Our economic history is rooted in forestry – logwood to be exact. But that’s only half the story. The other side of the tale is why the Europeans wanted the swamp-loving tree in the first place: fashion.
Sixteenth century colonizers figured out that by boiling the tree’s heartwood, they could produce a blue-black dye. In the 1500s, brightly colored cloth was a considered a luxury so a good dye was a lucrative commodity. When synthetics took over the dye industry,
businessmen extracted mahogany from Belize’s forests.
Furniture makers like the world-renowned Thomas Chippendale favored the reddish-brown hardwood because it was easy to carve. His intricate pieces became status symbols for European elites. And when the wood was all gone, agriculture became Belize’s economic mainstay.
Fast forward to the 21st century and you’ll discover fashion is back in business -thanks to a determined designer named Rebecca Stirm. Stirm started sketching her own designs at age 11, but it was only after she taught herself to sew that she actually began to create. “I have to laugh. The first thing I made was a light green pencil skirt bottom that led up to a dark pink polka dot strapless bodice. It looked like a strawberry. What a disaster!”
But she stuck with it, sketching and sewing during her free time and taking costume jobs on the side. The night she launched her first collection, a woman ordered one of her pieces right off the runway. The disasters had become masterpieces. Then someone saw her work on Facebook and referred her to the producers of Mission Catwalk, a Caribbean reality television show dedicated to discovering and developing talented designers.
The 19-year-old didn’t win the competition, but her creations earned her the most “challenge” wins and regional respect. “My proudest moment, so far, was walking down the runway after my collection showed at Caribbean Fashion week. What an experience!” The show convinced the young businesswoman that fashion isn’t just in her future; it’s also in Belize’s future.
“Belize has inspiration everywhere – the people, the culture, the scenery. This country is my home and holds a large part of my heart and passion; that definitely shows in my work.
It’s really up to young Belizean designers and marketers to decide where it will go and how much of an impact we can make on the world market.” And although Stirm thinks globally, she’s keeping the business of fashion in sharp focus.
“Fashion is a constant challenge, constantly changing and constantly new For me, it’s all a matter of learning to balance both creativity and marketability and keeping a focus on my work, values, and why I do what I do.”
By Janelle Chanona