Keneea Linton-George is one of Jamaica’s most acclaimed fashion designers, known for her classic style, chic lines and soft, feminine silhouettes. She has been enthralled with the world of fashion ever since she was a little girl growing up in rural Manchester where she would make cheer-leading costumes for her peers at school and has continued to excel in her chosen field where she is completely self-taught.
A note before I continue, I was very happy to sit with Keneea to catch up on everything she’s been up to since we last spoke in depth in 2007 when I first launched my fashion blog FashionOverStyle.net. I will forever be grateful to Keneea for always offering of herself, her knowledge and experiences, always warm and inviting. Her commitment to the Jamaican fashion industry is one I truly admire and her accomplishments to date are to be lauded. It is with much regret that my first interview with her was lost in the transition from FOS to IrieDiva.
The talented designer has gone on to become the creator, host and executive producer of her own fashion television reality show titled “Mission Catwalk” that follows a handful of Caribbean designers vying for attractive prizes such as studies in fashion overseas, industrial sewing equipment and the chance to show at an international fashion week. The show can be viewed in several Caribbean and US markets and has given a much welcomed boost to the fashion industry in Jamaica.
I sat with the fabulous Keneea to discuss all things fashion.
ID: You’ve told me that you were self-taught in the world of fashion, is fashion school anywhere near in your future?
KLG: I have a great team around me and I work with the very best seamstresses so if I do go to school, it will be along the lines of the business of fashion such as fashion merchandising and management. I’ve been thinking of a post-graduate degree along that line in Italy or maybe in New York.
ID: What has been some of the highlights of your career as a fashion designer?
KLG: The Lady in Red Fashion Show was exquisite for me, having the likes of international supermodel Althea Laing who was born and raised in Jamaica, and Joan McDonald, our first Miss Jamaica World, walk the runway in my designs was truly a highlight for me. These timeless beauties represent the sense of classic style and sophistication that I try to emulate in my line and they looked perfect in my designs. They’re also my exact target market, mature tastes and styles for that worldly fashionista.
When Lisa Hanna wore my design to the opening day of parliament in 2014 that was also a tremendous event as the former Miss World turned politician has many eyes glued to her and that introduced me to even more Jamaicans who were interested in her style and flair. She has been a long-time muse of mine and it was a dream come true to be able to dress her. Now she is one of my best customers and I’m very happy with the way that she supports so many Jamaican fashion designers.
ID: Is the fashion industry a viable option for Jamaicans who wish to do business here?
KLG: We need a formal industry. I like to call us Jamaican designers a group of fashion hustlers as there’s no formal fashion business foundation here and when buyers come, there’s nothing to buy. Our industry as it is now is great for the collector who likes one of a kind items however I think we could benefit more from an industry that mass produces or at least has more boutiques selling Jamaican designs. Bill Edwards, Heather Laine and Courtney Washington are the only Jamaican designers with ready-to-wear boutiques open where you can go to shop for a Jamaican design on a whim. We need to put in the factories and infrastructure to facilitate much more of this.
ID: How did the transition from fashion designer to TV producer come about?
KLG: As a young designer, I always think about what I need to succeed. There was no established fashion school here in Jamaica and not all of us can afford the option of schooling abroad. That’s why so many of us are self-taught. However we are a very talented people and so the idea came about for us to put a spotlight on the talent that was available here in Jamaica with a goal of giving the industry a facelift and some well needed tools. We set up fashion courses at the tertiary level that was in alignment with international standards and we included prizes that gave our designers the opportunity to travel overseas, get that experience and exposure and see what the standard was internationally.
ID: What are some of the successes coming out of Mission Catwalk?
KLG: I am so proud of season one winner Shenna Carby. She is a hard-worker and she really put the advice and support given to her to work. She now counts Lisa Hanna, Annmarie Vaz and some key corporate accounts as clients and confided recently that she will soon start the process of purchasing her own home. Mission Catwalk will not change your life if you become a diva and want everything to be handed to you. With a great attitude and work ethic, the management provided by the show will help you to succeed in the industry.
ID: How do you continue to stay at the top of your game and what advice can you give to young designers?
KLG: I read a lot. I read fashion books, profiles on my favourite designers, watch a lot of YouTube videos and tutorials and attend short courses and fashion seminars when I am overseas. If you’re a self-taught designer or even if you went to fashion design school it is very important to keep abreast of the happenings in your field. New technologies, new ideas and techniques are developing and a designer who wishes to stay on the cutting edge will always be in the know. Take short courses as you can; embroidery, draping, couture beading, whatever interests you but keep abreast.
ID: As a Jamaican fashionista, what are your beach must-haves?
KLG: A bikini, cute throw over type of cover up with an open front and a wide brimmed hat, sunblock and sunglasses. I am a real dry-land tourist, my husband laughs at me all the time when I am getting ready for the beach. I go full out. And wedge sandals, no flats. Unfortunately I can’t wear stilettos to the beach so wedges have to do.
ID: Who is your favourite Caribbean Designer? International designer?
KLG: Wow too many! Maybe Meiling, she’s stayed consistent in quality and with her easy, chic designs. I like her style, she has a look and she stays true to that look and the price point is good too. TNT Fashion and Courtney Washington are both also among my favourites in Jamaica. Their designs are so easy, flowy and Caribbean and I can style it up or down.
Internationally my favourites are Oscar de la Renta. Carolina Herrera, Elie Saab, Victoria Beckham, Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Elie Tahari and Calvin Klein.
ID: What’s next for the Keneea Linton-George empire?
KLG: Setting up manufacturing and training facility somewhere in Jamaica. Creating jobs, lifting the standard of the fashion industry here, creating better quality clothing that meets international standards. I want to help local designers to go international, whatever that may mean for them. Mission Catwalk will tour high schools to highlight fashion as a viable career option. Nobody told me fashion was something I could do for work and so even though I was sewing on the side, it never occurred to me that I should study it when I was in school. I really want to do away with the fashion hustler mentality. It’s a must that you go to school to become a doctor or architect etc and the same applies for fashion. I am hoping that Jamaica will soon have standard training and facilities for the talented fashion designers.
ID: What’s the legacy that you hope to leave on the Jamaican fashion industry?
KLG: To have made a tangible change to our fashion industry which has been declining since its heyday in the 60s. I want to help the industry grow so that we truly will be the fashion capital of the Caribbean.