by Toni Nicholas
For Cherisa ‘Rissa’ Samuels, founder of Rissa’s Eclectik Kouture, bagging a sweet dream was as easy as first believing in her quest to lose weight, when one night she dreamt of making a bag. Dumbfounded by the connection to her weight loss journey, she nonetheless woke up at 2:00 am that morning and was led to sketch what she had envisaged. Now, two years later, she has gone from bags to wishes as she watches her newfound passion unfold into a thriving business.
Rissa has since participated in a number of regional and local fashion events, including Barbados and Guyana Fashion Week and ‘Strut for a Cause’ right here in Saint Lucia, among numerous other events.
Dazzle Magazine recently caught up with Rissa at her store, Rissa’s Eclectik Kouture on the second floor of the JQ Mall in Rodney Bay. The store caters to unique clothing and bags hinged on Afrocentric colours and patterns for men, women and children. It also carries beaded pieces from Africa to complement the designer’s various lines.
Dazzle: How did all of this get started and did you ever see yourself where you are right now?
Rissa: Designing has always been a part of me, I would say, even though I did not realise that at first. Both of my parents were potters and my mother, besides the pottery, would do a little bit of seamstress work, cake decorating … in fact anything to do with creativity, she was the go-to person.
But I never saw myself getting involved in anything creative at first because I was never interested in anything they did. But fast forward to 2014 when I found myself waking up from a dream where someone was showing me how to make a bag, and from there this all happened.
Dazzle: A dream? Tell us more about that.
Rissa: Well, I had just been going through this weight loss journey when I had this dream one night where I was making a bag. Mind you, I had never sewn anything before. So I woke up at 2:00 am and decided to sketch what I had seen in the dream. I later bought a machine and ended up making the very bag I had dreamt of. From there I just started designing and sewing bags and that just took off.
Dazzle: So how did the transition come about from bags to clothing?
Rissa: Well, from there I decided to try different things. I tried making a skirt, which was a disaster to say the least because every stitch burst when I put it on. But every time I failed it just made me want to try even harder. So it went from the skirt to shirts and dresses and then I started to post things online and the positive reaction to the pieces I had created was overwhelming.
Dazzle: That must have been very encouraging and some form of incentive to press on.
Rissa: Indeed! So from there the love and the passion just grew and grew and I just kept putting myself in the positions where opportunities would present themselves.
Dazzle: Talking about opportunities, what was the first fashion event you participated in?
Rissa: The very first show was Fashion Fusion, a fashion show at the JQ Mall in 2014. I approached the supervisor of the mall and asked for a chance to be a part of the event, which incidentally was for mall tenants only and I wasn’t at the time. But I was eager, since Richard Young of Trinidad and Sonia Noel of Guyana were part of this event. And so I was allowed, and received some really great reviews from both Young and Noel and this boosted me even further, and made me want to continue.
Dazzle: Quite a journey indeed because now, incidentally, you are actually a tenant of the JQ Mall. When did you start?
Rissa: Well the store, Rissa’s Eclectik Kouture opened in March 2016 and that came from growth in business. Customers had started flooding my home which quickly outgrew me and so I needed a place to house my pieces, as well as somewhere that my customers and new clients could come in to. That’s when I decided to open up this place at the JQ Mall.
Dazzle: How has it been going?
Rissa: It has been great! I cannot complain. We opened just before the Jazz Festival and we did a tremendous amount of business throughout the festival and into carnival in July. September was a little slow but in October for Kweyol Heritage Month and into the festive season, things have been really good.
I have also been scouting around for other up-and- coming designers with the intention of making this place a hub to foster greater appreciation for the works of talented regional designers and to encourage persons to wear our own.
Dazzle: And finally from us, what’s in store for Rissa,where do you see yourself in the future?
Rissa: In the immediate future, to establish another branch locally, possibly in the south and then spread out to the Caribbean. I met this gentleman in Trinidad who wants me to have an outlet there, so that’s the dream – to see Rissa’s Eclectik Kouture in Port of Spain, Bridgetown, Kingston, Milan, New York, London, Paris… I’m just really excited about the future for Rissa’s Eclectik Kouture; we are definitely going places and following the dream.