When my first baby was born, we were living on our sail boat in the Caribbean.
We had our own beautiful boat, but we still had to make a living for ourselves, and I didn't want to leave my baby and put her in daycare to get a job, so I decided to create a job for myself on the boat.
I started making beautiful beaded jewelry using larimar (the gemstone of the Caribbean) and various other aqua and turquoise beads.
Next I started importing beautiful brightly colored baskets from Madagascar.
Eventually my old friend who had been the Production Manager at Billabong South Africa, when I was Head Designer there, said to me "when are you going to stop fiddling around with these little things and start your own line?". It seems obvious now, but I had honestly never thought of doing that.... despite graduating fashion school and having many years experience around the world in the fashion industry.
Here is my Fashion School graduation collection... funnily enough in bright colored resortwear.
So I booked myself a flight to India to search for fabrics suitable for the hot weather of the Caribbean. Here I am in Delhi.
I found myself the most amazing soft pure cottons, and so began West Indies Wear. From the get-go we were all about sarongs and cotton tunic tops to give sun protection in the Caribbean heat.
We still do a lot of different printed designs on sarongs.
What is a sarong? Just a big rectangle of cloth actually. Most common sarongs are in a synthetic viscose rayon fabric, but ours are in lovely soft pure cotton.
What do you do with a sarong? You can use it as a towel, or you can wear it as a dress over your swimsuit.
You can wear it as a skirt over your swimsuit too.
And if it is SO HOT you would prefer to wear it as a mini skirt... simply fold it in half lengthwise and wrap it around your waist. Tie it on one side to create a drape, or tuck it in on the waist to keep it flat.
And even the boys like to wear them. How does your partner feel about a "man sarong"?
Use it to cover a pillow on a beach chair.
You can use it to shade your face when you are tanning.
Or you can use it to shade your shoulders when you have had too much sun.
My tween put her sarong to use by putting her own spin on sun protection.
Even our little mermaids like to wear them... simply shorten the length by folding it lengthwise to get the length that suits your mermaids height.
Both of my little mermaids love their sarong collection.
Even the babies love them, because they are so soft. Here is baby girl Saylor all snuggled up in her Sailaway Sarong.
This however is my idea of a good time in a sarong.
I highly recommend you wearing one while you have your vacation "nana nap".
What about shelling? Do you like to collect some shells on the beach. I have to admit a little collection of shells always finds its way to my house.
When the sun sets and the air gets a little cooler, you can wear it to keep the chill away. You will be very surprised how warm such a fine cotton can be. I always use one on my long flights.
The nice thing about our pure cotton sarongs, is that if you use it for a towel, and then hang it out to dry, you will have a fresh towel in about 5 minutes of island breeze time.
No beach walk should be taken without one !
Well here you go.... this sarong use must be the craziest of all. AND that would be reserved for my dog crazy sister Amy.
Deciding to move out of Florida was something that I have dragged my feet on for 2 years now.
When I tried to STOP and relax last Christmas and take a mini-vacay with my family (something I don't really get as I always have to keep up with the inbox) that is the time I always get some clarity on my life. So this last Christmas I realized over my summer cocktails, I have got to make the MOVE... and I have got to do it before SUMMER.
Lauren, my awesome National Sales Manager, and our warehouse Manager has been talking about retiring for 2 years, but I was also getting tired of the stress hurricane season brings to me every year. Just like so many of our customers in the islands & in Florida, I live the summer hurricane stress nightmare too (albeit from Australia). Yes I have always been VERY lucky, while some of my stores have been hit SO HARD (some are still not back with us yet), but how long until my luck runs out? I recently found this photo on Foxy's FB page.... the day after Irma.... utter devastation.
So I have spent the last 4 months, shopping around for warehouse facilities. I have looked in Dallas, in LA, in NJ and in TN. All the while thinking, where is easiest for me to fly in from Australia and visit.... but alas I had to weigh up all the factors and Tennessee offered the best deal on 3rd party logistics, and also gave me the best shipping rates for more of my stores. Working that out on an average considering my stores are located from Hawaii to Rhode Island, and down to the Virgin Islands.... yes that was fun.
The new warehouse is a "scan in / scan out" facility. I am very excited to think that we should hopefully eliminate a whole bunch of human error, and improve our overall inventory accuracy. Dream come true! All of our items have been barcoded with a West Indies Wear unique barcode for 10 years now.... oh the things I have had to figure out how to do over the years as we have grown.
So it was "just" a matter of doing a complete inventory count and putting a barcode sticker on the outside of every carton. It took a week for 4 of us to complete. We have 24,000 units and 800 cartons! No small feat. Here is a photo of Nancy our new FL sales rep who came to help us out.
And here is Nicole.... counting, counting, counting.
Our warehouse consisted of 4 office rooms converted with shelving space, and then 2 additional storage garages down the back, which had been added as the collections got bigger. To get things organised we had to consolidate items of the same style/size/color into one carton, so we were constantly moving boxes between the different locations.
Finally after a week of counting, our truck turned up at our door and it took a team of 7 of us more than 3 whole hours to load every carton onto the truck. That in the Florida heat was fun to say the least. At the end, we really didn't think it would all fit in the truck. The guys were rearranging the boxes like a puzzle to try to close the back door. You have to see the video. Click here to watch it.
After the truck had left, I put all of our empty shelving on Facebook Marketplace, and sold it within an hour. Here it is all loaded onto the back of "Tommy's" trailer.
So surreal to see our shelves on the back of a trailer.
So after a massive 9 days in USA, I was straight back on the A380. 15 hours from Dallas to Sydney and then transfer to my little plane for the one hour flight back to my tiny town. How stunning is Sydney's coastline.
Back to my family. I always try to make my trips to USA as quick as possible, because I feel so guilty leaving my kids.... and my husband, mother & mother-in-law who all have to pick up my "mom duties". This trip sure was exhausting, and I am glad it is over and we "pulled it off". The 800 cartons are now safely in TN and we are working on getting organised and figuring out how the new computer systems are going to work with each other.
Have you ever been so close to a goal you can almost taste it? Have you ever spent years striving for something, only to have it slip through your fingers at the very end?
The following five students are all ready for their second to last or final year of school. Only 2 percent of Haitians ever have the opportunity to reach graduation, but these five students are just so close!
Benderly, Manoach, Wilda I, Edeline J, & Sonise all are all ready for their second to last or final year of school. Only 2 percent of Haitians ever have the opportunity to reach graduation, but these five students are just so close!
Click on their pictures below!
Almost There! They are all older students, some well into their 20’s, and they all have fought so hard to make it this far! Many of them missed multiple years of school due to their extreme poverty, but they have never given up. They have faced hunger and loss and turmoil that would be almost impossible to comprehend. Yet this has been their dream since they were little children and it is so close to coming to pass!
All five students were especially recommended to us by their directors and teachers, not only for their intense need, but also because of their profound determination and strength.
Without a scholarship, they will not be able to return to school.
If you feel so led, would you consider, this morning, providing a scholarship for Benderly, Manoach, Wilda, Edeline, or Sonise or contributing, in part, to their scholarship?
Our goal is to raise $250 for each one. This will include their regular $175 scholarship and all that it entails, along with an extra amount that will allow us to purchase some of the more expensive supplies and fees that the final two grades require, such as calculators, special dictionaries, national exam fees, and more. We have seen too many students unable to reach graduation because of a deficit of just a few dollars. We want to come alongside these five amazing young adults and help them reach victory!
A little about Haiti...
More than 80% of schools are privately run and many rural regions have no schools at all.
The cost of public and private education is more than 40% of a rural household income for a single child.
More than 400,000 children between six and eleven have never attended school.
More than half of Haiti's citizens are illiterate and in rural regions, illiteracy is often as high as 90% of the population.
More than 60% of children who begin school will be forced to drop out before completing the sixth grade.
Only 2% of students ever reach high school graduation.
What does a sponsorship buy...
a year of school tuition and fees at a local Haitian school
two uniforms hand made in Haiti by local seamstresses and tailors
Call me old fashioned, but I believe in doing business with ethics and integrity. Has this been lost in today's fast paced competitive business world?
Ok my business is small, very small.... just me designing my island creations, and a few (very few) island girls helping, actually its just 4 girls helping me behind the scenes, and I have 7 sales reps around USA who are always selling the line. Here I am with Lauren at the end of Miami Swim Week after we have finished breaking down the booth. We kinda do everything ourselves.
I work with my 3rd generation Indian family factory, who are awesome. They are ethical too. There is no child labour, underpaid labour, threatened overtime or lack of health & safety standards. They are audited annually and I see the reports.
I coordinate the bulk factory orders, I personally measure every sample and check all the fits, I arrange the shipments and coordinate all the freight, customs clearance, garment duty codes, the whole thing. I organize the unique barcodes on every item, I organize the photo shoot, and help dress the models. Here I am holding the light filter at the 2019 photo shoot.
I even build the website, and write the stories about every garment. There is kinda a lot involved in getting one of my ideas from my head, onto paper, and a year later onto your boutique floor or into your wardrobe.
I can honestly say that I NEVER straight out copy other designers. I can look you in the eye and say that, because I did it all myself. Sure I see idea's that spark inspiration in me, and yes I have been known to turn my trolley around in the supermarket to follow someone who is wearing a cute skirt.... BUT I never straight out copy !! I always add my "island twist".
I can honestly say that I do all of the DESIGN work myself. I design the labels, the hang tags, the prints, I choose every fabric and decide on every color. I decide which print is going on what sort of garment. Sometimes I work with an artist who draws up my prints for me, I recently featured artist Debbie Laan who worked with me on my Ocean print for 2019.... but overall the decisions are all mine. Both the good & the bad decisions are mine.
I find it disheartening at times when I am blatantly copied. A few years back I walked into a Bealls of Florida store, to find one of my palm tree prints hanging there, the exact same print and the exact same color ways, but in a stiff cotton sheeting fabric.
Next I had a store in NC buy one pack of my tunics from me. Next season, there she was at the same trade show with a whole line of tunics of her own... even starfish tunics which I had been doing for years. This lady continues to stalk me at the shows and see what we are doing next. Well its all there on my website too, in plain sight for all to see (and copy).
Then there was the time that I walked into Surf Expo and just 5 booths down the aisle from me was a big line with an 8 foot banner on the outside of the booth which had my Palm Leaf Tunic on it. Same print layout and color ways I had done for years.
Just recently someone has sent me a photo of another copy garment hanging in a supermarket chain in USA. YES a supermarket.
Yes I should SUE them, and YES I should complain, but really I am not a complainer, and I certainly do not have the spare cash flow to sue some retail giant. That is not the way I do business. I just have to come up with NEW designs and try to stay ahead...keep my designs FRESH.
Coco Chanel was a designer who was known for her timeless quotes and timeless fashion. Her quote "If you want to be original, be prepared to be copied" remains true today.
Surely you guys like to do business with integrity too? Maybe I am just a dreamer. Yes you can call me "old fashioned", but I do stand by my business of integrity. I will continue to support the SEE Turtle Foundation with proceeds from the sale of my Turtle Tunics and Sarongs. I love to help out island charities, like the recent fundraiser we did for Lucky Paws in St.Thomas. I will most certainly continue to pay the school fee's for the 6th year, of the young girl we are helping to get her education in Haiti, a country where fewer than 30% of the students reach 6th grade.
Most of the stores I supply are small family businesses too. Young mom's and older mom's creating jobs for themselves and a life for their family and their dedicated staff members, by doing what they love... FASHION. They too are small businesses trying to keep their heads above the water while retail giants try to drown them out. Many have been in the business since they were young and fresh out of college, just like me.
At the end of the day, I like to think that my island friends are with me.
I know you guys believe in good business ethics too.
Well you know I like to help island charities and send them some donations, and Easter is always a good excuse for giving.
I was recently sent some lovely photos of St.Thomas's "Cat Lady" Dellia, wearing our Starfish Tunic while she was doing her rounds of feeding and checking on the feral animals around St.Thomas. Meet Dellia Holodenschi....
Dellia relocated to the island of St.Thomas in 1978 from NYC to be the Director of the St.Thomas School of Dance. Over the years she has served as a Board member of the Humane Society of St.Thomas, where they instigated major policy changes to spay and neuter every animal that was adopted from the shelter, to try to control the population of feral animals on the island. Here she is with her own car, full of the necessities to help the wild animals.
A change in careers from Dance to luxury skincare and make-up companies, saw Dellia traveling across the Caribbean region for her work. During her travels she saw one common denominator between the islands..... stray animals! Dellia was determined to find a solution to stop the neglect, abuse and overpopulation of feral animals which filled up shelters and created a surplus of animals which were then eliminated by euthanasia. How horrible!
After much research Dellia and the other board members came up with CAT CAFE PROGRAM, which they put into place in 2007. Look at this photo of one of St.Thomas's cat cafe's.... those cats look pretty healthy don't they!
From the Lucky Paws website I learnt that "The Cat Café Program is based on the fundamental belief that our feral, abandoned, or stray free-roaming community cats have as much a right to live as any other creature."
Volunteers Trap-Neuter-Return-Maintain the feral cats through the Cat Cafe's, to control overpopulation, but to also make sure the cats are well looked after, rather than feral cats being dumped into overfull shelters and eventually euthanized.
Even after the destruction of the hurricanes, cat cafe residents continued to be fed and watered.
Click here to follow Lucky Paws Foundation on Facebook.
Click here to visit the Lucky Paws Foundation website - and there is a DONATE button at the bottom of this page.
Click here to shop our website.... For all purchases made between now and 30th April, I will donate 10% of the proceed's to Lucky Paws Foundation, AND you will get a FREE Dancing Starfish Scarf in either Coral or Turquoise. (the other 2 colors are sold out sorry). If you would prefer one or other of those 2 colors, please put that info in the SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS box of your order.
Most of the prints that I do, are my own work. Funnily enough, I think I can't draw. I am certainly no artist. I guess that is just my own being "down on myself" thing. Takes me back to high school art class.... and then all the way through Fashion School. I never thought I could draw, but somehow I got by.... and actually I got great marks!
So now with my own clothing line, I need to come up with NEW art for my prints every year. Its daunting.... especially when you consider yourself "art challenged".
I often find photos of real shells or real ocean objects, put them on a lightbox and paint over them with ink, adding a swirl or two.... or dots. For example, below you can see how I started with a photo of a starfish, painted it in ink, scanned it in and turned it into a fabric print for our 2020 collection.
Do you think this makes me a fraud? Sure hope not.
Last year, I met an artist who has amazing "real" talent and a love of the ocean. I met Debbie Laan at our local markets, and we connected right away.
Debbie's work is intricate and adorable. Here she is working on a new piece, whilst camping on one of Australia's many awesome beaches.
Just look at how her amazing work comes to life as she adds color. To follow Deb on instagram you will find her @papermachemermaid. Have a scroll through her photos, she has done some interesting exploring around Australia and Asia too.
I just couldn't help myself, I wanted to put Deb's beautiful work onto fabric. I asked Deb to create some artwork for my tribe of island friends, and this is some of the collection of lovelies she dropped off for me.
The next step is actually simplify these designs a little, because it is not easy to put such intricate detail into printed cotton, its a whole new medium. Printing onto cotton means the darker background color sometimes bleeds into the white, and the detail can be lost. I needed to work on a layout and prepare the artwork for the factory. I think you will love the final product though....this is our OCEAN TUNIC.
I couldn't help myself, I had to add a sparkle of sequins to the style too. Just imagine the shimmer of sunlight on the ocean.
If you wanted to have a closer look at this tunic, here is a link to a video of me wearing the tunic, and explaining a little about it.
When I was a little girl, my parents took my sister and I out of school for a few months and took us sailing around the Great Barrier Reef. One of the most memorable islands we visited was Heron Island which is a natural coral cay, visited annually by great mamma turtles intent on laying their eggs. The photo below shows this spectacular island which you can walk around in 20 minutes. Click here for more information on Heron Island.
While we were on the island some baby turtles had hatched and were being taken care of by an organization on the island helping these turtles reach adulthood. Here is a photo below of my sister Cristi (the cute blonde one) and I holding our baby turtles.
Fast forward a few years and my husband & I had bought our own boat and were sailing across the Atlantic Ocean from Cape Town South Africa to the Caribbean. One of our few pit stops was on Ascension Island, a 34 square mile island thousands of miles away from Africa on one side and South America on the other side. See the photo below to get an idea of how isolated this island is, and the red dots show our route.
So we arrived on this island, put the dinghy in the water, and went ashore. Cleared in with local customs and immigration and went off to find the "Diner" at the local US Airforce Base. We had been hearing about this Diner from other yachts for months, and we were SO hungry for real food after weeks of rice, and beans that we loved every minute of eating Corn Dogs, Hot Dogs, and Chilli Dogs while listening to Bruce Springsteen playing on an old fashion Duke Box. After eating way too much food, we went back to the boat and slept like the exhausted sailors we were. We woke in the morning and looked ashore, and the beach in front of us was completely covered in these large track marks. It looked like several people had torn up the beach on quad bikes all night. What could that be? Only at dusk that night when we saw all these big turtles coming ashore, did we realize that those were the tracks of mamma turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. Hundreds of them! This photo below I found on the Ascension Island website and is that exact beach.
So we carried on our journey to the Caribbean. Months later while anchored in the Caribbean we were horrified to see some local guys who had been snorkeling around the anchorage had a 25cm turtle tied up with a rope and were towing it behind their dinghy. It was struggling against the rope, flapping around and slowly drowning. These people seemed to have NO IDEA that this was a highly endangered creature !
Did you know that 6 out of 7 species of turtles around the world are endangered?
So now when I got the request from our retailers for a TURTLE sarong and tunic in our collection, I thought it fitting to find an organisation who is doing their upmost to protect turtle nesting beaches, and educate people about sea turtles. So 10% of our sales of these items will be donated to SEE Turtles. They have an amazing program called Billion Baby Turtles, and for every dollar donated they are able to save a baby turtle. To date they have saved 500,000 baby turtles. How many more can we help them save? Here is a link to the SEE Turtles Facebook page, and they are also on Twitter here.
I see these guys have last night WON the "World Travel and Tourism Councils" CHANGEMAKERS AWARD. That is amazing ! CONGRATULATIONS.....Great job guys.
So good to see people using tourism to make changes to help our planet. We have been trying to help them over the last few years and so far West Indies Wear have saved over 1,800 hatchlings!
Our NEW Turtle Sarongs is here. Let's share some turtle love. #onelove
When I first started West Indies Wear, we were in Grenada in the Southern Caribbean, on our boat. We got the samples from the factory in India, and we were scouting around in the dinghy looking for places to take photos.
I spotted this colorful Caribbean cottage, and got a "bee in my bonnet" about taking photos of my sarongs on their wash line. I asked around the local village for permission, and was told "sure..... no problem Mon, but just beware the goat"
How cute is the cottage, and there is our old Palm Leaf Sarong, we still have a version of that sarong .... now it is called the Island View Sarong.
So Justin took me there on the dinghy, but we couldn't really land the dinghy anywhere, as it was very rocky and reefy in front. I had my reef shoes on, so I got out of the dinghy in knee deep water, and Justin backed out in the dinghy. He hovered nearby while I stumbled ashore with the sarongs, and camera.
I was on my own, and a little scared.
I couldn't see a goat anywhere, and no one answered my calls "Hello, hello, anyone home" so I walked up under the tree's towards the cottage. Next thing I could hear something RUNNING at me through the bushes. I turned and saw the goat running at me, and I started to run away from him, but not too sure where I was going to run to, I was trapped. Next thing he came to the end of this tether and stopped. PHEW I was safe.
I could hear my husband nearby in the dinghy killing himself laughing. Yes, I must have looked funny. Thank you for your support Justin!
Oh well, the photos are cute, and it does conjure up memories of the early days of West Indies Wear. Here is a cute photo of my daughter and I, taken around the same time.
She was always with us, we had no baby sitter. So she was in half of the photos, as she was never a child to sit quietly on the sidelines.
In these early days I was also doing pure silk scarves, and I was hand beading the edges. How gorgeous is that ? I just love the vibrant colors of silk. Perhaps that is something I should do again... what do you guys think?
One of the most exciting new additions to our line for Summer 2019, are our JUTE bags. I have never done a bag using jute before, as we normally do our cotton printed bags, but I do love the strength and durability of raw jute. What exactly is jute anyway?
Jute is a natural vegetable fibre that is one of the strongest natural fibres around, it comes from the CORCHORUS PLANT, which is commonly found in India and Bangladesh. The plant grows fully within 5-7 months, it is a rain-fed crop that needs no fertiliser to thrive. Here is a photo of the plant, and you can read more about it if you click here.
Jute is such a strong fibre it is most commonly used to make rope, twine, rugs, chair covers, sacks, hessian cloth, carpets & even the backing for linoleum. I love this photo of the cultivated fibres hanging out to dry. I found it on the Food & Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations website.
Here is a screen shot of my pinterest finds when I searched for jute furnishings.
I love that natural look, and actually have a jute rug in my own living room. It is strong and durable. Jute is also the fibre used on the sides of espadrille sandals which have come and gone in fashion over the years. Have you ever owned some espadrilles? I remember buying some in Miami around 1996, and I bought another pair last year.... hmm 22 years later. Isn't fun when you see fashion come around again. I love this article about the history of espadrilles in Vogue.
Here is Coco Chanel at the beach in her signature pearls, sailor hat and espadrilles around 1930.
In recent years with the invasion of synthetic fibres and plastics on our planet, jute has been re-discovered as an eco-friendly material for shopping bags. I just couldn't resist combining my Tango Print and eco-friendly raw jute. Click here to see the video I made yesterday to show you our new Tango Jute Bags.