What ever you may have heard about the city of Berlin, Germany chances are it may be true. Berlin is an exciting city and it was an equally exciting opportunity to attend the Caribbean Essence Fashion Showcase, at The Gallery Berlin earlier this month. The Opernwerkstätten, an abandoned opera prop factory complex in the Berlin-Mitte district provided an ambient venue and backdrop for 5 Caribbean designers to take the spotlight amongst a full array of international creatives. We met with MEILING and file this interview, and bring you some images from her runway show.
Q: The MEILING brand has the acclaim of being a Caribbean icon with a global footprint, but why Berlin? – and what are you expectations for showing at The Gallery Berlin as part of the Caribbean Essence Fashion Showcase?
A| Berlin is an exciting city filled with energetic young people. I love the city layout with its open spaces, artistic sensibility and of course fashion forward atmosphere. You can feel it in the air that it is a city with great promise to be ‘the world city’. Berlin was chosen by Caribbean Export Development Agency (CEDA) who sponsored the presentation of the five Caribbean designers since it is now the home to 12 major fashion trade shows which signal the beginning of the Spring/Summer Fashion Season.
I had no expectations going into the show. Breaking into the global fashion market is tough and in Germany it is even tougher and we knew it was going to be a hard nut to crack. The project managers in Germany prepared us for the conservative approach of the German fashion buyer. In addition we are the new kids on the block and buyers need to see that we return for at least four seasons if they are going to take us seriously. Finally, it is always a hurdle to break down the stereotype that the Caribbean is only sea, sand and surf.
Q: Caribbean creativity and designs are arguably as good as any in the world. Yet, collectively they have made only a limited footprint on the global scene. What’s wrong, and why is it taking so long to reach as equitable a positions as designs from other territories?
A| Thank you Gus for the compliment on Caribbean creativity which I believe is world class. In fact, the global community is looking at us for inspiration in music, art and fashion. However, they have the means and resources to develop and commercialize it.
It has taken so long in the Caribbean to make any dent in the global fashion industry for several reasons. Collectively the English speaking Caribbean (excluding Haiti and the Dominican Republic) is only six million people. However, we are fragmented into several islands competing with each other, instead of working together. We need to act as one cohesive strong voice in areas such as manufacturing, brand development, distribution etc. (all the non glamourous back end stuff).
Another major impediment is that the Global Fashion World has two main seasons, Spring/Summer and Autumn/ Winter. There is also Resort and unfortunately that is where the Caribbean designers tend to be pigeon holed. I always tell people, I am a designer who happens to live in the Caribbean and I’ve realized that international buyers want to see that I can design and produce for all seasons. It is just the way it is and we have to get over it and not limit ourselves.
Q: The Cocoon capsule collection with its versatility, sculptured designs, and edgy playfulness seem to appeal to a specific type of woman who can confidently wear this collection. Would you agree that this collection is not for a wider audience, but for a specific type of woman who can wear this ‘contemporary lady in black’ collection?
A| Gus, you need to look at the Lookbook again, LOL, since the collection is just the opposite. It is a very easy to wear collection and the beauty of it is that it serves as a backdrop for accessorizing and combining with other treasured pieces from a woman’s wardrobe. It is also a versatile, easy to care travel wardrobe in cotton knit. I would also go further to say that the knit pieces are three season wardrobe which can be worn with other layers such as a turtle neck sweater below and tights and leggings.
What amazed me with the response to this collection is the variety of women who love it and are clamouring for it! They range from 18 to 60 and in all shapes and sizes!
Q: Meiling, how do you respond to the continued awards and accolades? For example, does your elevation to national icon for Trinidad and Tobago add pressure to continue to be creative or have you settled into a status quo?
A| I believe I am only as good as my last collection and this is something I try to impart to young interns and even other established designers. Fashion is extremely competitive and one has to stay relevant, educated on the trends, up on the forecasting for the next season and always pushing the envelope. I am always learning, growing, being humbled by the creativity of local, regional and international fashion.
Q: What next for the MEILING brand?
A| The MEILING brand is working very hard to ‘make that dent’ on the global platform. I am blessed to have a devoted core team in my CEO, Sharleen Chin and my COO, Marsha Syder. We are working with global industry experts to follow best practices and to get our ‘foot in the door’. Our goal is that in the next five years, the brand will be featured in every major fashion magazine and we will be the ‘overnight success’ that has worked for over 40 years.
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.