As we continue to celebrate women this month, the National Cultural Foundation is highlighting the journey and work of artist and designer Shanika Burnett in the final of this two-part feature. We first featured her mum Ayissa Burnett, who is also an artist and designer.
Young Shanika Burnett has always been interested in many areas of the cultural industries and has been an active part of it for the past 23 years.
Primarily, she is best known in the fashion industry through her design label, Shakad Designs. Her creations include both formal and ready-to-wear clothing as well as accessories with a creative style which meshes both traditional and contemporary elements.
Initially, she began designing around the time of her secondary school graduation in 2004 while trying to find fabrics for her dress. She wanted something unique and African print was not as easily available then as it is now. Therefore, she concluded that she would need to create the fabrics to have the aesthetic she wanted.
The artist got more serious about designing while attending the University of the West Indies in 2008. That year, Burnett had the opportunity to create for Caribbean Fashion Week and that’s when everything took off for her. Her brand officially launched just a few weeks earlier at the Barbados Manufacturers’ Exhibition (BMEX).
Her designs have come mostly from her everyday surroundings. Typically, the colour schemes used are the direct influences of the colours, nature and vibrancy present in the Caribbean.
“My brand Shakad is mainly built on Caribbean sophistication and trying to illustrate the opulence of the Caribbean through the use of the colours and the handmade textiles which my mother creates,” she said.
Burnett explained the extent to which her environment plays a crucial part by highlighting a collection she created around the time of the ash fall incident in 2021 during the pandemic.
“My palette completely shifted… it was a complete divergence from what I am accustomed to doing, so I guess that even showed me how influenced I am by my surroundings,” she explained.
Another important source of inspiration is her upbringing. Coming from a supportive family of creatives, she is the daughter of Ayissa Burnett, the textile and fibre artist behind the creations of Ayissa Textile Designs with whom she often collaborates.
Recently, they participated in the NCF’s Wearable Art Exhibition.
“I grew up in a Rastafari family. We would have been very big on ethical practices and being eco-friendly, using natural materials, utilising the things that are around you, so that would have inspired a lot of my work as well. My father is a calabash artist… My mum is a textile artist… I try to utilise elements of their work in my accessories and some of the smaller pieces I do,” she added.
Burnett has done numerous projects through the NCF. These include the Barbados Networking Consultation Conference Creative Industries Showcase, Carifesta XIII, Caribbean Style and Culture and, as previously mentioned, the NCF Wearable Art Exhibition. She has also worked with the NCF during the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts and the Crop Over season.
“Throughout my career, I can say that the NCF has been very supportive,” she stated.
The designer received the NCF’s COVID-19 Grant. In 2020, she won the Award of Excellence in Fashion Design from Karib Nations’ Caribbean Style and Culture Awards and Fashion Showcase.
Due to the pandemic, the event was held virtually, and she had to produce a video of her collection for the presentation. The funding allowed her to carry out the necessary production. She found it very helpful and motivating during that time as COVID-19 had left a lot of feelings of uncertainty, especially for creatives.
She thanked the business development officers at NCF, who assisted her at the time.
“I was able to put together the team in a relatively short space of time. I must say that Ramona, Andre… everybody really came through and pushed to make it happen in the time that I needed it because it was a quick turnaround.”
Furthermore, she added that the NCF has been a good place to turn to as a creative as other places had not seen creative work and businesses as viable.
“Definitely, if something is happening, there is someone in the NCF we can reach out to, to at least point us in a direction… I must commend them for their consistency over the years and I can definitely see that as an institution they keep up with the times. I can see the Instagram and the social media, so I appreciate that.”
For the future, Burnett hopes she can produce her products on a larger scale and push Shakad Designs and Ayissa Textiles to a wider platform. Also, she wants to retain the Barbadian culture and keep it alive through her works. You can find Shakad Designs on Instagram at shakadecolifestyle. (PR)