By RON FANFAIR
Mekielia (Miki) Nembhard has already covered more bases in the past decade than some baseball hitters would touch in their professional careers.
The Jamaican-born young woman studied aviation and acquired a business degree in three years from the University of Western Ontario (UWO) where she was the tournament director for the debating society. While at university, an old passion for fashion was rekindled, leading to an assignment with a unique student-run high fashion showcase featuring some of Canada’s top designers.
Nembhard launched her own clothing line – GIA – in 2003 and has established a second label, Miki Nembhard, and a public relations firm, Meuze, which markets her brands across Canada, the United States and the Caribbean. She has showcased her fashions at the Fashion Week of the Americas in Florida, the Style L.A. Swim and Resort Fashion Show in California and Saint International’s Style Week Jamaica. Last year, she was invited to showcase her labels at the Oscars viewing room.
Her collections are known for the emotional power and raw energy of her shows as well as the romantic but determinedly contemporary and unconventional nature of her clothes and their construction, and she cleverly uses the juxtaposition between contrasting elements – fragility and strength, tradition and modernity and fluidity and severity.
While building and promoting her business, she’s pursuing a Masters degree in corporate and commercial law at the University of London which allows students here to sit their exams at the University of Toronto.
“I realized a long time ago that in order for me to survive, I had to be in charge of my own destiny and that meant being my own boss,” said Nembhard, who was recognized recently for entrepreneurial achievements at the 27th annual Harry Jerome awards gala. “It’s has been a natural progression over the years that has allowed me to own my business and employ six people.”
Nembhard is quick to attribute much of her success to her parents and younger sister who she fondly describes as her “silent business partner.” She says that her mother, Emry, who is a professor at Sam Sharpe Teachers College in Montego Bay where she was raised, provides unconditional support, while she consults with her father, who owns Nembhard & Associates in Jamaica, for business advice before she negotiates a deal.
Sister Kimberly graduated with honours from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Arts degree and is on track to successfully complete a Masters in Policy and Management from the University of London later this year.
It’s been quite a ride for Nembhard since she attended two all-girl schools in Jamaica – Westwood High and St. Andrew High – where she captained the debating team and did her “A” levels before accepting a scholarship to attend the UWO. She chose to enroll in the unique Commercial Aviation Management program – the only one of its kind operated from a major Canadian university – that offers students who study aviation the option of combining the four-year Management and Organizational Studies degree with formal flight training.
“While in high school, I groomed myself to attend medical school by taking all the science courses which I enjoyed because I relish exploring things,” Nembhard said. “I was very excited, however, when UWO recruiters came to St. Andrew and presented the aviation program. Little did I know then that I would be the only girl and only Black among 40 students to be in the program…I, however, did not allow that to bother me. To be honest, I was more concerned about the cold weather and making good grades to maintain the average necessary to continue with the program.”
Nembhard pulled out of the aviation program in her second year because of the huge financial costs and the terrorist attacks in the United States.
“At around the same time 9/11 took place so my desire to fly was really not the same after those terrifying events,” she said.
Nembhard is the co-ordinator for this summer’s Caribbean Tales Film festival which will highlight Caribbean film as a tool for education and social change.