Shasha Designs participates in Commonwealth Fashion Exchange programme
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Work showcased at the Buckingham Palace for London Fashion Week

GUYANESE designer, Keisha Edwards of Shasha Designs, on February 19 represented Guyana at the first-ever Commonwealth Fashion Exchange programme, which saw designers and artisans from 52 Commonwealth countries producing a fashion ‘look’ using principles of sustainable excellence. The design was unveiled at a special reception at Buckingham Palace for London Fashion Week.

In an interview with The Pepperpot Magazine Keisha said that she feels excited, honoured and humbled to have been selected to participate in the project and was elated to have represented Guyana at this event. “The event at Buckingham Palace was emotional to experience,” she said. “The Palace itself is gorgeous- I had to take a moment to take in the décor- and the designs from the Commonwealth, showcased at the event were each unique and special.”

The Guyanese designer was also in the presence of the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton; Editor in Chief of Vogue, Anna Wintour; and British model, Naomi Campbell, who also attended the event. “I had a very long conversation with Princess Beatrice of York, who was intrigued by how the gown I designed merged Antiguan and Guyanese aesthetics,” Keisha said. “We spoke at length about the textile aspect of the design and about the weaving which was used at the bodice of the garment and at the bottom of the dress.”

Speaking on the concept behind the look, Keisha said that she chose to do weaving because unlike Antigua and Barbuda, Guyana does not have a national fabric or a traditional garment, and what is known about Guyana’s indigenous peoples is that the country has nine tribes which use a particular style of weaving when creating craft. “I wanted my design to incorporate that style. Instead of using a traditional basket weave, I did a plain weave for the dress. It was an opportunity to highlight this as part of our heritage as Guyanese.

The natural dyeing was something I had never done before, but since the exchange was about sustainability, I wanted to use an environmentally friendly method by using onion skins and beet roots as natural dyes. Designer Sydney Francois from Guyana assisted me with this aspect of the design process. He learned this dyeing technique from Selana Gental, an Arawak,” Keisha said.

Keisha, who is currently enrolled at the Caribbean Academy of Fashion and Design, pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Design, said that the look she presented was inspired by Antigua and Barbuda’s National Costume and the Indigenous peoples of Guyana and Antigua and Barbuda, and fused elements of the Arawak tradition with Antigua’s National wear.

The neck of the dress is made with burlap and is covered with seeds from the ‘shac shac’ (flamboyant) tree. It is in the shape of a stick figure which represents one of the creatures that the Arawak shaman transforms into. The bodice is made with hand dyed Madras, which is Antigua and Barbuda’s national fabric for their national costume. The centre of the bodice is made with palm leaves and fibres woven into a plain weave. ‘Shac Shac’ seeds, ‘jumbie’ seeds and buck beads create a triangular form on the front bodice of the design. The architecture of the Arawak Ajoupa (home) specifically the roof, inspired the full skirt of the dress, which is made with brown cotton and dyed burlap.

The centre of the skirt is tie-dyed using onion skin and beetroot. Buck beads were sewn on the red panels of the skirt. Tibiseri straw (a fibre extracted from a Mauritia flexuosa found in Guyana) was woven with the palm leaves from Antigua (date palm) to create the plain weave used along the bodice of the dress as well as the front panel of the skirt.

Following the event at the Buckingham Palace, the design then moves to a public exhibition at Australia House, and other locations in London where the exhibition will be open to the public, then it moves to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit, April 2018. Later in the year, the design will be showcased at the UN House in New York for the UN General Assembly Meeting.

The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, managed by Eco-Age, and supported by the Commonwealth Fashion Council and the British Fashion Council encouraged the creation of a custom-made gown for the exhibition, using Principles of Sustainable Excellence, relating to the environment and social justice. In relation to the exchange aspect of the project, designers were required to work with artisans from other countries in order to create and design the look.

Shasha Designs was matched with Launesha Barnes of Antigua and Barbuda, and we ‘exchanged’ information about traditional heritage, skills, craftsmanship and culture in order to create the custom-made gown which represents fashion from the Commonwealth. Launesha supplied most of the materials used to create the garment, and she explained the cultural significance of the materials used for Antigua and Barbuda.

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