Words by Debra Edwards—
It may be a product of the “Third World” but Mission Catwalk , the popular Jamaican television fashion reality series, cannot be classified as a third rate production. Each week viewers tune in to behold the creative designs, watch the entertaining personalities, and see who will inevitably get the axe. With season two in full gear we caught up with executive producer and host Keneea Linton-George, a well-regarded fashion designer in her own right, for a candid chat.
Large Up: Ideas are a dime a dozen, but how an idea is executed is what is key. How were you able to follow through and finally bring what we have come to know as Mission Catwalk, and what tribulations did you face?
Keneea Linton-George: You are right, ideas are a dime a dozen. Reality television just kind of took over the airwaves, so the idea for this show came about years ago. To be exact, 2004. At the time I did not have much experience in television production so I tried to find someone to pitch the idea to. Everybody kept telling me I needed to do a pilot and how much money it would cost. I didn’t have the money for it so I put the idea on the shelf for quite some time. Then I moved to New York to try and break into the fashion industry and my business partner told me that she would be doing the show with someone else. It was tough for me to swallow, so I let the idea go with the mindset that it would not happen with me at the helm and I moved on to another project. Subconsciously I guess I didn’t really move on because it was always at the back of my mind. It was not until I was on my honeymoon in 2010 and at the Armani show in Milan that I decided right there and then that I was doing the show, and that our designers would finally get the international recognition they deserve.
LU: Before Mission Catwalk you were a full-fledged designer, having shown your collection at Caribbean Fashion Week. Did you always want to be a designer?
KGL: Honestly no. I never considered fashion design as a career at all. Certainly when I was growing up making clothes was a part of what I did and loved but I didn’t see it as a career, rather I just knew I loved fashion and wanted to be involved in it.
LU: Do you still find time to design and can we expect another line from you in the near future?
KLG: I still love designing and make a lot of things for myself and have been more focused on bridal wear, but currently I am not focusing on putting out another collection right now. When I am ready to put out a new collection I will be ready, but right now my concentration is on giving other talented designers the exposure they deserve.
LU: What is a typical day like for you?
KLG: Every day is different but right now I am dealing with a lot of post-production and promotions for the show. It’s fair to say I have my hand in everything because this is a small production company and I run it all. The Executive Producer title is not just a title for me; I am very hands on.
LU: There is an ongoing debate as to whether Jamaica can be overshadowed with regard to fashion design by other islands. What’s your take?
KLG: I am not bothered by it because everyone knows that Jamaicans are talented designers, but the fact is that other Caribbean islands have talented designers too, so with regard to Mission Catwalk whoever deserves to win will win.
LU: What was the rationale for switching gears for the second season to include contestants from all over the Caribbean?
KLG: Jamaica is the land of my birth and I love it, but it is small and when you travel you realize that the Caribbean is not just Jamaica, and that there are also talented designers in the other islands. We felt including talented individuals from other islands would provide a greater reach of the show and make it more relevant to the diaspora. We just can’t live in a box; this is a region of talented people and we wanted to showcase that.
LU: Thousands of young girls watch you on television every week. Would you consider yourself a role model?
KLG: I do get a lot of young girls coming up to me and asking for advice and guidance, and I embrace it. If you put yourself out there you know that things like this come with the territory, and honestly I am the type of person that believes in helping people in any way I can.
LU: You are a twin. What was it like growing up with a mirror image of you?
KLG: She and I had fun growing up. We had our own little twin tricks. She lives in London but we are very close and speak every day, and have an unbreakable bond. We had a very humble upbringing and when we both moved to London we made a pact that she would go to school first and I would work to help pay her tuition and when I came back and went to UWI she helped to pay mine.
LU: Who or what inspires you to do what you do?
KLG: A part of the reason that I wanted to have this show was that I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. I have seen how this show has changed the life of season one winner Shenna Carby, so making an impact in people’s lives is what inspires me to do what I do every day.
LU: In your estimation what signature element completes your look?
KLG: People say pencil skirts as I don’t really wear jeans. I probably own only one pair of jeans. But I would say dresses. I am always in a dress. Also people say I have a signature way to stand, with my right leg crossed over my left leg. It’s my comfortable stance.
LU: Where do you see yourself in five years?
KLG: I will not rest until we have a much more vibrant fashion scene in Jamaica and the Caribbean. Mission Catwalk is an avenue to bigger things. I believe designers in the Caribbean have the skill set but we need to focus on training. So we need to build that aspect of the industry to compete internationally in terms of quality and I would like to ensure this happens and have my own factory to facilitate this.