This Caribbean Creative Index feature will bring a new perspective to what it truly means for young, local talent to sacrifice it all and follow their creative calling.
Safia Ali was always intrigued by fashion. Her creative eye for styling and design has always been an intricate part of her being from the beginning. Yet, it wasn’t until she was in medical school in Grenada that she came to the realization that the career path she truly wanted was written in her inner creative being from the start.
After withdrawing from medical school, Safia began working at a boutique in Grenada, slowly building her portfolio. It wasn’t until she moved back to Trinidad and re-connected with long-time friend Elena Marquez, who she describes as “the biggest supporter” of her creative dream that her online portfolio transformed into the multi-dimensional, creative brand - SAFIA.ELENA. Everything they produce, they do it as a team and so it only made sense to transition Safia Ali to Safia Ali AND Elena Marquez.
Tell me a bit more about some of the challenges you faced when you started. How did you get your brand and business off its feet and what helped you get there?
SAFIA: The biggest challenge we face is a shared challenge among local creatives- money. There are many people who still undervalue creatives; they think “How hard can it be to take a photo? How hard can it be to dress someone?” The process for creatives isn’t as simple as just taking a photo or just dressing someone; creatives are analytical too but of their own craft. Plus, as with any job, time is money, and just as people would expect no less than their promised salary for their 8-4, creatives should also expect to be fairly compensated for their time and expertise.
ELENA: Safia works and I’m still in University. Finding time to bring our ideas to reality has always been a tough one. While it’s difficult, we still make the time because we both really love what we do. It’s a great de-stressor.
What experience/ mentorship have you gotten and how did each of your “mentors” help mold you into who you are today?
ELENA: As Safia.Elena has expanded, we’ve gotten to meet, work and collaborate with so many amazing creatives. This gives me inspiration and definitely helps me expand as a creative as you’re placed in an environment where creativity is nurtured, which definitely helps keep the creative gears going in the best way possible.
SAFIA: Kered Clement is really an angel. She gave me that initial boost of confidence to pursue fashion. She was aware of my potential and willingness to learn from very early on and presented me with opportunities to expand my skill-set. I also have to credit my friend Beth from Grenada, who hired me to work for The Boutique at Calabash. I had very little experience, but she also had faith in my abilities and potential enough to let me run the whole show.
What’s the best piece of advice/ resources in the Caribbean you’d like to share with the younger generation? What resources do you wish you had when you were starting off?
ELENA: I would definitely say that surrounding yourself with people who really accept and encourage you is key. This can be a bit difficult at times if you are new to the creative community or trying to branch off into something. It’s great though, because this community is growing and welcoming.
SAFIA: The best advice I have to give is to be fearless and confident in who you are (keep that ego in check though! Humility makes us open to learning). We’re all different and we can all bring a new perspective to the table, so allow your natural uniqueness to propel you forward. And don’t worry about “being weird”. We’re creatives- we’re all weird.
You mentioned on your website that “there was a shift from SafiaElena’s intended purpose of being an online portfolio ... to a means of connecting people to Caribbean designers and creatives.”
How did this shift make your dynamic duo unique compared to other Caribbean fashion creatives?
SAFIA: Elena and I both started our journeys off having pursued science majors, I think we understand the need for other people to have exposure to what creatives have and can accomplish. A lot of our inspiration came from each other, but the more creatives we’ve met on our journey, the more we’ve been inspired and touched by their work and their perspectives. It’s so powerful.
COLLABORATION & EXPANSION
Can you talk a little about collaboration in T&T, what are some of the benefits and drawbacks of doing collabs with local creatives?
ELENA: I just truly believe that exposure to like-minded people really encourages the expansion and development of the many creative processes and just overall, truly positively impacts individual creativity. Even if your personal experience with a creative isn’t the best, you still gain the knowledge of what you don’t like or how you’d prefer to operate differently.
SAFIA: Collaboration is really what knits the local fashion community together. It’s a fantastic way to learn and experiment, and I would 100% encourage creatives to work with and engage with each other- even if it’s just for advice. However, it’s important to ensure that when you collaborate there’s a challenge for you in there. If there’s no obvious challenge, then design a challenge for yourself.
What was your favorite shoot to date and what made it so special to both of you?
ELENA: It’s always special when something you are so happy with and proud of can materialize out of the blue, that’s always an amazing feeling. With Eunoia, it was different, we planned that for weeks and got so many incredibly talented people on board and it was just really the lovechild of so many people’s efforts and help. I think that shoot was the most ‘complex’ in terms of planning and the overall concept and it’s beautiful when something you put so much time and energy into comes about.
SAFIA: My personal favorite has been MAYA: The Artist- it represented a big turning point for me. It pulled me out of my creative exhaustion and gave me the boost I needed to keep pushing myself. It sort of flipped a switch in my brain- a change in perspective. It also showed me how resourceful I was and what I could achieve if I truly dug into my creativity (no holding back).
What does the future hold for Safia.Elena? In five years from now, where do you see your brand and how do you plan to get there?
SAFIA: I know I can speak for both of us when I say that we’ve both experienced a huge amount of personal growth over the past year which has sort of shifted the direction of our work a little bit. Initially, we were more interested in experimenting and taking cool photos etc. but our work is growing with us. I mean don’t get me wrong, we don’t expect the “cool factor” to change, but we would like all or most of our personal projects now to be a little bit more layered and complex. We already have a few lined up for the new year and are SUPER excited about them!
What message do you have for the younger generation who are thinking of pursuing a career like yours?
ELENA: Your life is yours. If the creative route interests you, then explore it. Take photos, paint something. The internet is a fantastic tool for inspiration. Surrounding yourself in an environment which promotes growth and development is also key. Reach out to friends and create with each other, it all starts there.
SAFIA: Remember that everybody starts off somewhere. Don’t be discouraged by where you are now or whatever the current issue at hand might be. Make use of what you have and reach out to other people for help and guidance. BE BRAVE; being a creative takes a lot of courage, a lot of persistence and a LOT of hard work. The journey is long and difficult and never-ending, but being able to wake up every day and do what you love will make it all worthwhile.