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Carlori by Carla


Natanga Smith

Carlori by Carla

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Fashion designer Carla Gittens is on a mission: to showcase her collection at Milan Fashion Week.

Carla is the only Barbadian on season four of Mission Catwalk – Jamaica’s version of the popular United States TV series Project Runway.

Dubbed ‘The High Fashion Edition’, season four will allow designers to create one-of-a-kind pieces in every episode based on different challenge themes set by the producers. The hour-long series comprises four segments in each episode: the challenge, the design production, the runway show, and the elimination.

The winning designer will get an opportunity to show a collection at the Milan Fashion Week compliments of Campari, BDS$8 780 funding to start their clothing line compliments of NCB-SME, industrial sewing equipment valued at BDS$3 512 compliments of Singer Jamaica, A fashion editorial in Jamaque Magazine, a scholarship to pursue a fashion programme at The University of Technology (Jamaica) and an internship with a regional design house.

The 29-year old has made quite a splash on the show – which up to time of press was at episode 5. She won the first two challenges and came second in the other two.

The brains behind the fashion label By Carlori – catering to “classy, fabulous, fierce five-star chic fashionistas” – Carla was always into her own style growing up and used to make sketches and then get someone to turn the sketches into wearable art. In fifth form at Alexandra School, when it was time to decide on her future career, Carla went the route of fashion – even though there was never a sewing class at her school.

But there was a sewing machine at home because mum Joy was a professional upholsterer. So Carla taught herself the basics and started sewing for friends and family: “I started sewing in 2002. I never took any courses. Everything I do I have taught myself,” she stated proudly.

Never one to sit on her laurels, after sixth form at The Lodge School, Carla enrolled in the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, and pursued a degree in mathematics: “I dropped out in my first year because it wasn’t for me.”

Carla realised that the numbers she was interested in had to do with waist, hips and shoulder measurements: “My mum wasn’t pleased but she gave me my space to do what I wanted.”

Carla invested in a sewing machine and with that one piece of equipment started doing exclusive pieces for eager clients.

Carla became busier as word spread of the one-of-a-kind clothing: “I make sure that I do not do replicas. If a client comes with a concept I work with that. If I get a freehand, no one else will be in that design but the person I made it for.”

Carla’s love for fashion then put her right back at UWI, this time in Jamaica, where she completed her Bachelor of Science in marketing management in 2011, which she knows will be a big help in running her own business.

The 29-year-old is fond of “the colour black. I love fabrics with stretch, I love prints, I love thick material and I absolutely love sheer.” She also makes funky jewellery [self-taught] to go along with each outfit.

Seeing Mission Catwalk as a springboard, Carla will next focus on “continuing to build my brand. Placing full collections in stores both locally and regionally. Creating an online store accessible worldwide. Pop up shops in Jamaica. Alot of plans are underway. Just wait nd see!”

The designer, who is back home gave EASY this interview:

This is my first time auditioning for Mission Catwalk. Why did I sign up? From an artist perspective I decided it was time to challenge myself, place myself in a situation where I am forced to hone my skills and try never to be comfortable being complacent. From a marketer perspective I decided I needed to build my brand through exposure beyond word of mouth and beyond Barbadian waters. From an entrepreneur perspective, I wanted to build an attractive résumé. Should I ever approach an investor, I want them to say, ‘Hmmmmm, she has talent, she has goals’. Mission Catwalk is one of the many stepping stones towards building the ByCarlori brand.

You have made it so far to four rounds as far as the show is being aired. Which of these four were the most challenging? The hardest challenge would have to be challenge No. 4: create a design inspired by a sculpture. I think that was the most indecisive challenge I have had so far and my weakest display of talent despite still managing to secure first runner-up. The judges were so rough!

You were one of 12 in the competition. What does each challenge entail? Each entails creating a high-fashion garment representing the current theme they give you. It has to be high-fashion, wearable, display your signature and making sure you score the highest so you don’t get sent home! My eyes are on the grand prize! So I don’t mind coming first-runner up for the in-between challenges. The grand prize is the pot of gold waiting for me at the end of the rainbow!

How long was each day with shooting? The day began at 5 a.m. and ended anytime around 7 p.m. to midnight. It all depended on the difficulty of the challenge given. We still had to fit shopping and testimonials into our day. The pressure was real.

What was the best comment the judges made on your pieces? I actually have two favourite comments: “It is perfection!” This comment, was made on my kaftan by Sara Grace, an ambassador for Loreal. “It is stunning!” This comment was made on my Campari gown by the show’s host Keneea Linton-George, who is also a fashion designer.

You are used to making one-of-a-kind pieces for clients but this was a competition. How was the pressure at each challenge? The pressure was real for each challenge. Not because of the other competitors but because of the time. Time management was real!

Since you had so little time to do so much, what was your game plan like for some of the challenges, if you can elaborate? My game plan was very simple. Create a simple stylish base that has an amazing silhouette. Then create accents or embellishments that can be done by hand in the event that I had to make finishing touches runway day in less than 20 minutes. Most times I am able to complete 95 per cent of my garment within the time frame. For example, time ran out for my Campari gown before I could stitch on the hooks and eyes and press my hemline. All things fixable on runway day. My sculpture design was a hot mess though (laughing loudly).

Were you nervous every week when it came to eliminations? I was soooo nervous. Perspiration actually dripped off of me. They had to stop rolling so the assistants could dab the sweat off of me. After a while I was less nervous. I’m most nervous when Carlton Brown comments. He is very meticulous when it comes to finish. I guess it’s because he is an impeccable menswear designer and his suits are soooo wicked! Clean! I fear him the most.

How was shopping for fabric in with a small budget? (laughing loudly again) I had my little book and my calculator just multiplying and writing down EVERYTHING! I made sure I never went over budget. If I had a JMD$5 000 (BDS$87) budget, I would have spent $4 999.99 of it (laughing loudly again). I always make sure that the design I’m doing can fit the budget for the fabrics. I scanned their stock from the second challenge. Always took mental and REAL notes. This is a competition – no room for error.

What challenges did you face in each episode aired so far? It was very difficult not to strangle some of the other designers, especially those who never have consideration for other people when it came to supplies they provided for us all but one person wants everything for themselves. Then I faced challenges with the machines. Machines from hell.

When you are sewing a piece how long does it take? What is your process? Have you ever ripped up and started over? Ripped up and started over many times! A piece usually takes me between three to eight hours. If I have a workload, my process is to cut like colours and stitch. Repeat.

You won the first two challenges and were runner-up in the next two. Can you give us a snippet of what those challenges were? The first challenge was to design a high-fashion kaftan in memory of Kay Davitian, who was the mentor on the show. I created a kaftan which highlighted the historical factors of the kaftan stemming from Islamic culture. So I created a black long kaftan with a waist belt and I styled the model in a turban. The second challenge was to create a gown for a Campari ad-campaign which best represented the brand. To me that meant sophisticated, passion, impeccable style especially since the brand originates from Italy. I noticed in a Campari ad that the bottle was lying in a bed of roses so I integrated roses into my gown. My friends and clients who know me would know roses are my thing! I love roses!

I came first runner-up in challenge No.3 and No.4. Both were shy of winning due to some minor faults. The slightest error doesn’t go unnoticed in a competition so you need to make sure that your designs are as close to perfection as possible . . . from fit straight to fabric choice and finish. Even forgetting to press can be an error.

Do you think you push boundaries with your pieces? I don’t think I push boundaries with my pieces. I’m not an avant-garde type of designer. I’m about being practical and functional. I do, however, come out of my comfort zone occasionally. I can do avant garde because there’s nothing I can’t do as long as I put my mind to it. But I like classic styles. My details are usually embellishments. My designing style is very versatile. One moment it could be clean like Karl Lagerfeld, another moment it could be adventurous like Roberto Cavalli or fairy tale-ish like Elie Saab or Giambattista Valli. I seldom get to tap into these styles while creating outfits for some clients. It isn’t every day someone needs a gown or can afford a heavily embellished piece.

How has support been throughout the competition so far? Family, friends and customers are my number one supporters. However, since the competition has been aired, I have gained a fair amount of fans from both Barbados and Jamaica, the latter being the most surprising, having been the Digicel’s #1 Fan Favourite four times for the four weeks voting has been opened to Jamaica only. It shows that they don’t vote because of which country you’re from but because of your talent and to me that is incredible. Since I’ve participated in the show I’ve also reached out to a few entities in helping me achieve my business goals and though it’s been quite difficult, the Honourable Donville Inniss (Minister of Industry, International Business and Small Business Development), BIDC [Barbados Investment and Development Corporation] and Abed’s have all provided amazing support in assisting me to achieve my goals in whichever way they can. For that I am grateful.  

Would you do it again if you had the opportunity in retrospect? I would absolutely do it again! I love Mission Catwalk and everything it stands for! It is one of the best avenues for exposure as a Caribbean designer. It’s always good to have that support and channel in the Caribbean fashion industry.

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