Like the rest of the nation, we join in congratulating T&T's former Miss Universe contestant, Anya Ayoung-Chee, who emerged as the winner of Season 9 of the hit American reality television series, Project Runway, on Thursday night. Ms Ayoung-Chee's achievement is even more remarkable given the fact that she only started sewing four months before the series-which focuses on fashion design-began recording, according to her own comments that have been widely reported in the US media. To put her accomplishment in perspective, she was required to go up against 15 other contestants to create the most attractive and appealing clothes in a competition with restrictions of time, materials and theme.
What she was lacking in sewing skills, she made up for with a natural flair for design, coolness and confidence in the pressure-cooker environment of the reality series and her bubbly, Trinidadian personality. In emerging ahead of her competition, Ms Ayoung-Chee overcame the adversity which surrounded her in 2009, which was capable of killing a less irrepressible spirit than hers. Although she did not invent a cure for cancer, create a mobile hand-held device that revolutionises communication, produce a body of literature that dazzles with its originality or sing a best-selling song, Ms Ayoung-Chee still managed to cast a positive, international spotlight on T&T in an era in which most of the attention has been negative.
It is for the Government, and Ms Ayoung-Chee herself, to find a way to leverage that spotlight-which will soon turn to other issues, ideas and starlets-to kick-start the local fashion industry. Issuing a statement from Perth, Australia, where he is attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, Minister of Trade and Industry, Stephen Cadiz, showed that he understands what is required when he said: "Fashion is a key pillar of our diversification plan and this government is fully committed to ensuring that there is sustained growth and development. We are committed to creating a suitable environment which will foster, nurture and harness the creativity of our people to ensure its transformation into a booming industry."
In a speech at the 2010 Trinidad and Tobago Fashion Week, Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said: "...We can do more I believe to ensure that the right incentives and avenues are put in place to stimulate the industry and help it to gain the international reputation it deserves and for which so many of you work so diligently."
These are nice-sounding and appropriate words but, as a country, we are not short of those. Where we have been found lacking is in translating the nice-sounding words into a business plan and transforming the business plan into a plan of action, which will bring together the experts in the field, with just-in-time access to financing, marketing, logistics and brand expertise, all wrapped together by appropriate assistance from the Government or a government agency. Other countries have managed to transform cottage industries into billion-dollar businesses by dint of collaboration, entrepreneurship and the right amount of government incentives. Here's hoping Ms Ayoung-Chee's success will spur T&T in that direction.