Originally published in
The Guardian
December 2012
The designers may struggle to compete with their international competitors, but Jamaican Style Week is gradually gathering pace with its exciting, joyous approach to fashion
Jamaica's biggest exports may be rum, coffee, sugar and Usain Bolt but as the country celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence this summer, it's beginning to make a name for its fashion industry too, thanks in no little part to Jamaica Style Week (JSW). The annual four-day event bills itself as "the iriest fashion week in the Caribbean" and hosts a series of outdoor shows and parties at heritage sites around Kingston.
Jamaicans are the best dressed people in the world
Photography: Jason Eric Hardwick

This year's JSW began on Thursday 21 May, with High Tea 'N Style, a charity fashion show hosted by the First Lady Patricia Allen on the lawns of King's House. This was followed by the men's collections at Devon House and the women's shows (dubbed the International Mecca of Style) in Port Royal, where the catwalk navigated cannons and battlements. And taking us out with a bang on Sunday was Fashion Block, a free street level show that attracted thousands of exuberant onlookers.

Far from the hallowed atmosphere of the international fashion weeks, here it's all about flavour. Catwalk theatrics included a brief appearance by guest of honour Tyson Beckford; a show where male models handed out red roses to front row fillies; a dance troupe who did a routine to Beenie Man's Rum & Redbull and a model competition that invited female volunteers from the audience to take part in a pose-off. A four-year-old girl won.

The fashions were just as spirited. Over 30 designers showed collections aimed firmly at island life. Revealing swimwear, tropical sun dresses and gala gowns dominated for women while menswear veered from showy dancehall styles to more sedate suiting, casual denim and sportswear. Jamaican flag-hued Golden Jubilee collections also proliferated. "JSW has energy, it's crazy - I just love it," says Courtney Washington, an established designer who specialises in loosely tailored linens. "I give it my full support because it's a unique event with genuine feeling."

JSW is the brainchild of Deiwght Peters, CEO of model agency Saint International. A former banker, he began scouting in 2000 and soon expanded into fashion event production. Style Week Jamaica was officially launched in 2005 and has since become a springboard for new models and designers. "I'm aggressive in terms of finding and developing talents and exposing them to a new clientele," Peters says. "JSW is also a city branding exercise and the dynamics of the event are different to anything else."

He has placed models with international agencies such as Elite, IMG, Muse and Storm and his marked successes include Shena Moulton, Tafari Hinds, Sam Taylor and Sosheba Griffiths. "Fashion is moving fast here and getting more exciting so I'm proud to promote it," says NY-based Moulton, who is a favourite of Marc Jacobs, Jil Sander and Calvin Klein.

While local models can soar, designers struggle more due to huge shortfalls in terms of formal fashion education, PR know-how, retail space and access to fabrics. "There is a long way to go but the buzz and visibility created by JSW takes them to the next level," says a determined Peters, who has forged connections with Parson's The New School of Design in New York and the London College of Fashion and also supports a government-funded fashion programme for teenagers.

Saint International isn't fighting the good fight alone, however. Its competition is Pulse Model Management, which has hosted Caribbean Fashion Week in Kingston since 2001. This year's event runs from June 7 to 11 and boasts a performance by Estelle and fashion show by Cedella Marley (daughter of Bob). As it houses all shows in one indoor venue, the two warring weeks have different appeals yet together are helping to feed a growing home-grown potential for the business of fashion. "Jamaicans are the best dressed people in the world," claims JSW designer Tanya Cameron. "So I believe that within the next five years, Jamaica will be the place to be for fashion."