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?