FEATURE INTERVIEW: Caribbean Essence Fashion Showcase, Berlin:
5th Element

Gus Franklyn-Bute Editor-in-Chief

ACU|BIEN discuss Caribbean fashion with 5th Element Chief Creative Office, Andrea King from Barbados at Caribbean Essence Fashion Showcase in Berlin.  In this ‘Live’ interview at The Berlin Gallery in the Berlin-Mitte district, Andrea kindly offers insight into her drive, her passion and ambition to take 5th Element into new international export markets. We hear about the organisations that are providing support to her activities from within Barbados business landscape, and of Andrea’s heartfelt desire and efforts to contribute to the development of the Barbados economy – all infused with Andrea King’s acknowledgement of the ‘mystic vibes’.

Q: First of all, you talk about the collection being clothing for all seasons, but who your principals customers, what type of woman should be wearing 5th Element designs – certainly out of this collection?

A| A confident woman; a woman who is confident in herself; a woman who cares about herself, her family, her people, her community, her country, her world, her planet. After all the 5 elements are earth, wind, fire, water and the other, that thing which we need to live on planet earth, which is touch, love, spirit.

So in marketing terms, the customer would be defined as mid-upper income, 25 and up. Older women wear clothing too, and they buy clothing or clothing is bought for them – so the styles are such that they can translate from day to evening; or translate from generation to generation.

Q: When you talk about ‘for all seasons’ does it then translate then in terms of geography?

A| Yes, it was figurative and literal

Q: So, Caribbean Essence, Andrea King, 5th Element, Berlin?

A| The context for this, of course, would be the Caribbean Exports initiative to develop export markets for different product areas; in this case Cultural Industries of which fashion is a part. Fashion is a billion dollar global industry. The Caribbean is just trying to get a piece of that pie. There are hundreds of very talented Caribbean designers.  The 5 of us were selected. One, because we applied; and two, because we fit the criteria that Caribbean Exports put out; and the 5 of course you know who they are…[The Designers were: 5th ELEMENT (Barbados) presenting “Layers of Beauty”, drennaLUNA (Jamaica) with “Montego Bay”, Heather Jones International (Switzerland based) with “Colours of the Ocean” collection, MEILING (Trinidad) with “Cocoon” and Oriett Domenech’s (Dominican Republic) Capsule Collection.  Unfortunately, Oriett Domenech did not present on the runway, but offered a stunning collection with thread embroidery lace, lazor-cut structured dresses in plastic, cork].

That 5thElement from Barbados was selected is really a plus for me, because there are other talented, perhaps more talented, certainly equally talented, and certainly more established designers in Barbados.  Whether they applied or not is another matter. I applied and I was selected. Again, that speak to the ethos of the 5th Element – it is about faith. It is about knowing that we can do this. Our objective is not just to sell clothes and make a profit, but also to spread a particular message through the clothing.

Q: To some extent I think it leads in to [my next question]… you talked about Caribbean Export’s initiative and the 5 selected designers…

A| Notice that… “5” designers. It is a mystic thing. It is a spirit thing…

Q: Yet, at the same time, the creativity in the Caribbean is well acknowledged, but has yet to make a foothold in the global arena. What is talking so long, and what do you think are the problems?

A| There are three major things. One, it is Vision. Vision which leads to strategy. Vision on the part of leaders or the Creatives themselves.  You have to think big in order to grow big. If our leaders don’t believe we can do this for any number of reasons, then we wouldn’t do it because that would not be on their agenda. If the creatives themselves don’t think that we can do it, whether the leader think we can do it or not, it still wouldn’t go anywhere because the Creatives need to know that they can do it.

Two, access to capital or investment – because even if can think big and you know that you can do big, it takes money.  A good friend of mine said, ‘it takes cash to care,’ and he is absolutely right. If Caribbean Exports had not supported 5th Element Designs we could not be in Berlin at The Gallery Berlin. It is simply too expensive for the business at this stage of its development.

And the third thing is reaching the markets – market access. With the EPA (European Partnership Agreement) Europe is virtually an open market if you can find people to do business with.  If you have the money and the product, you still need to do business with the right people who are interested in the product that you have.  There is always a tension between Creatives [who are] creating for the market, and creating for the sake of creating.  I don’t have that tension, because my intention is to sell the clothing.

The company for me is a legacy for my children and it need to be successful.  Success spent with $$ signs; so I am all about ‘show me the money’. But at the same time, I am aware – I have a social conscience, so I will not sell my soul for money; I will sell my clothing.

We both laugh… and I jest “one would hope not”…

Q: If you were going to tell ACU|BIEN readers and those who are following us around the world, what happens after Berlin for 5th Element. What is your next move?

A| PURE LONDON, August 4th – 6th 2013.  We were actually preparing for PURE when the opportunity to do Berlin came along, so Berlin is really a good practice run for PURE. After PURE we are going to be working the contacts we have gotten here at The Gallery Berlin and also at PURE, and really push the business; because the intention of 5th Element Designs, which is from Barbados – did we say that? – is to export.

We are going to be launching the retail component of the business. We actually have a website and the retail end of it is going to be launched before we go to PURE.

Q: And why PURE?

A| It was a combination of reasons. I have resources in London, and it is easier to participate and that is the bottom line. So this goes back to access to capital.  I visited MAGIC in Los Angeles, but if I do not have enough capital that does not make sense try to go there.

And the plans for PURE I could not have executed if I did not get support and investment. The Barbados Investment Development Corporation [BIDC] is supporting my visit to London by paying for the booths space.  They have a special technical assistance program for marketing and I applied, having fit the criteria and got it. Then I came across, through the Barbados Coalition of Creative Industries, a loan scheme through the Cherry Tree Trust.  Now that is a very interesting thing, because Charles Fink, who was connected to Barclays Bank I think, is the Chairman and they give small interest loans to start ups. So I applied and again, I fit the criteria so, people would say I am lucky, I would say I am blessed.

Q: But to some extent you have to be actively seeking out [opportunities]

A| All of this is coming together now, but this is about two years or so of research and planning and strategising, so it is bearing fruit!

Q: You are quoted, if I may say, “that beautiful layering is the secret of your collection”. Are there any other secrets that a potential 5th Element buyer should know about?

A| [Andre coyly responds with a dose of her Bajan wit] This is the secret of this collection. Other secrets will be revealed in other collections.  What that really speaks to is the fact that we have two particular pieces in this collection that can be worn in several different ways.  Actually, we had quite a joke today because we had a top with a scarf that I conceive of it as a top, but when the German model put on the pieces – I was not there to dress them – she put on the top as a bottom and it worked, so I just left it.. so there we have another versatile garment . So there you have another versatile garment that could be worn as a top, a dress and skirt.

Q: Fantastic. It is interesting. I must say that from viewing the show, it certainly stood out. [Andrea chuckles heartily and well pleased, responding with “It stood out, did it! GOOD!”]… the collection and the vibrancy gave a different twist – something I did not expect from a Caribbean collection. [Really?] Because while one would see the usual resort wear, I thought the runway show worked very well. Everything looked very ready to wear, looked very, very wearable.

A| And that’s it, ready to wear. You know I tell people fashion shows!! – I am about fashion business. The shows are all fine and good, but if they lead to business, even better.  The business that I have done did not come out of the show; they came out of people walking around. In fact, this Gallery Berlin trip was a study in personality for me, because people seem to be attracted to my personality.  There was a woman who said, the minute she saw me – may be it was because of my hair, my clothing or the vibe I am carrying – she followed me and found that I went to the 5th Element and she immediately looked at the clothes and she decided she wanted to buy some. So it’s a VIBE THING, A VIBRATION, A SPIRIT… [More open laughter shared]

Q: Thank you. Thank you very much Andrea.  Is there any other message you would want to carry for yourself…

A| If you were kind; if you care; if you were sensitive you are clothed in the 5th Element. And don’t worry we will be having a men’s line as soon as we have more money.

— That was the key point today. I know this is not the location, but at a key point today I was thinking ‘it would be interesting to see what a men’s line would have looked like coming out of this —

Yes, this focus is on women’s wear but there are men’s shows. And as soon I get the money to do it, I am going to reintroduce my men’s line. I did menswear, but that when I was doing my retail on a domestic level. But stepping out now into production, I realise that I could only now focus on one thing at a time, but the men’s will come.

Q: So after this and PURE, if the order come you would have the value chain in place to produce the orders.

A| Yes and what will help that would be not just the loan from the Cherry Tree Trust, but in this business, certainly my business practice, would be to ask for a deposit. And the deposit would be a mobilisation fee – standard business practice. You pay a deposit and the balance paid on delivery.

Q: One final question: Where are your clothes being made?

A| Oh, in Barbados by La Rosa Couture. I am very conscious of all the various costs that are involved in production and this is my way keeping the business located in Barbados. Keeping the business based in Barbados is my way of contributing to my local economy. I would hope that when the company grows where I am mass producing the brand and require mass production that I can locate it in Barbados too, but that would speak to the capacity on the ground in Barbados.  At the moment, I can still do production on the ground in Barbados. When I get into doing production that goes beyond 5000 units then I would have to look elsewhere.

— So this is really a true Barbadian story. Fantastic. [It really is, it really is]. Well, thank you very much. [Thank you].


Caribbean Export Development Agency (Caribbean Exports) is a regional export development and trade and investment promotion organisation of the Forum of Caribbean Stages (CARIFORUM) currently executing the Regional Private Sector Programme (RPSDP) funded by the European Union under the 10th European Development Fund (EDF). Caribbean Export’s mission is to increase competitiveness of the Caribbean countries by providing export development and investment promotion services through effective programme execution and strategic partnerships.