One year ago, Caribbean Canvas Company opened its doors in downtown George Town. In spite of the challenges presented by the economic climate, the company has not only succeeded, but flourished.
According to the man behind the concept, Hugh Treadwell, the success of the company can be ascribed to creating a line of products that reflect the needs and values of the community in which it operates.
“The eureka moment came in the late 90s originally. I always saw that most stuff on the islands were super-touristy, or unknown brands of poor quality, known brands that were very expensive, or worse, basic things simply weren’t available. I thought there was an opportunity for a quality everyday brand, of and for the Caribbean and everyone who lives or travels here,” he said.
The idea was to create the uniform for life in the islands, classic styles of shorts, tops and the most well-made T-shirts with some of the most unique designs anywhere and an interesting assortment of accessories.
“With a few good pairs of shorts, some T’s and tops, maybe a skirt or one long pant and a bag or two, you can do almost all you need to do in the Caribbean. We wanted to make those things, the things you back to in your closet over and over again even though you have a lot of other choices in there,” Mr. Treadwell said.
Over time he made notes, collected samples and worked on elements such as store design and marketing strategies.
“I had been keeping my sketch books and clippings and buying samples of things for ten years,” Mr. Treadwell said.
Eventually, the project reached a point where he was ready to move forward and he found a receptive audience at Active Capital Ltd. where he is chief executive officer.
“Caribbean Canvas Company really owes everything to the whole Active Capital Ltd. team, present and past, Kara Phillips, Bobby Hulse, Aimee Bush, Vicky McClenaghan, Vijay Singhera, Cindy Downing, Stefon Bovell, Alison Hetley, Tina McLaughlin, Daniel Cummings, Joanne Lawson, Brian Fitzgerald, and of course Bill Gadreau,” said Mr. Treadwell.
The idea was to create a full-fledged brand, not merely stocking other assorted brands.
“We built an entire brand from the ground up and I’m not sure who else has done that in the Caribbean,” Mr. Treadwell said.
The project was to prove quite challenging though, from creating the brand to dealing with the economy.
The quality control aspect proved daunting and time consuming, especially when combined with getting the right fit and finding the perfect materials.
The economy was not playing along either, with challenges to other Active Capital businesses also pushing the Caribbean Canvas Company onto the back burner.
“In May of 2009, I don’t think we really had a full grasp on how much worse the economy could get,” Mr. Treadwell said.
In spite of all the challenges, the first Caribbean Canvas Company store opened its doors on 15 August 2011, almost a year later than the originally anticipated start date. However, Mr. Treadwell said the response to the company has more than made up for all the effort that went into its creation.
“We have been really encouraged by the response from everyone in terms of our sales and feedback,” he said.
One of the moments that stand out for Mr. Treadwell was when he spotted someone wearing a Caribbean Canvas Company T-shirt in airport in Miami a few months after the company opened its doors.
“I saw a guy wearing our West Indies Federation Flag T-shirt and I asked him about it. He told me the whole story of the West Indies Federation and the T-shirt and then the CCC story and how great everything was and our staff at the store. I never even told him who I was,” Mr. Treadwell said.
The company is looking at opening stores in Nassau, Bahamas and St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, but with further plans to expand well beyond that.