Food and fashion 'town style

Barbara Gloudon

Friday, October 20, 2017

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It has been far too long since I went to downtown Kingston to see “whatta gwaan” on Orange Street, Princess Street, and Spanish Town Road, where Coronation Market, alias “Corrie”, ruled over everything when it came to buying and selling fresh produce. From out of town parishes tended the produce grown in the fields and, when harvested, made its way to “Corrie” to feed the citizens of Kingston. When it does, the rich harvest overflows on to the sidewalks, where it is displayed and the prices are competitive.

The tide of buyers streams across the area and, when it gets too much, it finds its way into the street, laying on the police the need to push it back so that pedestrians and motor vehicles can get past. This ritual will be at its peak from now to Christmas which, by the way, is not too far away. Have you noticed how quickly the calendar pages are being turned?

Sidewalk traffic for “buying and selling” deserves study. Many persons spend time putting down people like the sidewalk vendors who are seen, for the most part, as annoyances when the rest of us want to move around. Meanwhile, every day now we are bombarded with elaborate discussions about trading and the economy. We hear all kinds of visions about what, as a nation, we have to do to get the prosperity which continues to evade us.

What has happened to industries here in which our people once excelled? For instance, there was a time to remember when there was a thriving shoe industry here. The factory of the time made elegant shoes, which could go up against the best imported ones. Do we ever look back to determine why it was that way, then instead of going forward, our gears of this age seem stuck in the regular question of what used to be?

The other afternoon, on my downtown tour, there was much to think about. How much of the stock of attractive clothing was imported? How much is local? Imagine what it would be if attractive designs of our own making were to come back again? Instead of striving hard to find the dollars to hand over to those abroad, bringing prosperity to other people, instead of ourselves, why can't we take another look at who we are and where we should be going? We still have creative people who are making their own mark of success. Surely their efforts show how we can go forward, instead of just talk, and talk and more talk.

Does anybody remember the quality dressmakers of whom we were so proud in times past? For example, how many brides-to-be could hardly wait to make their grand appearance in the beautiful garments created by local stylists whose incredible masterpieces were available to them? Also, what about the “bespoke tailors”, well-trained experts who styled men's suits with such elegance that their skills drew attention from overseas? What has become of those artists and the successful establishments which also provided employment for others in their profession?

My visit downtown was a well-needed reminder of what used to be when it came to industry. How much we used to do for ourselves, and not have to travel to the far corners of the globe, from the USA to China for instance, to put our hard-earned money into their pockets when we could have created for ourselves. I know we are looking for the “cheapest choice”, but is it “cheaper” in the long run when we fail ourselves in areas of manufacturing?

Interestingly, the other afternoon, as we cruised along Orange Street, stores were exhibiting mannequins in appearance alien to our heritage. Why can't we make model figures for ourselves? We have many craftsmen who could create some interesting figures exhibiting our heritage, reflecting who we are. Have we lost our confidence in who is a Jamaican?

From fashion-watching in one area, we headed over to another — the adjacent King Street, once the centre of style in Kingston, but times have changed. It is amazing, however, that King Street still survives, not with the elegance of the past, but there still. The current mayor of the Kingston has announced that he has plans to restore King Street. It will be interesting to see how and when and what will come forth.

As I reflect on fashion and fresh vegetables downtown, I am curious, are the sidewalk hairdressing salons still in operation? Washing, weaving and keeping an eye on the world around and, at the same time, on the food-kind coming in from the country.

Bata nostalgia

Who remembers Bata shoes, which used to be worn by schoolchildren and adults? The brand was well known many years ago. Latest news is that the Bata Shoe Company, from Switzerland, is planning to revive itself in this hemisphere. It has been operating in several places, particularly in Africa and Pacific Asia. If Bata were to return it would be interesting to watch their merchandising strategy. Somebody should tell them that today's Jamaican customer goes for style and more style.

Another time, we will have to engage in discussion of the news that, in order to get attention in the dancehall, today's Jamaican women do not hesitate to change their body shapes with the most peculiar ways of making things smaller, bigger, flatter, or rounder. As the people would say, “Yuh think we easy, nuh?” This is Jamaica!

Barbara Gloudon is a journalist, playwright and commentator. Send comments to the Observer or gloudonb@yahoo.com.

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