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Going beyond Carnival

A Q&A with mas maker Kathy Norman
Thursday, October 29, 2015
Some of the detailed, fantastical costumes from the band Searching for Shangri-La, designed by K2K Alliance, a company started by twins Kathy and Karen Norman. The costumes use flower motifs, with intricate work evoking a world of make-believe. PHOTOs: Gary Jordan Photography

K2K Alliance, a company started by New York-based twin designers Kathy and Karen Norman, recently launched its fifth Carnival presentation, Searching for Shangri-La, along with the audio book Growing Black Orchids, written by the twins, which inspired it. 

During a gala event at the Hyatt, K2K also launched a power-talk series, Colour of Courage, with a speech by internationally acclaimed designer Amsale Aberra. Via email, Kathy talks about the band, the working relationship between her and her sister, and K2K extending itself beyond Carnival and fashion. 

Q: What exactly motivated the idea for Colour of Courage? Who came up with it?

As we contemplated our journey we realised that there were certain tools that aided us on this path. Inevitably, one of the key pillars is courage. Entrepreneurship is not an easy route and we are sure that many who have started down this path would testify that on the best of days, you need a whole lot of passion, tenacity and, in the end, courage to build and continue to sustain a business model. 

Thus, through our introspection, the Colour of Courage was born. In terms of who came up with the idea—I would like to say the brainchild behind the Colour of Courage was Karen. Interestingly enough, although we work in unison, Karen tends to spearhead the innovation behind our new concepts.

When we first got our driving license years ago, Karen always took the driver’s seat while I opted for the passenger’s seat. Our dad noticed the strange phenomena and said that Karen was the driver while I was the front seat conductor, making sure that the path was clear, double-checking the review mirror to ensure we could switch lanes appropriately. And funnily enough, this theory seems to be true in our roles in K2K. 

Why did you see the need to do this?

As Trinidad looks to grow its creative industry, actually all its industries, we think that it is important to learn best practices from those who have preceded us to ensure or help us not to make the same mistakes as our forerunners. Challenges and mistakes are part of growing a business, but one of the aims of the initiative is to try to minimise the heartache where we can. 

The power-talk series is meant to let professionals know that problems are not unique or insular, but are universal. Developing a personal brand or a business brand is not going to be easy, but with perseverance, hard work and a dose of courage, we can overcome challenges.

Is your new motto “Where fashion meets mas with a purpose”?

The K2K motto is not new, but rather the brand has evolved beyond fashion meeting mas. We are fashion meeting mas with a purpose, with that purpose being to inspire and motivate. As we re-evaluate the brand and look at the themes which we have portrayed over the years, we realised that we have always taken storytelling from the avenue of life lessons. As we look at the world at large with all its issues, we realise that we need more positive messages and inspirational stories.

Here at K2K, we aim to do just that. We would like to inspire you not just during the Carnival season, but 365 days a year. This is the 365-day concept of the brand coming full circle.

How would you describe your 2016 presentation, Searching for Shangri-La? What are people going to see on Carnival Tuesday?

Searching for Shangri-La speaks to trying to find that perfect place, which we have translated to a physical place, eg Eden. However, in our Shangri-La, we talk about life being filled with an array of flowers, with each flower representing an experience in one’s life. However, when one puts those flowers together, one realises how rich and diverse one’s life is. Thus, Searching for Shangri-La speaks to searching for something perfect—but the irony about life is that nothing is perfect; instead, one’s life is a perfectly imperfect bouquet. Bearing that in mind, the voyeur should expect intricate work and delicate textures accentuated with petals to mirror the theme. For the male costumes, expect tailored suits, corsets and beading to complement the women’s wardrobe. Expect sophistication, glamour, a world of make-believe. Expect K2K’s touch of magic.

How did the band do last year in competition? What are your expectations for this year?

K2K Alliance & Partners placed first in the medium band category. We expect to remain in the medium band category with the hope of bringing the beauty of Shangri-La to the Savannah stage.

From the aerial view, we would like spectators to see a mobile forest (these are our Tree Walkers), and from the eye level, the observer should see beautiful flowers nestled beneath the canopy of trees.

Who is the K2K masquerader? What do you think attracts people to your work?

The K2K masquerader is one that is looking for sophisticated and chic costuming. The brand prides itself on storytelling, but storytelling not in the traditional sense. We tell life lessons though mas. We attempt to inspire though mas. 

K2K offers an intimate experience and thus we attract individuals that are looking for a family environment, with attention to finer detailing.

How did you meet Amsale Aberra? Why did you want her to be your first speaker?

We met with one of our mentors in NY and were discussing the K2K platform and the direction of the brand. Our mentor introduced us to Amsale. After meeting her and learning about her journey—her trials and tribulations—we thought that professionals in T&T should have the opportunity to meet her. She is so humble and so beautiful (inside and out). 

One would never think that she is the owner of a multi-million-dollar company. After we spoke to her, she commented, “Girls, the only thing I can be is me.” 

To be honest, as we look at our brand, as we look at who we are today, the reality is that we cannot change who we are—K2K is multifaceted, K2K is not everything to everyone, K2K is unique, and we would like to think this is just who we are. Courage is not always demonstrated in the most outrageous wrapping. Courage sometimes is displayed in the humblest packages. And, honestly, that is Amsale.

What other projects do you have in the works? When is the next CoC event and who do you have lined up to speak?

The Colour of Courage is meant to be an annual event, so the next one will be next year. Look out, as it is an exciting, multi-disciplined line-up.

Tell me about the book club and audible experience.

As we look to export Trinidad culture and drive innovation at K2K, the audible experience and book club is just that. We are the first Carnival band and only Carnival band to date that has such an extended platform. Each year we plan to release a novella (short story) that speaks to the theme of our Carnival portrayal. The first audible pilot was launched last year. This year we mean to bring that audible experience full cycle through a comprehensive novella.

What fashion projects have you worked on outside of Carnival?

Our introduction to fashion was through Queensway Ltd where we designed kitchen textiles (15 to be exact) for Anthony Rahael to be sold in the T&T market. We have had the pleasure of designing prints for Neal & Massy Trinidad All Stars, dressing the Marionettes Chorale, dressing and designing garments for Rachel Price, and even producing wedding dresses. Although the brand is associated with Carnival, the scope goes beyond that avenue.


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