I don’t know Barbados quite the way that I should.
I was born and raised in Canada, so why would this bother me?
Both of my parents are from the Caribbean. I’m half Bajan. I’ve spent my life in North America, and yet, I’ve only actually been there a handful of times.
Over the past few years, I’ve caught glimpses of Barbados via social media. The images that people share are gorgeous. Yet something about looking at tourists’ photos leaves me with a deep sense of longing. There’s a real life beyond those fabulous filters.
People love to refer to countries like as Barbados as “paradise”. But just as it can be dangerous to judge a book by its cover, so it is unwise to judge a country by its reputation. Too often, people take locations that they think of as vacation destinations for granted. On one hand, I realize their perspective comes naturally. I imagine it’s easy to come to certain conclusions if the only time you visit a place is when you’re there to relax.
On the other, I’ve been concerned. Visitors risk overlooking the fact that real people are born, live out their lives, and even die in places that they tag as “travel goals”. The fact remains that in these desired destinations, real people face real struggles.
Never was this more apparent in How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House—a debut novel that is set in the country of my father’s birth.
I’ve seen One-Armed Sister compared to White Teeth, by Zadie Smith. Dare I say that this comparison is well-deserved? Both are vividly-written debut novels that take their readers for a ride. Both are written by Black women, and are bound to be remembered by all who read them—if not in detail, then certainly in terms of their emotional impact. One-Armed Sister carries readers on a journey via an engrossing story that involves multiple characters whose lives intersect, overlap, and at times painfully collide.
The world of One-Armed Sister is full of high-stakes human interactions. In that sense, How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is, undeniably, a character-driven thriller. At its core is an abusive relationship between a couple: Adan and Lala.
This novel is, indeed, compelling—almost beyond reason. Reading it is often an intense experience. I have no doubt that most readers will be transfixed by its characters. You will care for their welfare. You will likely wonder if it makes any sense to be this concerned about people who only exist in print—then remind yourself that when you come across truly good fiction, this is normal.
Ms. Jones ability to wield words is enchanting. In her characters’ parlance I could feel the echoes of my relatives. Reader Beware: Due to the nature of her story, her carefully crafted sentences are often full of foreboding. On nearly every page, I found myself feeling a sense of curiosity mingled with dread over what new fate would befall a beloved character. Yet it was all worth it.
Overall One-Armed Sister is a great, engrossing read. And as authors go, I definitely look forward to finding out what’s next for Ms. Cherie Jones.
If, like me, you live in one of the colder parts of North America, these days you might find yourself daydreaming about summer. No doubt, if you’re in love, you might even be thinking about a destination wedding. Yet have you ever thought about having your dress made by a designer who lives in paradise?
One day last year on Instagram, I came across one of the most beautiful wedding dresses I’d ever seen. And the object of my affection was the brainchild of none other than Jaye Applewaite.
Formerly an engineer who earned her degree via the University of Waterloo, today Jaye creates stunning custom-designed bridal gowns in her studio on the island of Barbados.
Last year, I got ahold of her to discuss her captivating designs.
You studied engineering in university. What prompted you to pursue that field?
You know when you grow up, people ask what you want to do and they expect you to say doctor, lawyer…? Then you get a good job. I think that’s what I just did.
I just picked one of those traditional, scientific kind of fields that people consider to be successful.
And I didn’t want to do medicine. Law never appealed to me. I did like math, I did like science, I did like physics. I enjoy [these subjects] and engineering was a good fit for me.
What is it that inspired you exactly to switch from engineering to fashion?
I think it was more like an accident to be honest. It was 2015. The world had a recession around 2010-2011. It kind of hit Barbados from 2014-2016.
I was working part time and I didn’t want to be home, twiddling my thumbs. I like to be productive.
And it was summertime in Barbados, and I decided to start a little something. I started making flower headbands and body chains. And it just whetted my appetite. Getting into creative entrepreneurship is something I’d never considered [or] even entertained before and it just opened up my eyes and my mind and my excitement to a whole new world.
Here you have people messaging you, loving what you’re creating with your hands. As small as that flower headband may be, or that body chain, it made that person’s outfit. And to me, that felt really good.
Then, later on that year there was a fashion show–the organizer messaged me, wanting to showcase my bands and body chains. I was like, “Sure, but what will the model wear?”
And she was like, “You could pair up with a bikini designer…”
And I said, “No.” I felt it was cliched and I thought about all my customers. And yes, the majority of them were girls attending the summer parties and having fun. But a couple of them were brides. And I found I had the most joy with brides, and as I started to think more about bridal [fashion] it clicked for me, “You know what? Let me get into the bridal industry.”
I was really intrigued when I was reading about you and I learned that you do not have formal design training. Can you tell me more about how you moved from headbands to dresses?
I think it came from a very naïve point of view. I think somebody who’s trained in fashion itself would be more hesitant to make such a big switch. But for me, I just tried to see where this journey is taking me.
…Going back to the fashion show, I’d created all the bodywear, the headbands and everything. And I honestly didn’t have any sewing experience.
I approached a local seamstress, told her what I needed, and we worked together to create the collection. She was doing the majority of the sewing and I was adding the designs to the pieces. [For example] she would sew a top and I would add the lace, beads, pearls, and all the bridal details.
Then the show happened. At that point in time it still didn’t occur to myself to call myself a bridal designer.
Honestly it was a dream and it had never really been done here before. The audience was wowed, and the pearls, they sparkled–everything was just looking so, so pretty. And [my designs] really stuck out because the remainder of the show was swimwear and resort wear. I was the only bridal person on the runway.
The public’s response to Jaye’s line proved to be an incredible catalyst.
After the fashion show, the reaction was very good. Mind you, I still had not really sewn anything. I did a photo shoot, and a bridal magazine also contacted me about the bridal pieces. They wanted to do an editorial.
…photos were out there presenting me as a bridal designer. So obviously, a bride approached me and she wanted a wedding dress. And inside, I’m panicking. The seamstress I worked with was very, very busy. I knew that if I said yes, I’d have to make this dress myself.
But, luckily, my mom sewed for us, and my sister is a fashion designer. Although I had never sewn before, I had seen people handle themselves around a sewing machine. So I was like, “Say yes”. And I’m like, “I”m just gonna teach myself.”
Jaye’s faith in her abilities came from a familiar place.
…Some people may see sewing as creative. [And] the design of the dress is creative, yes. But the actual getting behind the machine, making patterns, to me, is science. And me–I’m a scientist. I’m like, “I have this. It’s all math. I got this.” My mind was like, “Yeah, you can do this. You can build buildings, and bridges. You can do this!”
And so I just taught myself pattern-making and everything, and the dress fit like a glove. [The bride] was super happy. And her photo was out there…
And then, after a year, I quit engineering.
In your fashion journey, what keeps you in bridalwear as opposed to sportswear or some other type of clothing?
When it comes down to bridal wear, I’ve seen too many ill-fitting wedding dresses. I’ve just seen too much stuff I’m just not pleased with in the bridal industry. I want to continue to push the boundaries and explore bridal fashion. Because I feel that the other areas are well explored. They really are.
I just feel like bridalwear–it just sticks with me. The fantasy of it, the emotions are in it. You’re a part of that person’s big day. I just feel like you’re making an impact on that person’s life.
As opposed to like, say, a bathing suit or something they wear it to the beach, but next year they want a new bathing suit. I just feel like certain other clothing has a shorter shelf life. Bridal just–that person remembers that for the rest of their life. Those pictures go with them. And beyond. And they can speak about that day, that experience, the dress, working with me, and bridal fashion is just fulfilling.
To me that was lacking in engineering–that fulfillment. Not just creativity. It really was the fulfilment. And when I made a headband and those clients sending pictures and were so happy, and so beautiful, they got so many compliments, and I felt that good.
Now imagine me when I’m doing wedding dresses now? I’m on cloud nine for a whole week after a bride’s wedding!
Some people think they can come and try on dresses but it’s not like that. It truly is a bespoke wedding dress service, by appointment only. Once you contact me and get an idea of what’s going on [and] you really want to meet with me, then we can set up everything from there.
Who is a Jaye Applewaite bride? What is she like?
I think from off the bat it’s the bride who’s looking for something custom. They’ve tried on dresses and what they’re looking for it’s not out there. They want someone who listens to them and truly gives them what they want. They want good quality, good service, they want something beautiful, something that’s unique.
They are young professionals. They have a joyful life, and they’re fashionable. They’re free-spirited, they’re down to earth. Because they really are a joy to work with–my brides.
They really are kind-hearted souls looking for a beautiful wedding experience.
Speaking of the industry: What would you say to someone who wanted to get into fashion design, but they didn’t know where to start?
I feel like I was in that same position… I think you have to start before you’re ready and also have a goal for where you’re going. Because I know sometimes where you start is very far from your end goal and the gap between there discourages people. Just start and [keep in mind that] you don’t know everything. You’re not going to know everything. You just start and figure it out, and the decisions you make, make them with that end-goal in mind. Continue to learn, continue to grow.
What’s ahead for Jaye Applewaite designs?
One of my main inspirations is Vera Wang. I like how she has built an empire around different elements. I believe it is good to diversify a bit and have fun and be able to explore your different options within the industry.
Right now Jaye Applewaite as it is is focused on one on one custom designed bridal fashion, very light, bright, and airy. But I think next in the future I would like to create a separate brand or separate line and just have that catered towards a very specific look and try and get into boutiques. I think that will be exciting.
Another thing I’ve been talking about is switching to another aesthetic. I know everybody appreciates classic traditional mermaid, ball gown kind of styles.
When I look at my brides, and when I look at my work, it’s almost two separate looks going on. There’s the light airy, sheer, ethereal kind of look. And then there are the brides who go for the more traditional mermaid kind of dresses, and to me I can almost see the brand begin to separate in terms of aesthetic.
Caribana may have finished, but in Toronto, the celebration of Caribbean culture isn’t over. The city is home to CaribbeanTales, an organization devoted to sharing stories from people of the Caribbean diaspora. The CaribbeanTales International Film Festival begins in September, and runs from the 7th to the 17th of the month.
A few days ago I spoke with its founder, Frances-Anne Solomon. Ms. Solomon is an award-winning filmmaker of Caribbean heritage. A writer, producer and director in film, TV, Radio and New Media, her career includes a 13-year tenure in England with the BBC as a Television Drama Producer and Executive Producer. In 2000, she returned to Toronto where she continued to create her own projects, and in 2001 she successfully launch the first CaribbeanTales project.
Today, CaribbeanTales has grown into the CaribbeanTales Media Group — companies that produce, market and sell Caribbean-themed audio-visual content across the globe.
Frances-Anne Solomon and John Reid of Flow, CaribbeanTales’ leading partner.
Frances-Anne Solomon’s passion for telling Caribbean people’s stories is palpable. Listen to her speech from the launch of this year’s Festival.
Ms. Solomon’s words left me feeling energized, and eager to preserve my cultural roots.
Our chat began with her revealing what sparked her interest in film, as well as the story of CaribbeanTales.
When I was growing up in Trinidad there were no stories about me anywhere. We learned about the kings and queens of England and history, and we learned about Shakespeare and Jane Eyre…I had to become an adult before I learned about slavery. It was only much later that I realized that we resisted slavery—that we had this incredible journey as Caribbean people coming from all over the world, and it really transformed my life.
I remember learning this from a therapist: If you see yourself as a victim or you don’t have a sense of the beginning of the story, then that determines the ending. Whether there’s a happy ending or a tragic ending has a lot to do with how the narrative is perceived.
I became passionately interested in storytelling and I was drawn to film. Then I worked at the BBC for many years. I got to see how the developed world could have an organization that created, produced, marketed, and sold to a rapt audience its own stories about themselves. I saw how that created national pride and individual pride—a concept of empire and power. I really felt that we in the Caribbean needed to have those sort of narratives, and mechanisms for the transmission of those narratives folded into our culture.
In 2001 after I left the BBC I started CaribbeanTales with that goal of creating an organization that would create, produce, market, and sell Caribbean stories, of Caribbean people—Caribbean narratives of all kind.
Originally we were making programs, and in 2006 we started the festival because programs we were making were not getting seen.
In 2010 we started CaribbeanTales Worldwide Distribution. I realized it wasn’t enough to make films and show films, it was also necessary to be able to sell them, so that we as filmmakers and storytellers could have sustainable careers.
Then in 2013, we started our online platform: CaribbeanTales TV. We also have an incubator program which is a hub of development and production.
Now the whole project has is beginning to take off, and that’s very exciting.
Twenty-sixteen marks the festival’s 11th year. How has your vision for CaribbeanTales evolved?
My journey has been very much one of an individual—from being a story-teller, and a filmmaker to being someone who is interested in creating and changing the world—to provide a kind of essential service for people in our region, so that our stories would have a way to be made, distributed, seen, exchanged, and monetized, in a sustainable way. That has been an evolution for me from being an artist—somebody who has a passion to tell and see stories that touch me.
I think being part of a global movement, our stories matter. And that is not just personal—it’s political, it’s economic, it’s logistic. And it’s ultimately transformational.
What’s on its horizon for Caribbean tales?
I think the global climate has changed, with the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s very inspiring to see young people taking up the torch that our ancestors in the Black Power movement from the 60s and 70s and the Civil Rights movement have carried—picking that up and kind of saying “Enough now, we need equal rights. This is a human rights issue…”
That has changed the narrative.
Also, #OscarsSoWhite has really thrown a light on the lack of representation of women and people of colour in the global landscape. That has a resonance in terms of us telling stories in the third world so that the narrative is different. There are opportunities now that I feel are ripe for the picking; we’re very excited for the future.
I understand that this year’s theme is Caribbean Love. Could you please share some of your thoughts on the subject and the ways it’s explored throughout the CaribbeanTales Festival?
This year, we felt that a lot of our history as Caribbean people and people of colour internationally, has been one of brutality, violence, and exploitation. It’s really important for us to acknowledge that at the end of the day it is love that has allowed us to survive and continue to connect with each other. Love, in a way, is the answer. We need to remind each other constantly that through love it is possible to heal, grow, and build.
Under the CaribbeanLove banner, our opening night gala, Diary of a Badman, focuses on women of colour creators.
We always do a focus on Trinidad and Tobago; I come from Trinidad and there’s a lot of amazing work coming out of there now. This year’s evening is called Trinibego to the Bone, about Carnival and different cultural events.
In Migrant Tales, we look at diasporic stories of Caribbean people—those of us who come from the Caribbean and live abroad permanently. A lot of people people call it “immigration” and “migration”, but I like to use the word, “expat”. We do come from somewhere, and that identity is important.
Then we have Love Thy Neighbour, which is a night when we look at a lot of dark history: we look at drug trafficking, abusive behaviour, different mental disorders, even possession—a lot of darker themes. The overall theme of this night is, “How do we look past this? What is the way to show sympathy to the darker elements of society?”
Then we have LGBT Love. It’s been our commitment every year for the past 5 years to throw a light on voices from the LGBT community across the Caribbean. For us, queer rights are human rights.
And then, Revolutionary Love showcases five short films about Black Canadian activists.
We have a strand called #BlackLoveMatters, which is a twist on #BlackLivesMatter, focusing on the power of love to heal Black people. Its focus is on Black love within families, specifically fathers and sons, mothers and children—those love relationships and what they mean to our community.
Animated Love is our animation night. We have a whole feature which is about struggles for emancipation.
Our closing night is Walk Good, which is focusing on a number of Jamaican films and celebrating Jamaican culture—both music and religion.
CineFAM, a word from Haitian creole meaning “films by women”, is an initiative designed to support women of colour creators.
In addition to the material from your opening night, you’ve also launched CineFAM. Could you share some of your thoughts on the importance of women as creators within the Black community?
As a woman of colour creator myself, that’s the area that has been the most difficult to get support and build a career because women’s work is invisible, and women, due to sexism are excluded from being creative leaders. We’re not allowed to do that. We can be supportive. We can be the power behind the man, but we cannot stand up and say “I am a woman creator.”
I think fundamentally it has to do with sexism. We don’t get support as creators—women of colour. And it’s that point, where racism and sexism meet, that has totally destroyed our ability to be seen as the incredible creators that we are. Meanwhile, quite often if you look at the work that women are doing in terms of creating community and creating business and creating the world, it’s unbelievable. Women are powerful.
We have some great examples in our community of women who are able to break through, like Ava DuVernay and Amma Asante. There are also women in other areas as well. Incredible role models for us.
I wanted to, first, create awareness of the power of women creators—the extraordinary talent of women of colour creators, and also create a network for women of colour creators. I feel this area is the one place where we don’t get support.
If someone could only see one film at the CaribbeanTales festival, what would it be, and why?
I think I’d say 50 years of Black Activism, because it features 5 incredible stories of people in the Canadian landscape who have really made a difference. They’re completely unknown to the wider community, but they’re amazing people. Each one of these films is written and directed by a Black woman, and the executive producer is a Black woman, and the originator of the project—Akua Benjamin, who is an incredible leader—is also a Black woman.
Just on its own, that project stands as a testimony to the power of women as creators, leaders—powerhouses in documenting, in acknowledging, in creating, in producing, in breaking ground, and changing the narrative.
How would you like your audience to feel after their experience at the festival?
Inspired, powerful, and connected: Our life, our love, our festival.
For further information on the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival, including its scheduled screenings, be sure to visit their web site.