Jamaican Designer Spicing Things Up in Atlanta

Nicola Watson, a freelance artist and fashion revolutionist, takes a holistic approach to fashion by combining art and fashion design. A native of Jamaica, Nicola came to the United States in 2000 in pursuit of a college degree in Art from Wesleyan College of Macon, Ga—a liberal arts college for women. She quickly became a favorite among her professors, and her paintings began to sell like wildfire during her undergraduate years.

Fashion came later, but seemed somewhat of a natural transition from Nicola’s art. Born into a family of seamstresses, tailors, and patternmakers, she fancied the idea exposing their talents through her own. Eventually, her freelance art began to inspire her fashion. Her unique ability to fuse these two passions enabled her to work as a designer and patternmaker for Aristabrat  tween clothing company, Ucce’ Women’s fashion, Boxercraft, and Target Corporation in their Product Development and Design Department.

When asked what role her Jamaican heritage plays in her fashion, she shared that her “Jamaican flavor is evident through her natural inclination to gravitate to all things bright and colorful”. While the fashion industry tends to play it safe with a more “sell-able” monochromatic palette, Nicola’s bold use of color helps to set her apart. An interview with Nicola really shed some light on just how different fashion trends are among cultures, and how challenging it is to be a successful, independent artist.

Terri-Dumas: Do you notice a difference in fashion between the U.S. and Jamaica?

Nicola Watson: When I first moved to America, I was actually quite surprised at how conservative the fashion is here. In Jamaica, people are a little more inclined to take risks without being too preoccupied about whether it is “good fashion” or not. I was also surprised to see how much of a staple denim jeans are in America when, in Jamaica, nothing is better than a short, form fitting dress. In Jamaica, women consider good fashion to beanything that accentuates the female form. Furthermore, all female forms are more-or-less acceptable. In America, a specific female form is considered ideal, and fashion is used to hide/diminish whatever does not fit into that ideal image.

TD: How do you manage to thrive as an independent artist?

NW: If you have the technical ability to create your own designs and bring them to life as tangible garments, it’s a lot easier than if you don’t have any know-how at all. Otherwise, you’re dependent on others to help you make your dream real. However, even with the technical ability and knowledge, it is still a difficult task. I think boutiques are fairly willing to carry the designs of independent artists, but it is a lot more challenging to get designs placed in larger stores. Fashion is also a very expensive undertaking, which can make the process more difficult. It is a wise decision to have a thorough financial plan before diving headfirst into any fashion initiative.

Having taught as a fashion instructor for the Savannah College of Art and Design’s Community Education Program (SCAD-Atlanta), for over 3 years, Nicola has nurtured the ability to convey complex ideas in a way that is easy and understandable, even to beginning students. Her incredible ability to nurture the passion for art in others recently inspired her to open her very own fashion school, Le Fashion Lab. The school’s main goal is to give everyone the opportunity to learn the ins-and-outs of fashion (concept, illustration, computers, garment construction, etc) without the need to invest 4 or more years towards a degree, or thousands of dollars. Nicola believes that the study of fashion should be more accessible. The Lab is also built on the concept of giving talented scholars of fashion the opportunity to share their knowledge with those who are eager to learn, while building credible work experience.

Nicola wants to help people’s dreams come true without them having to break the bank to do it! The school will also offer certificates in fashion sometime in the future. Another unique and exciting component of Le Fashion Lab is its sample shop. Here, new designers can expect to find a complete set of services from contract design work to technical specifications. If you’re in need of pattern- and sample-making assistance, they’ve got that too! If you want to know more about Le Fashion Lab, visit www.lefashionlab.com