By Tangerine Clarke
After residing in the United States of America for 40 years, Guyanese-born fashion designer and painter, Gem Fraser, has returned to her roots determined to train single mothers to become business owners.
During an exclusive interview at her South Road and Albert Street studio in Georgetown, Fraser of Gem Fraser Designs, who once lived in Brooklyn, and re-migrated three years ago, will begin building her retirement home complete with a training center, in the rural village of Mocah Arcadia, where she was a teacher before migrating.
“I couldn’t see myself getting older in America, and as time came for me to retire, I made the decision to return home,” said the artistic businesswoman, whose stunning varicolored caftans over the years, lit up runways at fashion shows in New York.
The eldest of seven children, Fraser remembers too well, how she was encouraged to sew and draw, by her late mother and grandmother, talented creative individuals.
“Because I was the first girl, my mother motivated me to learn anything, so that I could teach my younger siblings, but this never happened, so I ended up with all of this knowledge that I want to share with others,” said Fraser
A former student of Guyana’s prestigious Bishops High School where she honed her skills, Fraser, no doubt is naturally talented. According to her, she goes to bed with an idea, and gets up the next day with an innovative project, whether a fashion creation, an interior design concept, home craft idea, floral arrangement design, or an impression painting.
She has built a reputation as a respected designer, whose collections are vast, stunning, and one-of-a kind, as showcased in her workspace.
She uses African cloth to fashion head wraps, throw pillows, and as etching for creations. Her most recent work of art is a plant pot from a Styrofoam doll head that showcases artificial flowers. This new creation was added to her collection for the 2020 Christmas season.
She is happy that her home space is working out very well at this time of the coronavirus pandemic. When she first returned home, she had chosen a storefront in Georgetown that ultimately was not the ideal place for her studio. As such, this move also helped her to meet safety protocols, in keeping with the ongoing pandemic.
Now that she is in a more comfortable environment, she finds her creative juices are flowing much easier. She plans to start out the New Year by utilizing sexy fabrics, such as silk, which she acquired in the U.S., to unveil a 2021 collection of negligees.
And since her inspiration comes from fabric, Fraser has brilliant ideas for sequin, taffeta, and other exotic textile, to turn out stunning pieces.
“I love fabric. I like the feel and texture and the way it looks. It talks to me,” conveys the couturier who is fascinated with fabric.
But despite all the exciting ideas swirling around in her head, the artisan who is passionate about sharing her creativity, is cautions because as she puts it, “Everybody wants something. Why can’t you be my friend, without wanting something from me just because of my creativity.” She noted that she was learning the hard way after living abroad for a long time.
Fraser is also daunted by mediocrity. “I can’t settle for mediocre stuff. I find it hard not seeing the Guyana I grew up in, for the better,” she added.
“It’s heartbreaking to see people settle for less, when with a little more effort you could get much more, for the same price.”
The designer is hopeful that despite complaints from other artisans who are frustrated due to the lack of materials to work with, and ways to market their products, that she can find ways to overcome obstacles and carry out her mission.
She wants to make a difference. Her focus is to enhance the lives of those who would like a career in business. Her course of training would include, cake decorating, arts and craft, tie-dye design, and dressmaking, all being taught in a modern setting.
Fraser is committed to passing on her knowledge to build a creative community.