This is a continuation from my previous blog post. However, this time, I will be sharing with you more about my fashion school experience rather than my cultural experience in New York.
The first semester of fashion school was a baptism by fire! A very long baptism I must say. It was rough, mainly because I was dealing with major adjustment issues. Despite all the chaos in my life, I pushed through and conquered the major learning curve that was before me; a curve that started in the summer even before I was set to leave for New York. I was fresh out of Barbados Community College (BCC) and was still working on my debut collection to present at the Barbados Manufacturers’ Exhibition (BMEX). Along with preparing for that event, my New York school sent me what I would call an early “welcome present.” It was a small piece of explosive torture known as the summer assignment. Yes, I had not even stepped foot into the school and yet they gave me a truck load of work to do for summer that was due on the first day of class.
Amid finishing my debut collection (which was the bomb by the way), completing immigration paperwork and the assignment, I had no summer, NONE! It was a very stressful time. Add travelling, moving into the dorm and trying to navigate the New York gridiron; I still managed to complete the assignment- how best I thought it should be completed. The assignment itself might as well have been written in a different language. Even though I am a creative person does not mean I understand creative jargon. Apart from the unfamiliar terms, the instructions too were very ambiguous and confusing. Thankfully we were allowed to email our respective teachers for guidance; funny thing was, they hardly understood the assignment themselves and that said a lot. Nevertheless, I did the best I could and presented after being late to class because I barely knew the trains and I also got lost in the school building. Gratefully my teacher was a sweetheart! However, it still did not look good, for I was the only one who was late, the only black person in my class AND the only person from the Caribbean.
As I watched the presentations that went before me, I could feel my stomach sink into the bottomless abyss of inferiority. I felt the other students’ designs, illustration and digital presentations looked a thousand times better than what I planned to present and I sat there wishing the angel of shame would come and take me up into the shame rapture. While I sat stewing in my chair, my teacher called my name and asked me to present my work. I got up and laid my work down on the centre table with my hands trembling and my voice barely audible. I managed to push through the seething feeling of terror and do a manageable job of not sounding like a total loser and despite all my self-deprecation, the students and the teacher actually liked my work. They were impressed with how I used the bright colours of the Caribbean in a very sophisticated way. It may sound a little cliché that I created a collection based on Caribbean foliage for my very first project but for me, it was mainly about exploring and solidifying my Caribbean identity within a foreign space. I already started to stick out in class so I might as well own it.
I am still navigating and figuring out who I am within this universe of fashion and how my Caribbean identity influences within my sphere of interaction. The Caribbean may be a small region but we have a lot to give. Be proud of who we are and own it.