Hailing from the island of Barbados, fashion mogul Carla Gittens’ love for the craft of design was ignited early in her life. She has since embarked on a remarkable journey, turning her childhood passion into the work of a thriving fashion entrepreneur. Gittens began creating clothes for friends, and eventually caught the attention of Jamaican singer Denyque, even before her 2014 appearance on Mission Catwalk. The reality fashion series proved to be a turning point in Gittens career. For her exceptional talent, she became a fan favorite, a position that opened doors, leading her to design for artists such as Shenseea and Nailah Blackman. Eventually, she even created various businesses stemming out of her ByCarlori parent brand.
In a candid Q&A, Gittens shared insights about her early passion for the fashion industry, her experiences on Mission Catwalk, the current status of her many self-started brands, and what lies ahead.
When did this passion for design begin?
My passion for design began at the tender age of five when I would sit in my room and redraw outfits on Betty and Veronica from the Archie Comics. When I attended Secondary School, I would design my own outfits and have my mother take me to a tailor to get them made. When I was graduating, everyone wanted to be a bank manager, doctor, lawyer and when I crossed the stage, they announced my dream was to be a fashion designer and the entire auditorium gasped. I will never forget it.
I was a bright and keen student, always fell in the top rankings of classes, so the teachers were shocked that my dream was to pursue a career path where opportunities in the field were non-existent. I even had my dad shocked. My parents pushed me to pursue a more stable career path and that’s where I eventually attained my degree in Marketing.
What was your experience like on Mission Catwalk in 2014? What did you learn, what opportunities did that provide and how did that further your passion for design?
While I was studying in Jamaica, I began making clothes for my close Jamaican friend Yanique and an amazing Jamaican singer named Denyque. I slid in her Facebook messages and without even knowing me, she rode so hard for me, before I even made it on to Mission Catwalk. While I was finishing up school, the show came onto my radar, but it took me three3 years before I decided to apply for Season 4. It was one of the best experiences I ever had and it really drove me to take my designing seriously. I met so many amazing talents and was able to prosper in an environment where people shared similar interests.
There literally is nothing better than being surrounded by people who have the same passion and drive as you. It helps you improve and it promotes growth. I was Season 4 fan favorite for 90% of the episodes and that felt good to have people see my talent and appreciate it. I was later reinvited for Season 5 All Stars. The show opened up avenues for me, leading to Campari booking me to design a Monday- wear costume for Shenseea. That was so dope! My participation in the show validated me as a “fashion designer.”
It looks like you have a few different brands — ByCarlori, PRAUM, Killuh Pieces for clothing as well as DEZZIE Treats and SwearTaGawd Teddy. How are each of them unique?
ByCarlori is the original brand, but as I grew and my aesthetic became more versatile, the aesthetic took many moods. I wasn’t so comfortable having so many aesthetics under one brand. I am naturally creative and I always have ideas, even ideas unrelated to fashion, so I decided to separate the brands. ByCarlori became the official parent to PRAUM, a bespoke semi formal and formal wear brand, and Killuh Pieces, which represents casual dope looks and will be my first retail brand.
Then, there were two covid-born babies, SwearTaGawd, a brand creating keepsakes for adults and the first release was a teddy bear, and Dezzie Treats, an ice cream brand which was an idea I had since 2012 and only decided in 2021 to launch. It was so out of the box for me! I’m currently working on re-launching both SwearTaGawd and Dezzie Treats for 2024. I have some other brands in the pipeline, but for now I’m working on building the existing ones.
How do you work elements of your culture into your designs in terms of prints, material, embellishments, etc.
When I first started, I didn’t really put much of my culture in my designs, but I felt like I needed to when I decided to officially re-launch Killuh Pieces as a ready-to-wear brand. For me, I needed to find the balance of creating international worthy designs which represented Caribbean culture.
My first print, I had the idea to have a print of the transport and city culture in Barbados, and I licensed Amy St. Hill to take the idea in my head and put it on paper. That’s how my “Bridgetown” print came around. My second print I wanted to dedicate to Jamaica as I think it played a major and crucial role to my design career. It actually became a second home to me, and their dancehall culture is universal, so I felt like I needed to represent that in my next print, which I call “Hard Seed.”
What have been some of your favorite projects so far?
Definitely working on my handbag and footwear line for Killuh Pieces. That trumps everything because it’s the most challenging, uncharted waters I’ve ever been in — and I love a challenge. I’m not afraid to fail, but I’m hopeful of it being a success first. I’m working towards launching my first official complete collection called “Never Been Caught,” and there will be clothing too.
As the head of five different brands, is there any valuable advice you can give to our readers, especially young women, who are interested in pursuing entrepreneurship?
NEVER GIVE UP!!!! Do not be afraid to fail — it teaches you. Surround yourself with like minded individuals and always compete with yourself and no one else. There’s a solution to everything, so find it, dream big and never give up!