A chance conversation back in 2014 with the designer of her graduation gown has led Richerrda Leonard to successfully manage her own brand of clothing.
The 23-year-old picked up the skill in 2011 and always had a love for it; she just never saw it as a mainstream career option.
“My first experience with sewing was watching my grandmother Bina, but my first time sewing was with family in Trinidad. I made a swimsuit and a dress. That was in 2011 or 2012. That same year, I was gifted a sewing machine for Christmas from my grandmother.
“I was still in secondary school at the time, and fashion was only for fun not a real career. In my final year, 2014, my graduation gown was made by a local designer, Caroli, and she encouraged me to do what I enjoyed doing. That was when I knew I wanted to pursue fashion,” she told Today’s Fashion.
Richerrda started out by making some pieces for her inner circle. “I was motivated by friends and family members that I made a few pieces for. I first didn’t see it as a career. I got started making [items] for close friends and family. It was my first major at Barbados Community College (BCC) but I changed it. My friends motivated me to do a photoshoot with outfits I had made and I made my first Instagram page.”
Changing the major at BCC is something the young designer regrets. She believes she should have stuck with her love – fashion.
“My major challenges were consistency in my work and also time management. My work load as well as my school work were overwhelming, and I had to choose between one or the other and I chose to work. I took a year off from school. Even when I returned, my heart was not into it because I was already doing what I wanted and school was not for me. My biggest regret was changing my major to Sociology and Literatures in English instead of continuing with Fashion Design.”
In 2015, her tireless efforts gave birth to the business Shayberry Designs operating out of Cane Vale, Christ Church.
“My specialities over the years have changed to whatever I’m inspired by at the time, whether it be revamping or swimsuits or clothing. I make clothing and swimsuits for females and children. My customer’s ages vary from mommies and daughters to birthday dresses for 50-year-olds. I’m still mastering clothing for males.”
She continued: “I always strive to give customers what they want and to keep them happy. I like when customers want to try different designs and fabrics, it makes work fun and exciting. I want customers to feel confident and sexy and let their personality show through whatever they want to wear.”
The former student of The Lodge School said that most of what she knows is from trial and error, YouTube, and occasional advice from fellow designers.
“Currently, I’m using my son as a muse for boys’ clothing. I’m also interested in making natural soaps, which I’ll be starting soon. I often write down ideas for designing and business, because I wanted to do more than just one thing. Concepts and designs come organically to me. If I overthink, I have ‘creative blocks’. The best ideas come to me when I’m doing random things or I see an opportunity to be creative and take it. I enjoy doing pop up sales when I’m bored.”
Richerrda, who has done two fashion shows, one at the University of the West Indies the other for a hair show, said that although her business has grown over the years there have been times where she wanted to quit in order to use her degree and work in an office, but fashion is her main love.
“I know there’s nothing I would rather be doing than what I currently am doing. I have not even accomplished half of what I want to. I want my designs to be flawless, unique and fabulous. I want my designs to be worn by celebrities and admired by everyone who sees them.”
Adding that her business has grown in many different ways, she notes that the brand is promoted both by her loyal customers through recommendations and her heavy use of Instagram.
“My peak periods are very stressful for me. Oftentimes I’m anxious, but I also discover I work best under pressure. Most recently, making masks for COVID-19 has been a load. I have to get help from my mother and grandmother in making the masks. I enjoy the rush of being busy and doing work.”
She continued: “I’m motivated to be more creative by other designers and persons I idolize. I want to be a successful business woman, not just a fashion designer. I always try to be inspired by and not copy. I want to be original, but I don’t believe I have found my own style as yet. I’m still trying new things and being creative when I am inspired.”
Richerrda shared her vision and future business goals. “I see my business being a walk-in store, selling my designs, not necessarily made by me, but my designs, swimsuits and clothing. I also see it being a sister company to my other businesses, all under one umbrella, operated by me.”
The fashion designer is urging all those who wish to be successful to be “genuine”.
“The best advice I can give someone pursuing this career is be genuine and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Don’t let work overwhelm you. Find a balance and stay motivated. I can honestly say I cannot see myself doing any other career. I have many interests but I believe all roads would lead me back here, which it has.”
To create and maintain that balance Richerrda speaks so convincingly about, an individual must surround themselves with the right things and people.
“I often read novels or watch documentaries about history or I’m on social media. I’m currently reading Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath. When I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I listen to Jeff Brown — a motivational speaker to keep me on track and focused.
“What matters most to me is my son Nasir. He’s been that extra push I needed to take me out of my safe zone and not be afraid to put myself and business on the line for what I want to achieve. I want to be successful no matter what I do,” the business owner said. (IMC)