Team OAJ caught up with journalist-turned-entrepreneur Debra Edwards (DE) to talk about brand DAE, among other things.
For some time you were best known as a journalist. Have you always been a designer, as well? What was the transition from journalist to designer like?
DE: I consider myself a creative. So, no matter the medium, I’m passionate about creating.
I, actually, have been designing dresses since I was in high school. My mum made my 5th-form ball gown, that I designed, and [she] will, also, tell you that, much to her chagrin, I would create murals on her walls as a little kid… [I] just have always been creative.
While I’ve always been interested in putting my emotions and feelings on paper, journalism actually came about because I was encouraged to get a diploma, as “dressmaking” wasn’t considered as the best way to make a living, at the time. So, I ended up getting a degree from St John’s University, in Mass Communications, and on [my] return to Jamaica, got into journalism.
I still love journalism as much as I do fashion design, and I believe I can do both… so, I’m gonna put it out into the universe that I will be writing more, again, in the near future.
Your foray into fashion involves sustainable, ethically-handmade DAE-branded footwear. What are the parameters for creating such a sandals?
DE: What makes our sandals sustainable is we take the environment into consideration, as we use mostly repurposed and recycled materials when making them and, also, pay attention to the social and economic effects that the company has on the society.
I, honestly, wish ethical didn’t have to be a word that we have to use, but it has to… because the truth is that, from a worldwide fashion perspective, many talented artisans are underpaid and overworked. At DAE, we want to ensure that we pay our artisans fair wages and that they are treated well.
Where and how do you source your materials for DAE?
DE: We mainly source locally and, just before Covid hit, had started testing out tanning our own skins, that we got from local farmers. However, the pandemic has slowed this project down.
Where is DAE’s current market, and are there plans to expand?
DE: We do have both local and international ‘DAE BAEs’ for which we are grateful… the plan is to continue to grow in both markets.
Who is DAE’s target market?
DE: At the moment, women of all ages, who love fashion are interested in a more sustainable lifestyle.
Do you come up with all your designs?
DE: Yes, for the most part, I have thus far, but I am trying to build an incredible team that works under the brand. If someone comes up with an incredible design that the market will like, I am all for putting it out there.
What informs a DAE design?
DE: DAE is a brand with depth, so many things go into the design process. I could be inspired by anything, but, so far, it has been family, friends and travels.
What has been your proudest DAE moment?
DE: I really appreciated the Distinguished Woman award in fashion from The Gleaner’s Flair magazine, but I think it’s a video we shot of our head cobbler Django that is my proudest moment… he gave his candid and truthful opinion of me and working with DAE. I have to admit the things he said touched me, and let me know that I’m on the right track.
Even though we are a fashion company at our core, we play a role in giving back to the community and giving chances to those who are extremely talented but just haven’t necessarily had the opportunities.
What’s next for DAE and, also, Debra?
DE: I can’t tell you [that] I have it all planned out. Being back in Jamaica wasn’t a plan I had in mind three years ago, but after my dad passed, I came home for the funeral and never left.
What I can tell you, however, is whatever I do will continue to be purpose-driven and make me happy.