While most 22 year olds are busy planning their outfits for endless rounds of weekend parties, Alexis Campbell is staring at her overlock sewing machine, contemplating the finish of an outfit from the dozens of unfinished pieces that line every surface of her studio. The tiny workspace she shares with her father is thankfully cool and breezy, but sweat beads on her brow as she concentrates on the details. She is hard at work… perpetually at work. It is Tuesday, and that is just how it is, day and night, around Alexis.
Alexis fixing one of her creations worn by Shanelle Johnson
The former student of The St. Michael School, and graduate of Harrison College’s ‘A’ level program, was once on a course to become either an architect or an interior designer, and says that she fell into the world of fashion design by accident. “I studied ‘A’ Level Geometric and Mechanical Engineering, Maths, and Art at Harrison College; but by the end of my time there, I was still undecided as to which direction to take.”
It was that indecision that led Alexis to sign up for a course offered at the Barbados Community College in fashion design.
Swimwear that is designed for looking good, not getting wet.
“I was just killing time, really,” she admits, “and it took me a very long time to realise that fashion design was actually something that I was good at.” Recalling her life before fashion, Alexis says, “Just like any little girl, I used to make clothes for my dolls when I was bored, and as I got older I decided that I hated paying lots of money for the cheaply made clothes found in Bridgetown.” With her distaste for overpriced garments spurring her on, Alexis decided to make her own clothes. Her first attempts were less than stellar, and she recalls with amusement the black and white polka dot pants that were “shooting”, and suffered from a badly-cut inseam that impaired her movement.
“My dad saw me in those pants and took me home later, and showed my how to cut a pants pattern. I was 11.” She laughs as she recalls the “horrifying” effort, but admits that it was the constant support from her father Richard that kept her trying her hand at designing, over and over again.
Animal print romper with leather shoulder detail
The epiphany came for Alexis near the end of her second year at the Barbados Community College. “During that year, coming down to my last semester, I finally realised that I could make a business of fashion— and it didn’t seem like a job. I could sew, and still be an artist, and still make money.”
In 2009 she showed her first collection at BMEX, and still appears amused and stunned by the response. “It was menswear, and people were surprised that a little girl like me could do stuff like that. Many people didn’t really believe that I had done all the work myself.” But she had done all the work herself, having perfected her tailoring skills under the tutelage of her father.
Richard Campbell is a tailor with more than 30 years’ experience, and Alexis spent many years paying close attention to his pattern making skills. “BCC taught me how to cut patterns, and my father showed me how to perfect them. I watched him during my school years, and as soon as I was old enough I started helping in the workroom. I owe a lot of my success to my father.”
Of her future plans, the young designer is enthusiastic. “I would love to do Caribbean Fashion Week, and the Islands Of the World Fashion show in the Bahamas, because I want to show people what Barbados has to offer.”
Screenshot from Lifetime's Project Runway of Anya Ayoung-Chee with fashion guru Tim Gunn
She also spoke about the door that has been opened by Anya Ayoung-Chee, the Trinidadian designer who wowed the fashion world with her Caribbean charm and design skills on the American “reality” television show, Project Runway. “I would love to do Project Runway! I think that I could compete with the designers there. I know I could be great, and I know I’d do Barbados proud— if I ever got the opportunity.”
Alexis Campbell in one of her designs with jewellery by Keith Shepherd of Christian Friis Jewellery