Helen Bremner’s circumstances are by no means unique. She is a skilful and creative seamstress whose talent is not matched by her resources and for whom GuyExpo offers an opportunity to get discovered, to break into the ‘big time.’
Her outfit, H&E Collections, is one of several small, creative enterprises that made what, in their circumstances, was a considerable investment to be at GuyExpo this year, and if, for her, the event was not a huge commercial success, her creations turned heads, evoked enquiries and held out hope that, perhaps, she may well have arrived on the threshold of the take off point that she has been looking for.
One does not have to be a fashion expert to discern the attractiveness in Helen’s work. Her collection of tie-dyed male and female pieces is accompanied by ‘dressy’ dashikis with elaborate designs – the kind of clothing suitable for an evening out at an up-market restaurant as for a formal occasion. Other pieces in her eclectic collection are made from combinations of rayon, silk, Indian cotton and linen. Even displayed alongside the work of other new, hopeful fashion designers, her work stands out.
In order to get to GuyExpo Helen invested more than $200,000 in fabric and more in time and effort, not a king’s ransom, but enough for her to recognize that the investment yielded no immediate profit. It is, she believes, the way with new ventures; you have to take the plunge and hope for the best.
Acutely aware of the competition of the big bazaar that GuyExpo provides, Helen sought to keep her prices as close as possible to the floor. Her elaborately designed dashikis, which, on Emancipation Day were being sold for amounts in excess of $5,000, were being offered at Sophia for half that price, while tie-dyed suits, ever popular with fashionable local ladies were on offer at $4,500. The rush of sales never came and at the end of the event sales did not cover expenses. Helen wished she had done better commercially though she was not unmindful of our determination that hers was one of the efforts that reflects that high standards of skill and creativity that exists in the local fashion industry and was deserving of a measure of public acclaim.
She recalls the promise kept by Tourism Minister Manniram Prashad to grant concessions to the creative and manufacturing sectors, reduced space and strategic vantage points within the Sophia Complex. The entire main pavilion and the adjoining annexe were allocated to those sectors. Those concessions might not have brought Helen what she was looking for. The thousands of people who thronged GuyExpo were curious and admiring but choosy in their purchases; and last weekend was not Helen’s big payday. At least, however, more people now know about H&E Fashions and will, hopefully, find their way to her small Garnett Street establishment.
To her credit Helen refuses to immerse herself in disappointment. She expects that her GuyExpo venture will attract attention among the local retail outlets and fashion-conscious Guyanese. Next month she is heading for the Yard Burst Trade Show in Paramaribo. She is anticipating financial assistance from the IDB-funded Matching Grants Initiative for that venture. The assistance will include meeting the costs of acquiring materials, and accommodation and other expenses in Paramaribo. Yard Burst might be the big break she seeks.
Matching Grants is an initiative of the Government of Guyana, its primary purpose being to improve the export capacity of micro, small and medium sized enterprises. Helen Bremner is optimistic that she will qualify for financing through this vehicle.
In August Helen was part of the Guyana contingent of art and craft producers at the Guianas Festival in Suriname an event organized on a government-to-government level for manufacturers in Guyana, Suriname and Cayenne. There she secured several orders for both ladies’ and gents’ clothing. Those orders have already been completed and dispatched.
Of late Helen has become more interested in the potential market offered by the Guyanese diaspora. She believes that Guyanese residing abroad are beginning to gravitate towards the “Made in Guyana” tag. She recalls that up to a few years ago that was not the case. It is a changing trend that interests her and one which she says she intends to take advantage of.