Warda, a jeweler by profession but creative soul overall, also serves as Fashion Director for one of the faster growing fashion weeks in the region.
Warda and I first trade pronunciation lessons about our names. Like me, she gets a lot of variations, but it’s best phonetically spelled out as ‘Wa-ah-rrrrrrr-da.’ There is a Spanish sounding tongue roll through the R in her name, though she was born in Suriname to what she describes as a ‘very creative mother.’ She explains, “My mother is a very open-minded type of person and she taught us a lot. I believe that comes from having seen well over 20 countries in her travels.” Like her mother, Warda also did her fair share of travelling – before settling in Belgium where she completed her degree in Economics. “At some point over there in Belgium, I realised I was spending way too much money buying jewelry and as a result, I decided to start making some for myself. I didn’t think of myself as a creative type, having just finished a business oriented degree, but my mother makes hats and gloves for weddings so there was a part of me that thought maybe I had picked up some of that creative edge too.” It wasn’t long before her custom craft made a name for itself and she was asked by Toyota Belgium to create some pieces in silver. As her craft advanced, so did her interest in learning and knowing more, so she enrolled in two courses in Belgium – the first was entirely about making jewelry – from the historical and theoretical perspectives to the filing and sawing (and filing and sawing!) involved in the craft. “I’m not even exaggerating when I say that the first two practical weeks were entirely spent filing and sawing away at brass. It was intense. I spent four years in that course of study.” Not satisfied to end there, Warda went even further. “After that I went for a course where I learned how to draw jewelry designs.
I always had an idea in my mind of what the outcome would look like but learning how to draw that outcome can save you a lot of time and of course a lot of money since the material you work with as a jeweler is very precious,” she adds.
Though at the time she worked with the international freight and courier company, DHL, Warda eventually saw an opportunity to bet on her self, and took it. “The company was offering voluntary separation packages due to the downturn in the global economy and after much thought I put myself up as a candidate for the package. I, of course had a plan, and by now I was known as ‘the black lady who makes jewelry’, as I was the only person of colour in the village where I lived in Belgium,” she says with a laugh. I had my designs and pieces in three stories in Belgium and I decided to take the money earned from my separation from DHL to purchase some land back home in Suriname and return there.” Before she would settle in at home however, Warda also was on the look out for new avenues to sell her craft, and found an even bigger opportunity.
“I participated in the national art fair in Suriname in 2012 and there I met an artist who said he would put me in touch with an event promoter, Jean Rene Polony, who was certain to have the contacts I needed. I sent him (Jean Rene) an email with my silver pieces, then he visited and we got to chat. In the course of the conversation, we realised there was a real need for French Guiana and Suriname to have its own place in the fashion world, and in 2013, French Guiana (Cayenne) Fashion Week was born and two weeks after that, Suriname Fashion Week “The Fashion Week is small but with the associations we are building with French Guiana and through the successes of the past few years, we are growing! We have the strength of having easier access to the European market which makes us a very attractive space for Caribbean and regional designers. It’s very well-organized and we must also extend a thank you to Richard Young for being a part of that success too in the early years od 201 and 2014. It’s an excellent event for networking as well as direct sales for the designers too. And of course we are very excited to have young talent like Aaron Moneer (of Moneer Designs) joining us from TT. We do need more designers from T&T and hope to see more in the years to come.
We currently have twenty-two designers overall, from countries including Guyana, French Guiana, St Lucia and of course Suriname and TT. Our aim is to push for a solid cadre of designers each year with short shows, European-style of 30 minutes or so.
This year, expectations are high because we aim to not only focus on what is presented on the catwalk but also overall for the life as a designer after the fashion week too. We intend to educate designers in the usefulness of having an agent for example, and learning how to make a living from your designs after the catwalk. For that we are joining with Ain Earle from TT! And I am grateful to have this amazing team of partners with us on this journey including Mr Jean Rene Polony, my partner Helio Phoeli and partner organisations like French Guiana Fashion Week and Amazone Tek.
The highlight for the fashion director and jeweler has been seeing the interest in the Fashion Week grow and there is lots more planned as they move forward. The event this year will kick-start a month of activities in Suriname itself, as the Fashion Week will be followed by Suriname Pride and then the Suriname Jazz Festival. It’s testament to what a mindset of cooperation can bring to a country that sees the benefit of working together to truly create something that peaks the interest of the public and draws in talent and tourists alike.