Turn Yuh Hand Mek Fashion

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Kingston's top stylists talk shop

“I knew we could be close friends when Dexter asked me to follow him to True Value Hardware to get a tool box. I thought what is this for? Turned out…it was for makeup!” says Kaysian Bourke as these two beautiful people leaned back in a wooden shack on Hellshire Beach and laughed. She and Dexter Pottinger went to the same primary school in Kingston, but didn’t know each other until they crossed paths a decade later at the famed Saints Modeling Agency. Back then, they weren’t just models. And today, although they modestly shrug and sum up it up as such, they’re definitely not just stylists.

The reality is that in Jamaica, no one does just one thing, because nothing is that simple. “The thing about Jamaica,” Dexter says, “is that you simply don’t have what you need—so you have to create it.” Being a stylist in Jamaica doesn’t mean calling stores and sourcing the right clothes and props—it means actually making them. So at 21, Dexter set up a trove of sewing machines in his backyard and employed seamstresses to sew his original designs. Seven years later he has a full fashion production studio in his home (now indoors), and he’s styled everyone from Alicia Keys to Drake and Rihanna to Lady Saw and countless other artists, athletes and influencers.

That’s the essence of turn yuh hand mek fashion. It’s a statement about making something from practically nothing, which happens in fashion and most everything else on the island. “In New York, you can just make some calls and source stuff, but here you’ve got to know the little higgler downtown,” Dexter says with a laugh. Kaysian goes on, “You’ve got to have an eye. You’ve got to have an imagination, and because of that Jamaicans can survive anywhere.” Despite the lack of resources, everyone in Jamaica wants to stand out: “We keep creating, keep upping ourselves. We have so much pride. People are poor and still dress up every day,” Kaysian says.

The pair knows how lucky they are to be able to travel, and want nothing more than to bring inspiration back. Kaysian runs a successful event décor company called Shindig Concepts.Design.Décor and also opened one of Kingston’s very few high-end boutiques, Modish Studios, where she uses her discerning eye and understanding of what appeals in Jamaica to bring back the fashion she loves. Both Dexter and Kaysian work hard to make Jamaica a place people reliably look to for aesthetic inspiration. “We had such brain drain in the 70s during political turmoil, and today some of us have to stay back and work to package Jamaica in a way the world can appreciate it,” she says. As artfully presented plates of fresh-caught steamed and fried whole snapper arrive, Dexter concludes, “This is absolutely a style capital of the world.”

Photo Credit: Photo by William Richards

Digging Jamaica? Visit the 100m Shop and get your jerk-reggae-patois-sunshine fix. (Sunscreen recommended.)