As one of just seven Caribbean fashion designers selected to showcase their creativity and artistic talent in England during the just concluded Olympics, Guyanese Sonia Noel is still on cloud nine.
When the call came, she was more than ready having contributed significantly to the region’s flourishing fashion industry in the past decade.
Noel’s insatiable desire for warm colours, deep texture and a distinct Caribbean flavour are reflected in her exquisite designs that exude a sense of style and love of fashion.
Carefully crafted with technical acumen while giving painstaking attention to detail and creativity, her apparel appeals to both the young and old seeking glamour and sophistication.
Born in the small mining town of Bartica, Noel displayed her creativity at a very young age, using newspaper to produce unique designs. She modelled most of her clothes in fashion shows and pageants, finishing runner-up in the 1988 Miss Bartica Regatta pageant. To supplement her income, Noel coordinated the Regatta pageant and taught at the community high school before pursuing design and fashion full-time.
“People used to come up to me and say they liked my outfits and that I was just saving the best for myself,” she recalled. “That sort of got me thinking that perhaps I should start my own business and develop my own creative line of products.”
To broaden her horizon and display her work in a larger marketplace, Noel moved to Georgetown in 2001 and opened Mariska Designs, which is her adult product line named after her eldest daughter. She also named a children’s line after younger daughter, Shontay.
Her product line includes crinkled cotton clothing, wraps, accessories and unique hand-painted linen which she proudly displayed at the 13th annual Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) conference marketplace in Georgetown earlier this year.
“My hand-painted designs depict the huge rain forests and the land of many waters that is Guyana in addition to my Afro-Amerindian heritage,” said Noel. “The environment that I live in and my upbringing are reflected in my work.”
Seven years ago, she was in Toronto for the Guyana trade show held to coincide with the country’s independence anniversary celebrations. She also staged a show in 2010 at the defunct Trane Studio.
“Toronto is one my favourite cities and I definitely like coming here to showcase my work and spend some quality time with family members,” said Noel who, last June, was invited to take part in the Caribbean Heritage Month celebration in Atlanta. “It’s also definitely a market that I am looking to penetrate.”
A regular participant at fashion events across the Caribbean, Noel started Guyana Fashion Week in 2007 to increase local designers’ visibility and promote their creativity.
“The interest in Guyana Fashion Week has been awesome,” she said. “It’s amazing how many young designers there are who had it in them all along but did not have an avenue to express themselves. We started out with 12 designers the first year and we now have about 40. This event has propelled the fashion industry here. We are now doing workshops to nurture young and up-and-coming designers to get them to the next level.”
Noel, who launched a foundation for creative arts last January, said that sharing a platform with Trinidad & Tobago’s Meiling, considered the leading fashion designer in the Caribbean, and other top regional artists in England last month was quite an honour.
“I think we are too small to be insular,” she said. “Collectively, we are stronger when we come together as Caribbean people. I am a proud Caribbean woman and that’s why I am delighted when I get the opportunity to network with designers from the region and appear at shows around the world as a collective. We have to lean on each other’s shoulders. I believe in collaboration.”
Noel’s obsession with her work does not prevent her from reaching out to the less fortunate. She supports a children’s orphanage, a senior citizens’ home and initiatives against domestic violence in Guyana and makes an annual donation to a Surinamese shelter for young people with HIV/AIDS.
By RON FANFAIR