You may know Leah Marville as a former Miss Barbados World, a model, a TV host or a lawyer. But did you know about the innovative fashion business venture she is pursuing? Leah recently sat down with InMyWardrobe to discuss The Trop Shop. At first glance, Trop Shop is an e-commerce platform for regional fashion designers and those who want to buy their work but as Leah who is CEO makes clear, it is part of a larger movement aimed at taking Caribbean fashion to the world.
It was officially launched on November 13, 2017 after being in beta testing for about a year.
“The Trop Shop is a fashion movement which is broken down into two major pillars. It’s designed to be a platform for designers and fashion retailers to reach the wider world market through e-commerce, so being able to accept credit card payments, being able to ship their items anywhere in the world. That’s one pillar. Then the second pillar would be creating one online space where you can find the best of Caribbean fashion, for shoppers”.
Leah’s inspiration was two-fold. Trop Shop’s head of marketing Nakita Haynes revealed one push factor.
“She’s been involved in fashion for over 16 years and she would wear a lot of pieces from different Caribbean designers. A lot of people would be asking her ‘where did you get the piece’ and then it would escalate to ‘how can I get the piece’ and then she’d be stuck. There’s no platform where the customer can go and access the product from the designer and also pay for it. So, she saw that there was a need and a niche.”
Secondly, Leah is involved with Fashion Focus, a Trinidad and Tobago-based fashion organisation aimed at bridging the gaps in the regional fashion industry.
“We came to realise that designers are not cultured to sell online. Yes, they have Instagram pages but they aren’t fully prepared to sell online. As we delved further into that we realized that to be able to have a merchant account and create a website to accept credit card payments is an onerous process throughout the entire region. In some countries you can’t even get the information on it,” she explains.
Of course, we all know e-commerce is big business globally, especially as it relates to fashion. Leah didn’t want the Caribbean to be left behind.
“There is no better time to do it than now and there’s no better person because being in fashion for sixteen years, I’ve been in the industry intimately and I can’t see where or who would do it. And then why sit back and wait for somebody else to do it rather than do it yourself?”
At the time of our interview, the work of six designers was available on the Trop Shop including Jin Forde Sweat, Seafrina, Sanianitos, Tropix and Nwannia. Several more were scheduled to come on stream by March and the aim is to also include designers from the French and Spanish-speaking Caribbean.
If you’ve ever shipped anything in the region, you know that freight costs and duties can be difficult to manage. Fortunately, the Trop Shop is always working to keep costs as low as possible for both shoppers and designers through Barbadian company RDL Eagle Trade. Currently the Trop Shop subsidizes shipping costs for shoppers while RDL Eagle educates designers about handling duties.
Education is going to be a bigger part of the Trop Shop if the team has its way.
“We want to become a global e-commerce website like a Fashion Nova but beyond that we want to be a source of education. We have this thing in our camp where we talk about the Trop Shop University where essentially, we want this to be a space where you can come as a designer and as a business owner in fashion and seek direction, actual informed direction from production to shipping to logistics to materials and finance.
So far, the response to The Trop Shop has been good. Leah says a lot of sales come from the diaspora while those in Caribbean take a little longer to purchase. Designers are reaching out weekly and the Trop Shop team is vetting them in an effort to bring them to market.
The Trop Shop will carry everything fashion including accessories and clothing and there are plans to expand into lifestyle products. Fashion entrepreneurs who import Caribbean-made items can also have their store hosted on the site.
Leah wants all those interested in pushing Caribbean fashion to get on board.
“This was barren land so it means that here is a lot of watering that needs to happen, a lot of seed planting. We really do need all hands on deck. In the fashion industry in the past we have been trying to get places individually and it has not worked which is why we don’t have an industry. As small as we are we need to do things collectively.
Trop shop is a movement and we’re calling all fashion enthusiasts, fashion designers, fashion shoppers to join the movement to help take the Caribbean to the rest of the world.”
“You make your interest known to us and then we start an engagement process. We look at where you’re at as a designer, what your designs are like, what the quality is like. We have to ensure what we put out to the customer is of international standard. We would look at where you are professionally and your ability to supply demand. We know this is a challenge so it is flexible where that is concerned but we just generally engage you with where you’re at and where you want to go.”