CAFE Links Carib Designers to U.S Market

Janice Lawrence-Clarke (left) with T&T fashion designer, Heather Jones, Pepper Berkowitz, Pepper’s Showroom – Atlanta, and Ruby Wilson, CAFE executive, during FAM Trip 2.
Photo courtesy of JLC Productions

A Brooklyn-based Trinidadian fashion consultant plans to bridge the gap between Caribbean designers and the U.S fashion industry by providing sales and promotion opportunities in the U.S. and helping designers overcome problems that may arise due to lack of knowledge and funding.

Janice Lawrence-Clarke founder of CAFE (Caribbean American Fashion Exchange), has designed a four part program beginning with a Sunday Afternoon Tea and Fashion Salon, followed by a trade presentation, a fashion show in Atlanta, and finally a fashion show in New York. Participating designers must have been in business for two years selling and prepared to export. She prefers designers who are knowledgeable about quality control, delivery, and manufacturing. However,Lawrence Clarke realizes that not all designers have extensive fashion industry knowledge and wants to solve that problem.

The Sunday Afternoon Tea and Fashion Salon will connect designers and potential customers in an informal setting. Designers would be able to show their collections and take orders and measures. This would be followed by a trade presentation exposing the collections to store buyers and retailers.

Designers will present their collection in Atlanta, an important stop because of its location and the kind of stores present at the Atlanta Apparel Mart, Lawrence-Clarke said. “ It attracts stores stateside and international” she added. Then the show moves to the Big Apple.

“You must have a presence in New York ”, Lawrence- Clarke said, adding; “ Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week is the ultimate marketing tool. It’s an opportunity to get your name in trade and consumer publications.”

Another problem many designers face is that they do not have the funding to make their ideas a reality. That is why Lawrwnce-Clarke believes that Caribbean designers should have the backing of their respective governments. “Government should be looking to harness the diversity of its resources. Human creativity is a resource that can be marketed for mutual benefit. The government should be involved in CAFE because it creates an opportunity to develop another industry in the country while monitoring the growth of that industry and its contributions to the GNP/GDP.”

Successful Caribbean designers could also bring great attention to the Caribbean. Lawrence-Clarke would like CAFE to present a group of Caribbean designers at New York Fashion Week. “There is more strength in numbers…it’s best to sell a region rather than an individual,” she said.

Project Runway winner Anya Ayoung-Chee of Trinidad and Tobago is a perfect example of Caribbean talent and the attention designers can bring to the Caribbean. Lawrence-Clarke hopes to be a bridge between Caribbean and the U.S.

“There is a new Caribbean Diaspora society and I am a bridge to bring the old and the new together. It’s through the marketing and promoting of our culture. Hence, I say economic empowerment through cultural development; and as we know it’s all about presentation,” said Lawrence-Clarke.

Lawrence-Clarke said CAFE first came to mind in 1984, while in Trinidad and Tobago participating in Design Directive as a fashion consultant, helping Caribbean designers put their collections together. Lawrence-Clarke described the experience as being in a “beehive of creativity.” . It was also where she met Heather Jones, Meiling, Claudia Pegus and Robert Young of The Cloth fashion leaders of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean. However, the election of President Barack Obama in 2008 inspired her to make her dream come alive. In 2009, she and a friend created a challenge in which they had to do something that they always wanted to. Then, CAFE went from an idea to an actual program within her namesake company JLC PRoductions; which is a fashion consulting and promotions company specializing in the development, sales and promotion of products and services of artistic and cultural organizations.

Janice Lawrence-Clarke has more than 20 years of experience in both the fashion and entertainment industry. Some of her previous achievements include championing the development of a Caribbean fashion industry when she returned to the twin islands in 1994. She also revolutionized the way fashion events where covered in the print media by developing the Style Page for the Trinidad Guardian. She was a social reporter for The Independent and associate editor of Ibis Magazine. She successfully completed an MBA with honors in Project Management and Entertainment Management from the American InterContinental University. However, of all her achievements she is the most proud of her daughter Anastasia A. Clarke, a graduate of Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, California. She studied Sociology and Spanish with a concentration in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Anastasia now resides in Trinidad and Tobago. “This is my beloved child in whom I am well pleased, praise God,” Lawrence-Clarke said.

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