MONDAY MAN: Local materials ‘not buyers’ first choice’
“COCONUTS FOR SALE. Ackees for sale.”
These aren’t the typical words one would expect to hear coming from the mouth of a fashion designer.
In fact, as Adrian Gilkes stands in the scorching sun on the Chamberlain Bridge in The City where he can be found five days a week slashing the tops of coconuts to satisfy the thirst of awaiting customers, some may even argue he doesn’t look like the typical fashion designer.
But then again, there is nothing very conventional about this man.
Adrian was born and raised in Mile and a quarter, St Peter. The last of 16 children, he knew from as early as eight years old that his normal would be different from others. And so at the tender age of nine he started making jewellery.
“. . . Because my mother had nuff of we, we had to find income to help ourselves as the finances wasn’t that much. So I would get sea shells, shak shak seeds, anything that I could transform into jewellery. With the money we bring in we was able to go to school in turns. Every two months different children would go to school. I finished at 19 but I didn’t get no degree nor nothing, the time I went wasn’t no big lot of time and I never had no full term at school,” he recounted.
Adrian said he realised that to achieve anything in life without a proper education his best bet was a trade.
He said: “I realised I was talented with my hands so I decided I gine work with the talent I got. I continued selling coconuts and doing other stuff to get my finance come in but then I started working with materials I knew I could create something with to mek different looks all together.”
That was when he began to expand his use of indigenous materials.
From recycled glass, sheet rock, bamboo, coconut husks, birdeye seeds, African velvet, black pearls, mile tree, willow seeds, walnut, elephant seeds, back-me seeds, woman tongue seeds – anything natural which could be found in Barbados, Gilkes reshaped them into extremely comfortable yet elegant and inexpensive unusual pieces.
“Anything that people normally don’t work with, I use,” the 51-year-old boasted.
Gilkes maintained that working with local materials was not as difficult as the reception he received for using them. He explained that it was difficult to persuade Barbadians to buy his products because many people did not like when pieces were created from indigenous materials. Hence, came the influx of what he described as shinier, cheap and more flimsy materials from Asia.
He recalled how many of his artist friends traded off what he contended was better local materials. He suggested that little did they know that by doing this, they were actually causing the death of a native niche.
“Over the years it turn into buying things from China and not so many people still work with this [local materials] because them believe it was too difficult to work with. People would rather more easier things – something from China they could buy a whole box for $5. But them ain’t understand that a tourist coming from China, New York, wherever, ain’t want something that them could get in China, New York, or wherever. So if you work with the indigenous [materials] obviously your piece would be different from something from one of them countries,” he said.
Gilkes said he never yielded to the temptation of working with outsourced materials because he understood the importance of marketing “Barbadiana”. And apparently that perspective has indeed been a positive one since Adrian said he has seen growth in his mixed clientele that includes both locals and tourists.
This according to him, took place because more Barbadians are interested in the African, “less glittery”, more unique look.
“Not many people doing this but I do it because I love to do it. I love to take something people think is trash or impossible to use and transform it into a unique one of kind piece of art that I know many people would want to have and it gives me a pleasure doing it, don’t matter how slight it is,” he said.
“Caribbean people used to do all this handicraft work but we stop doing it now – I trying to bring it back. It is a lot of hard work but you can get through if you push with it. My idea is to create something new that when you see it, it speaks for itself. It is kind of weird but my idea was to try to sell and market Barbados rather than China. Everything you see is 100 per cent Bajan. I don’t mind competition, I embrace competition. – [I] encourage other craft people to take advantage of indigenous products. We used to do it before, I don’t know why we stopped – I could never understand that,” Gilkes said. (SDB Media)