Barbados: SHAKAD Designs

By :- Janette Brin

Fashion & Style

By Shakirah Bourne

Seven year old Shanika Burnett designed and made clothes for her dolls on a toy sewing machine given to her as a birthday gift by her mother. Fast forward twenty years, and now Shanika  is designing clothes for the Miss Barbados World 2013 delegates and her fashion label, SHAKAD Designs, is one of the more popular designer labels in Barbados. Since its inception in 2007, SHAKAD has been making momentous strides, showcasing its collections across the region, and even at some international events.  

SHAKAD produces Caribbean inspired formal and luxury resort clothing. They incorporate contemporary fashion design concepts with bold, intricately patterned hand-dyed textiles to exhibit the exotic colours, rhythm, heritage and diversity of the Caribbean and its people.

These creative skills run in the family, as her mother was a fashion designer, her father an artist/craftsman and Shanika herself is a self-taught designer; although she has done numerous courses and workshops in pattern making, garment construction and business development. Each SHAKAD garment is made from custom hand-dyed fabric by her mother, Ayissa Burnett, making each garment a true piece of art. They pride themselves in creating wearable, unique fashion pieces.

However these collections are expensive, costing thousands of dollars to produce and showcase at high-end fashion weeks. It is a challenge to compete with international brands in terms of price as local raw materials and labour costs are very high. Shanika decided to combat these challenges by determining her niche and targeted markets, and focus on catering to the high end market where quality and exclusivity – rather than price- are the most important factors.

Shanika is determined to see SHAKAD as an internationally recognised and acclaimed high end fashion brand while staying true to her mission;  to allow women everywhere to experience the cultural diversity, effortless beauty, and exotic side of the Caribbean without having to compromise their personal style or culture. As such, they are in the process of having their ready-to-wear line manufactured for sales in stores later this year.

SHAKAD demands flexibility to balance its shows, pageants, weddings, photo shoots, after hour consultations and fittings, but when Shanika’s son Keita was born January last year, she felt as if she too had been reborn. “I felt inspired by the magical experience of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood and I began working on a collection after my maternity break called The Painted Lady, which is named after one of the most widely distributed butterflies in the world.”

Now, her day starts with a morning routine of shower, breakfast and outdoor time with her son. Despite her hectic schedule, she advises new mothers to enjoy each moment with their child because the baby stage flies quickly. “My son is fifteen months already, with a mouth full of teeth, walking, climbing, saying his first words and expressing what he wants in his own clever way. But I can’t help but miss his toothless smile.”

If it wasn’t for the support of parents and family who are always willing to babysit, Shanika believes it would have been impossible to manage both Keita and SHAKAD. Sometimes all-nighters are required to complete express orders and her fiancé studies at the University of the West Indies during the day, and works at night. She jokes that sacrifices have to be made, especially when it comes to sleep.

The entire family comes together and works as a team. Along with babysitting duties and dye-ing all of her fabrics, her mother also gives valuable critiques when Shanika is evaluating collections prior to launches.  “My mom, dad, sisters and fiancé sometimes all pitch in at the final stages of producing a collection and I usually get my aunt and some of my friends to review the collections before I show them.”

Even young Keita shows a level of understanding and respect for his mother’s business. “I also have to give my son voluminous thanks for being such a patient and understanding child, especially when he has to sit through long shows and meetings.”  Shanika would also like to thank her business advisors, her encouraging Facebook fans and her clients for their support over the years. 

Shanika advises young designers not to compromise on their vision.  “I have been told to use conventional fabrics because everyone might not like my original textiles, but this just reinforced the best business lesson I’ve ever learnt – you cannot please everyone, and should determine your niche. In sticking to my guns I realised that there is a huge market and appreciation for ‘ethnic’ aesthetics.”

Currently Shanika’s designs are available at SHAKAD's studio located in Mapp Hill, St. Michael. You can contact her to place orders via facebook. The prices range from Bds$275 for the  green, orange and pink wrapped kaftan up to Bds$1200 for the yellow and pink 100% silk gown. 


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