Theodore Elyett has taken the pageant and fashion world by storm here in The Bahamas.
I met Theo about 5 years ago and there were a few things about him that stood out to me. He pays attention to all the little details, he is a perfectionist, he’s multitalented. He couldn’t be duplicated. No one can do it quite like Theo.
About 3 months ago Theo joined the third season of Mission Catwalk; a designer’s competition featuring 14 designers around the Caribbean. As buzz generated we were on top of Theo’s performance and progress in the competition. It truly warms my heart to say that Theo came out on top as a winner of the competition. David Role, came in second as another talented Bahamian designer. I wanted to get the scoop on the entire process and Theo happily obliged.
Give me a little trip down memory lane with your sewing/ fashion design?
My grandmother was a seamstress, my mother was once a major garment manufacturer with her own factory in The Bahamas; so fashion and garment manufacturing is in my blood. I spent every afternoon as a child in my mother’s factory and every summer vacation was spent at my grandmother’s house rummaging through fabric scraps and creating clothes.
I started my professional career as a Fashion Designer 15 years ago.
My high school best friend was a professional model at the time and had entered a local modeling competition. She knew of my passion for the fashion industry so she encouraged me to create a garment for her to compete in. This collaboration launched my fashion career at 13-years-old. My debut as the youngest professional Fashion Designer in the country garnered lots of media attention and my fashion career grew by leaps and bounds since then.
Shortly after my debut, I was commissioned to design two costumes for the Miss Bahamas Pageant. Both of my designs captured 3rd and 4th place in the national competition. At 14-years-old I became the country’s youngest fashion designer to win an award within the prestigious competition. Between 1998 and 2008 I have managed to build a portfolio in The Bahamas, the Caribbean, North & South America, Africa and Asia. It was not until 2010 that I re-launched and re-branded my fashion label as Theodore Elyett. The successes of this re-branding and re-launching process have been unending.
Since 2010, my eponymous label has been featured on the cover and inside pages of every local fashion publication – Profiles98 Magazine, Nu Woman Magazine and CaMari Magazine.
The brand also captured international attention when featured in VOGUE ITALIA’s The Black Blog and ESSENCE MAGAZINE BLOG.
I am the champion of the ‘Runway To Fashion Week’ Designer Competition, the recipient of the Harl TaylorBAG 2010 Scholarship, an award winning gown and costume designer for Miss Bahamas Universe and the 2005 recipient of The Bahamas’ Ministry of Youth’s JA- Recognition of Excellence for outstanding achievement in Fashion Design and Entrepreneurial Skills.
In 2012 I was named The Bahamas’ Designer of the Year by leading Bahamian online fashion publication Stylezine.
Fast forward to 2013, 15 years after my initial launch within the fashion industry, I am now Mission Catwalk’s Season 3 winner.
Where did you study and why did you choose to study there?
I initially enrolled at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada to pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Design. I really wanted to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) or Parsons The New School for Design in New York, but the tuition was so expensive, so I opted to study in Canada for half the amount. Unfortunately I still ran into financial constraints while studying in Canada so I ended up only finishing two years of my tertiary education. I studied at Ryerson between 2003 and 2005. It wasn’t until six years later, after entering a local fashion competition, that I won a summer scholarship to pursue intensive fashion training courses at Parsons The New School for Design in NYC. Amazing right?! That course changed my life as a fashion designer. Since then I rebranded my eponymous label, Theodore Elyett, and my design aesthetic has matured tremendously. There is obviously a reason why Parsons is ranked within the Top 3 schools in the world for Fashion.
What has been the greatest challenge in the fashion industry for you here in The Bahamas?
I have found that sourcing materials has been my greatest challenge living in The Bahamas. Not only are the prices extremely high, but there is also a limited supply of materials that I would actually be able to use in a collection to reproduce for retail.
Tell me a little about Mission Catwalk. How did you find out about it and what made you decide to enter?
Mission Catwalk. Sigh. I really don’t even know where to begin.
It’s kind of crazy how this all unfolded for me. So about a year ago I came across Mission Catwalk on Facebook. I decided to check it out on Youtube. Watched the entire season and decided I had to enter! I sent the organizers an email but I got no response.
Months passed and I still got no reply.
So being proactive I decided to hunt down one of the judges who appears on the show, Novia McDonald-Whyte. From watching the show I knew she worked at The Observer, so I googled the company and got on the phone to call her. After a few attempts I finally made contact with her and expressed my interest in the show and explained how I sent an email application but got no response. Of course, she was only able to note that she would pass on the information to the show organizers because she only served as a judge.
Months passed and I still got no response.
So I then decided to google Mission Catwalk’s producer Keneea Linton-George. I found her website and contact information and gave her a call. The conversation was quite brief but I felt good enough to know that I finally was able to reach someone and drop my contacts as well.
Months passed and still no word.
In the interim I applied for fashion school again. I applied to FIT in New York. I had no idea how I was going to pay my tuition, but I figured once I made the first step by faith to apply and then get accepted, faith and prayer would work out the rest. Unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy decided to hit The Bahamas and then NYC at the exact time that I finished my application process. The storm delayed my application by at least three weeks. In the end, I was not offered admission for January 2013.
Exactly one month after being crushed by FIT, I got a PHONE CALL from Mission Catwalk producers. Crazy right!
They telephoned to ask for me to submit my portfolio for review for an online audition. Within seven days I was accepted and flown to Jamaica to participate in the Caribbean fashion competition.
Honestly, retelling the story brings tears to my eyes because had it not been for determination, stick-ability and God’s timing; what an awesome opportunity I would have missed.
End Result – WIN.
What was the most memorable experience for you during Mission Catwalk?
I would have to say the most memorable part of the experience was being able to get first hand training and mentorship from international quality control expert Kay Davitian. Kay has worked with major brands like Jones & Co. New York and Ralph Lauren. She has worked in basically every continent on the globe and has such a wealth of knowledge and experience. It was a privilege to sit under her mentorship for the duration of the show.
What did you dislike most about Mission Catwalk?
lol the short amount of time to sew for each challenge!! It was crazy. I really enjoy taking my time to sew, so when I encountered challenges to sketch, source fabrics and make a garment in 6 hours or 8 hours, it was challenging. Nonetheless it molded me into such a better designer.
How does it feel to be a winner?
Honestly it’s still very surreal for me. The journey was so long and so hard. To date I still go on Youtube and watch the finale show and I cry. I cry because it’s just sort of crazy how dreams take flight. Here I was sitting in my bed in January trying to figure out how on earth I was going to get into school after being turned down by FIT. Then came Mission Catwalk. I now have the opportunity to attend the London College of Fashion, I get to showcase at London Fashion Week, I now have a contract to sell retail at a boutique in Jamaica, I receive a suite of industrial sewing equipment and the show will also provide capital for my next collection. How amazing is this?!!
The final stretch in the competition was the hardest for me. After three months of toiling over the collection we had to engage in a one-on-one critique with our Mission Catwalk Mentor Kay Davitian. My critique with Kay was devastating. It really tore me apart to know that I worked so hard on my collection for months, and was so proud of it, but it still needed more work. I soon got over my devastation and decided to absorb everything she offered as constructive criticism. I had four days to edit and reconstruct my collection to ensure that it had more ‘retail,’ appeal. This was a huge challenge considering that there were other preparations afoot for the grand finale, but in the end I managed to make all of the necessary changes I needed to make to pull off my big win.
How do you define success?
Forget the money and the fame, to me success is being completely happy while doing what you love. I saw a quote a few months ago that I love, “Do what you love, live as if that’s all there is!”
What advice would you give to up and coming designers trying to break into the industry?
Preparation + Opportunity = Success. Never tire of researching and learning your craft. Make it your life! Preparation for this opportunity took me 15 years. Overnight success never lasts. Persevere, be determined, surround yourself with people that are a few steps ahead of you, be your own biggest critic and only compete with yourself! Always aim to be better than your last best act!
What can we look forward to from Theodore?
In August I head back to Jamaica for a three month training program in manufacturing. I will showcase my label in Europe for the first time in February at London Fashion Week and start school in London in the summer of 2014.
I don’t like to discuss my future much because I don’t want to give naysayers the opportunity to negatively impact my dreams. So the best insight I can say is that I am working towards being a global player in the fashion industry.
Will we ever see another Theodore Elyett Miss Teen Bahamas pageant?
The dreaded question!! I miss my directorship of the Miss Teen Bahamas Beauty Pageant SO MUCH you won’t even understand! I enjoyed embracing and changes the lives of our participants. However, the departure of my pageant system was a necessary one. I think it’s always best when talents depart at the top of their game, and that is exactly what we did. As an organization we set so many records in the local beauty industry and on the international stage as well. No pageant system in The Bahamas can boast of half a dozen international titles and awards in only 7 short years of operation. No pageant can boast of capturing an international crown in its first year of operation. We touched the lives of over 100 young females and crowned 13 beauty ambassadors. We introduced our participants to a new standard of excellence and in the end we left the local pageant industry better than we met it. That was the goal of TEMTB and I appreciate that, that is how we will forever be remembered. I do not foresee a return. I feel my purpose within the industry was fulfilled. However, there was a point in time I would never have imagined walking away from my pageant, so maybe I should never say never. We will see what the future holds…
Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
I have a twin. lol, just kidding.
Umm….Favorite color is purple, favorite soda is Tonic Water, favorite juice is pink grapefruit and I love red velvet cheesecake!
Describe your support system and the things/ mantras that get you by
My biggest support system is my family. We are all so close. My Mom, Dad and siblings offer me so much support its ridiculous. My sister who lives in Mississippi never missed one episode of Mission Catwalk and always sent me encouraging text messages while I was competing on the show. Its precious when your family can love and enjoy what you do as much as you do. I think many of my success stories are as a result of their love and support.
What an exceptionally talented man! Congratulations Theo!
We love you.
Cay to Style