How 1,000 $1 coins launched Jason Shurland’s design career

Jason Shurland came to attention as a designer in 2013 when Miss Guyana Jamzone for that year, Alicia Bess, wore his coin swimsuit. The head-turning design saw Alicia winning the swimsuit category of the competition.

Soon after the pageant, Jason was the talk of the town and he was receiving calls and messages, some as far as the United States of America and surprisingly West Africa as well. Photographers countrywide turned up to take shots of the shining swimsuit but little did anyone know about the trouble behind the scenes and how it almost did not make it to the stage at all.

“Not having designed before, I had numerous problems in getting the chance to design the swimsuit,” he recalled. “Persons said, ‘he has no experience. How can we let him design the swimsuit?’ It was Alicia who decided that she wanted to wear the swimsuit if she was to ever going to bring home the crown. It was a struggle to get up there. It was a struggle because people didn’t take the time to look at talent but looked for experience instead. We went back and forth before it was finally allowed.”

Jason Shurland
Jason Shurland

He added, “This opened many doors for me locally and internationally. I had to seek a lawyer’s advice on using the Guyana currency for that purpose, before going to the bank to get the coins. It took me one thousand one dollar coins to design the swimsuit. The swimsuit was well received. It was such a hit that it was the talk of the Caribbean countries. She won the swimsuit segment here and was the first runner-up in the pageant.”

The following year when Alicia went to represent Guyana at the PDJ2 Pageant in St Maarten, Jason had to design a whole new swimsuit as the coins on the first one had become darkened. The second time round took him fifteen hundred one dollar coins. She won this pageant and at the end when she returned backstage, many persons requested to see the coin swimsuit.

According to Jason, Alicia winning the swimsuit segment was a great moment for him and for Guyana as well; a moment he said he’ll never be able to forget.

After that word got around and he was asked to design a costume for a girl who was representing Guyana at a college pageant in the United States where she won the costume segment. Jason has since designed prom dresses for girls in the US also.

Then in 2015, Jason was asked to design the Miss Jamzone 2015 Fantasy Swimsuit; his design won the swimsuit segment again.

At the recent Miss Guyana Universe 2015 Pageant he designed a stunning red evening gown for one of the contestants. The winner of the pageant, Shauna Ramdyhan wore a few of Jason’s designs when making public appearances at the international leg in Las Vegas.

At present, he is working on a new line called, ‘Bringing Back Our Culture’ which is set to be launched on May 19, at the Ministry of Tourism, Colgrain House.

“The line that I’m currently working on is the continuation of my collection that I launched at the [coronation of] Miss Global International [Guyana] 2016, ‘Bringing Back Our Culture’. I featured hand designed clothing and Indian wraps for men, but this time I’ll be concentrating on the female version of the line,” Jason said.

Model wears a Jason Shurland design`
Model wears a Jason Shurland design`

“I’ll be using an old technique that persons are very familiar with: that is tie-dye. But I’ll be using tie dye with a modern twist. There’ll mostly be cocktail dresses that will be featured and a few skirts in between. So far I’ve been dyeing, painting, beading and using a lot of bright colours; trying to add a modern flare to it.”

As a boy growing up, art had always been one of Jason’s strong subjects, while attending Smith’s Memorial Primary and Lodge Secondary School.

“I had art teachers in secondary school but learnt to mix my colours on my own. I remember my mom coming to my nursery school and asking my teacher, ‘how is he doing?’ She told my mom, ‘Oh Jason likes to colour and paint. He’s going to do well in art when he grows up,’” the designer said.

Jason has always had the support of his family and friends. “My friends were the first persons to actually to come and buy my stuff before I launched the collection then I had to remake to fill the collection,” he laughed.

According to Jason, when you look at his work you will see art. Since his coin swimsuit, he has taken his designs to extreme levels, incorporating pins, glass, mirrors and ribbons.

One of his greatest inspirations is the late Gianni Versace, world famous Italian designer. What he most admires about him is that he wasn’t afraid to take his designs to the extreme; one such time being when celebrity Elizabeth Hurley wore a dress of pins on the red carpet. The following day it was all over the news.

Jason also has a passion for cooking, so apart from being a designer he also enjoys being a chef. “It’s nice being a chef. You get to explore different foods and different cultures. Before designing, I [worked] at the Guyana Motor Racing and Sports Club as the head chef before moving on to working as chef for the US Embassy for four years. I was also chef for a few US ambassadors and deputies,” he said.

He enjoys preparing Guyanese, Italian, Chinese and Mexican food for himself and friends but his focus is dessert. Some foods he loves preparing are: Italian oven roast chicken, Crepes, Pizza, Fettuccine Alfredo and Tiramisu.

He loves hanging out with his friends, watching CSI, NCIS, the Big Bang Theory and ID.

The chef/designer studied at the Carnegie School of Home Economics obtaining a diploma in Food and Hospitality. He also did courses on Child Care, Food Safety and Hygiene and CPR. Jason also graduated Best Student while at the School of Creative Arts where he took courses on Restaurant Table Management and Interior Decorating.

Jason believes that many young designers are faced with challenges when it comes to the pageant industry. “There are not many people out there who are willing to give opportunities in terms of putting your name out there. I think the more experienced designers should take the step in guiding young designers. They need to think about helping the industry grow,” he said.

He believes also that “the elites” can help with the challenges faced by local designers starting with our very own President and First Lady. “They should be attired in clothing made by our local designers. By doing this they’d be helping our economy. You can’t say the young people are the leaders of tomorrow when you’re not supporting them. This has happened with many of our previous first couples. We need to show more support for our own and I think they should show that example,” he posited.

“Young people come with a different flare; a different outlook to designing. I have many young persons who send me photos of their sketches and designed clothing and want my approval or ask ‘what more does this need’ and I always try to help.

“My advice to any person; it doesn’t matter if you want to follow fashion or not. Follow your dream whatever it maybe and make it a reality. To persons who want to get into designing; be careful who you branch off with.

“Throughout this year there’s a lot more to expect from me not locally but internationally. Look forward to a swimsuit collection which will be launched before the year is out.

“In a few years from now I hope to not only have my own boutiques in Guyana but to travel so I can take my brand internationally.”

Jason is currently designing for Miss Trinidad and Tobago who will be participating in the Miss Jaycees Caribbean, Miss Carival, Miss Caribbean Culture and Miss Jamzone.

He is also designing the swimsuit for Miss Global International Guyana Poonam Singh to wear when she represents Guyana at the international leg of the pageant this year.

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