture, which featured a host of the islands fashion innovators. Fresh off the heels of the show’s success, one young lady is hoping to have her own designs rip the runway in the near future. Nineteen-year-old Catty Renee is ready to leave her signature style on the St Lucian fashion scene.
Listening to the teenager rattle off her activities during a normal week would put even the fiercest multitaskers to shame. The Castries native is currently studying Office Administration at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College while holding down a part time job at the Rodney Bay branch of the Super J chain. During her limited free time she is an active member of the Caribbean Youth Environmental Network and still finds time to unwind by perfecting her backhand at the Tiger Tennis Club.
But nothing trumps her love of sewing and all things fashion. It is a passion that keeps her up well into the wee hours of the morning poring over her machine, tweaking and agonizing over the intricacies of her latest creation. Where does this inextinguishable fire come from? Renee recalled a childhood memory, which may have been the catalyst.
“I started sewing at a very young age. At about age 12 I made my first skirt. I did it by hand. It was a blue and white pleated skirt but it wasn’t with patterns or anything. I just made it how I thought it should come out and it wasn’t for anybody specific. I just made a skirt for making a skirt’s sake,” she explained. Renee continued, “I remember one time we had career day at the school and they brought in a seamstress, so I brought in the skirt and asked her what she thought about it. She said for a really young child she thought I did well, especially since I did not have a sewing machine.”
Recognizing her daughter’s budding talent, Renee’s mother got her a sewing machine a few years later and things took off from there.
“When I got my sewing machine that was the best gift I ever got because I always had a passion for the art of clothing. I could always draw, I did arts for CXC, so drawing wasn’t really a problem for me but I actually started sketching designs probably at 16 or 17.”
Armed with her new toy, Renee started tinkering with different styles and ideas. She and a friend teamed up to put on a few fashion shows at school featuring pieces made from newspapers, garbage bags, and other random items. While she loved experimenting, Renee was focused on becoming proficient at traditional sewing; specifically making patterns. Using Youtube as a learning tool, she gleaned as much as she could but was still dissatisfied so she enrolled in a sewing class. Financial constraints prohibited her completion but Renee learned enough to apply to her craft.
“I learnt to make a jacket before I stopped, but from there I learned how to make basically everything. I learnt how to drape and so many other things by myself, just by drawing it. I am very visual so if I draw something I can do it,” she said. “ Renee often draws inspiration from the city’s architecture and roams around with her camera to capture new design ideas, all in a quest to revolutionize fashion.
“I want to take clothing and make it in a way that St Lucians can wear it but not feel uncomfortable or look out of place. Let’s make it unique, something that’s never been seen before. So when I sketch three designs for the day it will really take me some time to finish because I would have modified it everyday cause I really want it to different,” she emphasized.
Renee has already built up a clientele of mainly women who request everything from suits to casual clothing. She admits that men’s clothing is still her Achilles heel but as with everything else, Renee is determined to overcome that obstacle. For her practice makes perfect.
“Every opportunity I have I try to sew. Sometimes when I have nothing to sew I will take a curtain and turn it into something. Or if I buy a dress I will rip it and make something else out of it,” she laughed.
The aspiring designer is also an astute businesswoman who soaks up knowledge from books, websites, and local publication, Financial Focus. She intends to enroll at the University of Trinidad in the future to obtain a degree in Fashion Design and eventually fulfill another dream.
“What I want to do is open my own business, not just a retail outlet. I will have one, but I actually want to open a clothing factory in St Lucia to sell clothing for different stores. I don’t want to go to school and then work abroad or open a business abroad and make all the money overseas. To me I see opportunities in St Lucia,” she shared.
Renee cites Jaeylu creator Sharlene Lagon as her design idol and hopes to pick her brain someday on navigating the industry. Family is important to her as well. She credited her father with providing unwavering support, as well as her boyfriend who surprised her with a new overlock machine. Her fashion line, Ermay, is even an amalgamation of her mother and beloved paternal grandmothers names. Her coworkers have also gotten in on the action, encouraging her to show her work at their annual Consolidated Foods May Day event. But it is her grandfather’s words that she carries with her on the road to success. “Live hard, work hard, and do well.” It appears his granddaughter is taking his advice to heart.