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Masking waves

Natanga Smith-Hurdle

Masking waves

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Almost every woman has been swimwear shopping. If you have, then you might have bought one of Cassandra Mottley’s Shelniel pieces.
Even though she has been in the fashion world for the past 15 years, Cassandra has been designing sexy, trendy swimwear since 1999 when she discovered that Barbados lacked a wide variety of the garment for the younger market. So she decided to fill that void.
She has a background in sewing, mostly self-taught, but is presently pursuing a degree at Barbados Community College, expanding her knowledge in pattern development and fashion construction.
“I always loved fashion, dressing up. In 1996 I designed mostly formal wear – my graduation dress and my gown for the Miss Communifesta pageant,” she said. “I launched my first formal wear collection among friends very early on.”
Working with spandex and Lycra for swimwear, silk chiffon or cotton silk for wraps and coverups, she gets her design inspiration from “my surroundings, fabrics, research, magazines, television . . . so many place”. She also has a long list of designers she likes, too many to mention.
Fashion is an expensive venture for Cassandra because she needs to import speciality items such as chlorine-resistant fabrics, trims, notions, hang tags, hygienic labels, and sometimes product samples.
“It’s a very difficult and expensive business – difficult as there are so many facets to manage beyond designing collections,” she said.
“You need to be doing research, managing production, handling contracts, sourcing new clients, managing existing clients and so much more. Locally it’s also very far from the glitz and glamour you see internationally, and it is very competitive. 
“Beyond that, Barbados and the Caribbean are so limited in resources for production, materials, fabrics, technology, financing, grants, education and so on.”
But Cassandra is not slaving away at a sewing machine every day.
“I have contracts with companies who produce my designs both locally and internationally, depending on the size of the order. This is the same model used by international fashion houses.
“But depending on the quantity, if I am doing a local show, I will do the sewing,” she said. “It takes a few days to a week, depending on the level of difficulty and designs.”
Rocking a radical blonde haircut, Cassandra is mum to Keidra, 12, Daniel, 4, and Ari, 16 months, and also president of the Fashion and Design Association of Barbados.
The recipient of the Honourable Mention Award at BMEX took first place in the Environmental Category, second place – Pride of Barbados Design, and third place for her Starfish Design in the 2011 Kiddies’ Kadooment, but what matters to Cassandra most as fashion designer is keeping her clients happy and being able to export a product worldwide that entails great design, fine quality material, and excellent workmanship.
“Seventy per cent of Shelniel’s transactions are repeat business from current clients,” she said. “Twenty per cent are referrals from happy existing clients, and the other ten per cent are people who have seen my work from marketing.”
Cassandra sees vintage-inspired swimwear, bold bright colours including neons and pastels, snakeskin and head-to-toe constrasting prints as big trends in 2012.
But she won’t give up on black.
“So many people love black and in swimwear it slims and compliments; I can create many illusions from black. Black is timeless,” she added.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone wanting to start a career in fashion?
“Find a niche. Barbados is a very small market and there’s no better place to test your product and get feedback,” she revealed.
“Concentrate on producing a quality product – either learn the best techniques to achieve the very best finish, or source a company that can do it for you.  
“Take baby steps and go after your dream one goal at a time. Plan, plan, plan and stay focused. Always research and find innovative ways to make your business stand out from the rest. Concentrate on keeping your clients or customers happy and this will drive more business to your doors. Travel and see what your competitors are doing.
“And don’t design in a box.”

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