Sporting trendy jeans, a hip graphic T-shirt and ice-white sneakers – a reporter’s bag slung across his chest – Jawara Alleyne looks like a typical teenager.
First impressions, however, can be deceptive. Put a pencil and sketchbook in his hand and the 18-year-old local college student morphs into Jawara Alleyne, budding fashion designer with big dreams.
Now a name to be reckoned with in the local fashion firmament, the soft-spoken Bodden Towner is fast garnering a fierce reputation as a designer whose talent belies his age.
Already touted to go far, with the right backing, the teenager stunned everyone when he won Designer of the Year twice in a row.
The overall winner of last year’s Cayfest’s FRESH! Couture Fashion Show, the University College of the Cayman Islands business administration student defied all expectations and reclaimed the coveted title at this year’s sell-out show in April.
“I was taken aback… I was hoping I’d make a strong showing but my second win floored me,” he said.
“All eyes, I guess, are on me now. People are expecting me to design exciting fashion and I have to deliver.”
And while such pressure might make someone twice his age buckle at the knees, Jawara takes it in his stride.
As comfortable talking about what drives him as he is designing a 15-outfit line for the runway, he says that the fashion world chose him from an early age.
“To be honest, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t sketching figures and clothes.”
“I’ve always preferred drawing women’s fashions, as you can be much more versatile and more creative,” he said.
Self-taught, Jawara wields his ever-ready graphite with the dexterity that most of his peers reserve for fight scenes on their XBox 360s.
With the support and guidance of his mother, Fayona Barnes and several other mentors, he has pushed himself far in a relatively short space of time.
“I was doing a National Gallery afterschool art programme a few years ago and our instructor, Letitia Davies-Eden, saw my sketches and encouraged me to enter Cayfest’s FRESH! Couture,” he said.
Jawara’s first collection was made up of 12 pieces. Using his mother’s seamstress, and experimenting with colour, cut and fabric, his first line took nine months to complete and he admits it was a bit touch-and-go.
“I didn’t have any models lined up for the initial fittings, and so we didn’t work with anyone’s specific measurements in mind,” he said.
Despite being new to creating garments, he was a quick study and impressed everyone working on the show with his enthusiasm and talent.
Fate stepped in
Cayman National Cultural Foundation’s Donna Reid, programme manager for FRESH, said, “[Jawara] came to see me one afternoon, last year, straight from school and had brought along his sketches. He had loads of them… I could see he had a passion for it… there was a lot of raw talent in those pages… So, I invited him to be a part of the show. And the rest is history.”
He now gets commissions for one-off designs and is known for attention to detail, immaculate designs and imaginative use of colour.
One of the judges at last year’s show was SHE Caribbean magazine’s fashion editor, Esther Lee.
“I featured Jawara in the Autumn/September 2009 issue of the magazine as a designer of the next generation,” she said. “Jawara is a designer who has something very rare for such a young age. He truly understands the world of fashion, understands proportions and the art of design.
“He knows what looks good on a woman’s body and his designs are a great mix of wearable pieces and high fashion that create drama on the runway. I truly look forward to what he will achieve in a few years’ time.”
Inspired by designers like Karl Lagerfeld, as well as everyday fashions and people around him, the young designer is keen to gain formal fashion training so that he can take his career choice “to the next level”.
Currently majoring business management at the University College of the Cayman Islands, Jawara is already planning his next move.
“I’d like to enroll in a course at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology,” he said.
Not only do courses there cover fashion design, but also textile marketing and merchandising.The school has a first-class reputation in the highly competitive sector and its fashion merchandising management course is the oldest degree programme of its kind in America.
In the course, which is known for being rigorous and hard to get into, he would have the opportunity to work with other students on extracurricular projects, learn about global merchandising, meet with industry leaders and study overseas in one of the world’s top fashion centres like Paris or London.
He’ll also look into what fashion courses are popular in European colleges.
“If I’m to make a name for myself internationally one day, I need to take formal classes and learn from the best in the business,” he said.
“My associate’s degree and my recent runway successes and editorials should be great assets.
“Fashion chose me and I’ve never doubted that I would one day be a name to be reckoned with, with God’s help.”
Nurturing his vision
No one can doubt Mr. Alleyne’s zeal and aptitude for the dynamic art form.
So far, he has relied on his innate talent and tremendous drive to take him this far in the regional fashion world. Now he’s actively looking for scholarships and would welcome any financial support he could get to help realise his dream of attending the Fashion Institute of Technology and one day having his own label.