An hour before the challenge deadline, Barbie Paynter was still working on her carnival costume.
She’d thought she had everything in hand, but then the bodywear she designed didn’t arrive with the rest of the pieces she’d hired someone to sew for her in New York. In the end, it all worked out. With Colita Cook-Shillingford, Ms Paynter was named winner of the Carnival Costume Design Challenge put on by Nova Mas International and Government last year.
With the award came the opportunity to design for Bermuda Heroes Weekend 2020. Ms Paynter’s costumes received “an overwhelmingly positive response” at the Nova Mas launch on February 2.
“I was confident in what I knew I could bring, but when the models wearing the designs walked out on stage, I thought I would cry,” she said. “Everybody seemed speechless. I didn’t expect it.”
A week after, she was still getting stopped on the street by well-wishers; notifications of comments on her Instagram and Facebook pages came fast and furious. She’d loved soca music since she was a child.
Her parents Neil and Sharil Paynter would take her on their boat to hear Byron Lee whenever he performed here.
Sewing lessons came courtesy of her mother and her grandmother, Barbara Burgess. With the first Bermuda Carnival came the opportunity to put the two together.
“I didn’t have a costume for the very first year,” she said. “I started researching and Googling carnival costumes. I had participated in a May 24 event Jason Sukdeo put on, maybe three years before carnival, when I took apart a feather backpack just to see how it was made.
“A friend of mine, who I introduced to soca, bought a regular bra and I jammed it out for her and she wore it to carnival.”
The requests continued and Ms Paynter began searching to find out how she might turn her skills into something more. “I have always advocated for Bermuda Heroes Weekend to seek local talent.
“I’ve been to every panel [held to find] out how Bermudians can benefit from making costumes.
“Two years ago, I was approached by my cousin, who asked me if I knew Nova Mas was putting on a workshop for people to learn how costumes are made. Seldon [Woolridge, the band’s leader] reached out to me and asked me if I was interested in attending. At the time, I didn’t know it was moving into a competition. I thought I was just going to learn.”
Trinidad’s Daryl Cox, more popularly known as “Designing Daryl”, led the two-day class, held as part of the Bermuda Cultural Apprenticeship Programme, last May.
“He spoke of the background to the whole carnival and why it’s traditional in Trinidad and showed us the basics [of making costumes],” Ms Paynter said.
It was only then that the group learnt there would be a competition backed by the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs.
Apart from her carnival design experience Ms Paynter had a few aces up her sleeve: she was capable of drawing her own designs and, although she did not attend, she was accepted at Georgia’s Savannah College of Art and Design after she graduated from The Berkeley Institute.
“The challenge was getting Bermudians to acknowledge that [Bermudians] have the talent. Anyone can tell you they can do something, but if you haven’t seen it ...”
As such, the apprenticeship programme was valuable to everyone who participated.
“We had to submit a design and it had to be approved by the panel and then we had to source materials to bring the design to life. There was a big hiccup with my design. I didn’t sew my bodywear and it never made it to Bermuda.
“The week before the showcase, I had to find a seamstress in Bermuda. I had to get new material and get everything done. Literally, I was jamming my last piece an hour before the showcase opened. It was a challenge, but it showed me that I can work under pressure. I got respect from the competition that I didn’t expect; everybody was just raving about my design.”
Three days later, when the winners were announced she was thrilled to share the honour with Ms Cook-Shillingford; the pair had supported each other throughout the process.
Even more exciting was presenting her finished designs to the public last week.
She anticipates the tears will flow when she sees people wearing them at Bermuda Carnival.
“I know that’s gonna happen,” she said. “The feedback I’m getting from the many people who have stopped me is that a lot of Bermudians are excited to have people in Bermuda who can produce quality work; work as good as Trinidadian designs. And they want to support the Bermudians.”
Proof came from a Twitter post by a Bermudian who said that until the designers at the Nova Mas launch were named, they couldn’t tell the difference between the local and Trinidadian creations.
“It all comes down to your passion,” Ms Paynter said. “It became a passion for me once I knew Bermuda Carnival would become a permanent thing. Bermuda is a stepping stone for me.
“I want to be able to design for other carnivals. I’ve already had people reach out to me last year and, just recently since the launch, I’ve had a few production companies from Trinidad reach out to me — my biggest accomplishment was to hear a Trinidadian native say my design was excellent.”