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Meiling tells young fashion entrepreneurs - Brand together for success

Tuesday, April 8, 2014
One of Meiling’s designs. Photo Courtesy:

Young people entering the fashion industry need to find different ways achieve financial success and not limit themselves to designing for the runway or working solo, top local designer Meiling said recently.


Meiling herself uses her skill in various ways and is open to collaboration.


She returned to Carnival costume designing this year, helping long-time collaborator Peter Minshall bring out the small Monday band Miss Miles. She also designs the clothing for rapso trio 3Canal’s annual stage presentation, which celebrated its tenth anniversary this year. And, she designed the costumes for yet-to-be-released local film Pan! A Modern Odyssey.


Two of her interns enjoyed these experiences so much that they’re now considering focusing on costume design, Meiling told a small audience of aspiring entrepreneurs at her headquarters at 6 Carlos Street in Woodbrook. 


“The film industry in Trinidad is growing by leaps and bounds every day, so that is another way they could be using their skills,” Meiling said. “They could be designing for stage (and) costuming movies.”


Meiling collaborated with reality-star designer Anya Ayoung-Chee during Carnival for the cANYAval store, which sold accessories and clothing online and at Meiling’s retail space at Carlos Street. 


The veteran designer recommended that young fashion entrepreneurs come together in groups to form companies. Some are already doing this successfully, she said.


“I might be strong on social media and marketing, you may be the most creative, you may be extremely good at construction, and you might be good at the financial part of it,” she said, describing the way a group partnership might combine skills.


“Come together in groups and form your brand,” she said.


Meiling said when she founded her company, Meiling Inc, in the 1970s there were a lot of things going for her. Her parents supported her choice of career and helped her in different ways. The negative list restricted the importation of clothing. The clothing manufacturing industry was more vibrant. And there weren’t many fashion designers. Meiling only had one competitor.


The situation for young designers today is very different, she said, pointing to the number of graduates coming out of the six-year-old fashion programme at UTT.


“You’re not only up against each other, you’re also up against everything coming in from China, everything coming in somebody’s suitcase,” she said. “And everybody’s shopping online.”


Another major problem is the lack of skilled workers in the industry.


“There really is no industry in Trinidad. When I came back (from study abroad) there was an industry. There were many factories and women willing to sit at machines.


“Right now it’s a dying, dying trade,” she said of garment construction.


In addition to a good environment, Meiling credits her success to an ethic that puts hard work, discipline and developing her brand above the other attractions of fashion designing.


Too many young people seem to want the glamour and attention without doing enough actual work, she said.


“You arrive at the event and the paparazzi are there, and you’re on Facebook, and you’re on Twitter, and you’re on Instagram, and there are a million selfies—that I’m sick of—and it’s all about you, but there’s nothing to back up the work,” she said, sounding exasperated.


“For many years I did the work and people didn’t have a face to me,” she added.


Meiling said she’s pleased to hear of promising emerging designers.


“You’re hearing new names now, which is great because I’m sick of hearing of Meiling, Claudia (Pegus), the Cloth, Heather (Jones),” she said. “We’re good, but I want to hear new names.”


Meiling is doing her part to keep new blood pumping into the industry by regularly hiring interns, one of which was Anya Ayoung-Chee, and lately offering part of her retail space as a pop–up shop for promising young designers. The collaboration is mutually beneficial, as it draws new generations of clients to her shop, she said.


Meiling said she’s discovered that some people are intimidated by her.


She was pleased to do the Startup Grind event—which gave those in attendance the opportunity to chat with the presenters before and after the main event—because she wants to dispel that notion.


“I’m always willing to help,” she said. “I’d like my legacy to be that Meiling changed Caribbean fashion in some way…and that I opened the door for many young designers after me.”



The startup series



Meiling was speaking before young business people and fashion students as part of the third of an ongoing series of events called Startup Grind. It’s an international movement to promote entrepreneurship by giving prospective entrepreneurs the opportunity to meet and interact with successful ones.


The local Startup Grind was started by Gerard Thomas, who fed Meiling questions that had been submitted online by participants. MovieTowne founder Derek Chin was featured at the last Startup Grind in November and Island People’s Derrick Lewis was featured at the first in October.


“There’s so much great knowledge, so much experience, so much information that entrepreneurs have,” Thomas said at the start of the Meiling event. “And unless we get an opportunity to hear their story, to hear how they dealt with challenges and problems…and the struggles they had, then we won’t get the inspiration that we need to move forward.”


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