Tobagonian Designer and YLAI Fellow Wants to Reduce Waste in the Fashion Industry
- Jul 7, 2021
- Jenan Taha
For Tobagonian handbag designer Triscilla Joseph-Myers, her passion for creating unique pieces stems not from a love of fashion, but from a desire to tailor each accessory to her customer’s needs and reduce waste in the fashion industry.
“Believe it or not, I am not a fashionable person, but I’m very particular about what I want and I try to be very aware of how my actions affect my environment and those around me,” she said. “What I am truly passionate about is people buying things they need and not just want. The world is driven so much by consumerism that we create so much more waste than is necessary. If I can help that, why not?”
Joseph-Myers first began sewing when she was just 11 years old, designing clothing for her neighbor’s small tailor shop in the Caribbean island country of Grenada. She now runs her own fashion accessory business, TJM Designs, and hopes to grow her sustainable business and launch a studio for other Tobagonians to create their own pieces.
Joseph-Myers was one of 15 participants selected to learn skills and best practices to grow their businesses in the 2021 Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) at UT. She says she enjoyed every piece of the program experience—from working with jewelry and accessory business Noonday Collection to bonding with her U.S. host through food—and now has a network of like-minded entrepreneurs in the U.S. who she can continue to collaborate with.
In the next five years, Joseph-Myers plans to hire at least three people, expand her space to accommodate in-house teaching and internships, be able to supply international markets and have a fully functioning website.
Read about her experiences below.
Where did you grow up, and how did you start designing?
I was born in Tobago, however, I grew up in Grenada. I spent a large part of my life there up to university. It is also where I learned to sew—at Hackett's Tailoring in Cherry Hill, St. George. The owner George Hackett was my neighbor, so I basically spent all my free time and summers in the tailor shop. I was around 11 years old when I started helping him around the shop and putting styles together for him and that lasted for over 5 years during all my spare moments.
I was sick back then and stayed close to home. At first, I just cleaned up the shop but as I got older, he taught me to hand stitch and I continued to learn to use machines as I grew. He would ask my opinion on fabrics and styles and I was always willing to help. As time went by, he started to allow me to sew school uniforms and Christmas curtains.
So I’ve been designing since being in the tailor shop. “Pa George,” as he is affectionately called, often relied on me to design clothing for people who didn’t know what they wanted when they came to him for tailored clothing. Learning to sew was something to pass the time. I didn’t take it very seriously, but he always encouraged me to go further. Of course, the value of those words hit me differently now.
How did you create TJM Designs?
I pursued a job in admin and a degree in psychology, leaving sewing behind for a while. TJM Designs was created long after I moved back to Tobago, missing the crafting side of me. My husband bought me a home sewing machine and I started making things for myself. I wanted to create but I really don’t like sewing clothes, so I chose to sew bags. Despite having no formal training in bag making, I did the research and slowly developed on the foundation I had from my early sewing days. From one bag, many orders came in and I decided it was time to treat this craft as a business and registered in 2016.
Believe it or not, I am not a fashionable person, but I’m very particular about what I want and I try to be very aware of how my actions affect my environment and those around me. What I am truly passionate about is people buying things they need and not just want. I want them to keep it for a longer period of time thus reducing the waste that is created in the world. I’m passionate about having unique items that are tailored to myself, so I offer them to others. I’ve never been the person to be in fashion or season, wearing the same things that others are wearing simply because it’s in style.
The world is driven so much by consumerism that we create so much more waste than is necessary. If I can help that, why not?
Why did you apply to the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative Fellowship?
I applied to YLAI because an alumna from Grenada, whom I went to high school with, was posting on Facebook about her experience with the program and she was encouraging her business friends to apply. She is also into natural, recycled craft accessories, so I was intrigued. I asked privately about it and she instantly started to push me to apply because it was a perfect place to help me grow.
I was very hesitant because of my health challenges but I applied anyway. I suffer from postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, chronic migraine and Raynaud’s syndrome. These ailments are not curable and negatively affect my daily living, yet here I am running a small business. I don’t know how to give up.
What was your favorite part of the program?
I can hands down say I enjoyed everything about my time in the program. My favorite part was the connection with my host organization, Noonday Collection. I cannot express how much useful information I was able to gain being with them. I’m so grateful.
Working with Aimee and everyone at Noonday was exciting. I enjoyed learning about the different global partners they work with as well the mission, goals and impact the business makes in the lives of those they touch. I’m particular to this because as much as I want to make bags unique to my clients while making an impact in my community, I’m also running a business that needs to earn money to sustain my dreams. The team at Noonday as well as my mentor really helped me connect and smooth out those concepts into one functional model I can put into action.
My hospitality host and I bonded over food. We exchanged several emails and we spoke a lot about food. I sent her a food care package along with a recipe that contained items from Trinidad and Tobago. It was the kind of package you would send to someone who is homesick and would feel better if they had a taste of home. She made one of our popular dishes, pelau, and was excited to share how great it tasted. It really is a foolproof recipe so I knew the family would enjoy it.
What was it like to do the YLAI program virtually?
For me, doing this program virtually was perfect. Because of my health issues, being in the comfort of my home while still connecting with others and getting tasks done was a lot less energy-draining than it would have been if I had to physically commit. I was scared about dealing with being there in person before COVID hit, so it worked out great.
What do you hope to achieve in the next 5 years?
Firstly, I want to grow my business so it can sustain itself without me physically being present. I would like to hire and sustain employment for at least three people, expand my space to accommodate in-house teaching and internships, be able to supply international markets and have a fully functioning website.
I’m also interested in opening a studio for Tobagonians because there is a wealth of talent and untapped ability that just needs a nudge to grow. I want my studio to be that place where talent can blossom.