BTVI 2023 Top Fashion Design Graduate, Taliah Wright; Head of Department, Apryl Burrows and student, Paige Adderley stand next to shirts for Breezes Bahamas employees, which are being created via an assembly line of students and graduates.

When Taliah Wright walks through the gates of the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI) twice a week, she does so with the focus that she is working on a project that is bigger than her.

The BTVI 2023 Top Fashion Design graduate was chosen as one of the three alumni and two students to work on an assembly line for the initial production of 100 shirts for Breezes Bahamas staff. The team is at the halfway mark of completing the first batch of shirts.

When not at BTVI, she is understudying local Fashion Designers, Apryl Burrows – BTVI’s Head of Department for Fashion, whose brand specializes in resort glamour – and Phylicia Ellis, who creates custom bridal and bridesmaid dresses.

“I’ve only been sewing for two years. I suppose my skills speak for me. I’ve never been on an assembly line. I’ve never been a part of a mass production. I appreciate the ability to be a part of this experience and am excited to see Breezes employees rock their shirts,” said the 19-year-old.

“I attach the sleeves and the hem of the shirts. I also put on the interface, which gives the shirt stiffness for the buttons. I hope the project becomes the blueprint for other hotels to use more local seamstresses and tailors, including students. With the work students produce at BTVI, anything is possible,” said Taliah, whose father has been a tailor for over 20 years.

The teenager has her eyes set on attending Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in fall 2024. She said BTVI has given her the foundation to succeed.

Also working on the assembly line is 70-year-old Ann Bease. Her stint at BTVI began when she was 47 and since then, she has studied Fashion Design, Plumbing and Carpentry. As Ann has a knack for using her hands to create, during her studies at the institution she chose electives like Upholstery in addition to Painting and Decorating.

When Ann experienced tragedy in her family back in 2003, she threw herself into what she was learning as being in workshops and labs gave her something to look forward to daily. What was meant to soothe her while in grief turned into a passion.

“BTVI is very motivational,” she stressed.

Seventy-year-old, Ann Bease is a member of the assembly line of three alumni and two students working on the initial production of 100 shirts for Breezes Bahamas staff.

For fall 2023, Ann almost applied to begin yet another programme. She was interested in Auto Mechanics. Instead, she decided to sharpen her skills in Tailoring Technology and Tuxedo.

“I told my instructor, John Lewis, I want to make shirts in my sleep,” she quipped.

“I have a grandson who is three and my granddaughter loves to dress up. She is five. It’s nice to be able to produce things for them that are different from what is found in stores. I get ridiculed about being back in school, but I’m inspired. It’s very motivational. It also keeps the mind active,” she said beaming.

As for being on the assembly line for the BTVI and Breezes collaboration, Ann said it gives her practice.

“It’s a great opportunity and I’m actually honoured to have been asked by Mr. Lewis. I was one of the chosen ones. It’s good to show hotels like Breezes that we are capable,” said Ann.

BTVI and Breezes signed the deal on the 24th November 2023 with work beginning the next week. There were three weeks of prep work prior to the production start, including the drafting of the patterns by Mr. Lewis from small to 2XL. He is also responsible for quality control. Further, the lab was set up and the materials bought from threads and buttons to interfacings.

Mr. Lewis has been a tailor for over 45 years and has worked at BTVI for 37 years – one of its longest serving employees. The partnership with Breezes Bahamas is now a part of his legacy.

“This came natural for me because of my background,” said Mr. Lewis who attended Lindsey Hopkins Technical College in Miami, Florida.

“Studying apparel manufacturing, they taught us how they sew in a factory. We made patterns, then sewed based on factory specifications. We produced garments that looked store bought,” he added.

The veteran tailor noted that the assembly line has its benefits.

“Instead of one person taking 45 minutes to make one shirt, we can get eight shirts done.  You also get consistency, with individuals concentrating on one thing. In doing that, you get a more quality garment. In factories, no one person makes the entire garment. They do piece work,” stated Mr. Lewis.

“This project gives the students an opportunity to see what life is like in a factory. It is an opportunity to build on the skills given in the classroom, in a real-world setting. It’s a confidence builder. As for BTVI, it will open a number of doors. Other companies might be interested in doing this,” he said.

Additionally, as head of the Fashion Department, Apryl Burrows said she was “very proud” on the day BTVI and Breezes Bahamas signed the contract. She said it was gratifying to witness what started out as a request from Breezes evolve into an order actually being fulfilled in the Fashion Production Lab.

“I was proud not only to have played a role in its facilitation, but that BTVI students and alumni will have the opportunity to utilize the techniques taught and skills developed to produce wearable garments for an established hotel,” she stated.

Ms. Burrows added that the presence of the Minister of Education and Technical and Vocational Training, the Honourable Glenys Hanna-Martin and the entire BTVI community including Board Directors, Interim President, Dr. Linda A. Davis and colleagues, reinforced support for the Fashion Trades Department. This semester, four programmes have been added including Tailor’s Assistant, Garment Production, Accessory Design and Evening Wear.

“We are expanding and this order is a great indication of what each student is capable of and what they can accomplish as a collective. It is my hope that students understand that not only are they talented as sewing technicians and designers, but that under the supervision of established industry professionals, they can learn the systems of the apparel manufacturing industry in real time,” said Ms. Burrows.

Ms. Burrows stated that the partnership is an indication of Breezes Bahamas’ confidence in the BTVI product.

“This collaboration speaks to the intentionality that Breezes has demonstrated in supporting the ‘Made in The Bahamas’ product while also acknowledging the importance of developing technical skills of students in a real-life scenarios. This partnership is truly innovative, inclusive and necessary. We salute Breezes and our BTVI Fashion students and alumni as we embark on this journey together,” said Ms. Burrows.