Graduate’s fashion show is inspired by her grandfather’s Windrush experience

BY LILY HESS toby@slpmedia.co.uk

A fashion student has presented her collection inspired by her grandfather and the Windrush generation at the Graduate Fashion Week.

Tihara Smith, 21, who lives in Elephant and Castle, would hear stories from her grandfather, who came to the UK from the Caribbean in the 1950s.

Her work draw from his story and from photographers who documented the black experience in this period.

She said: “He tells me stories about his experience of London when he first came here, like where he worked, how he and his friends socialised, and of course how cold it was in London.

“I think it’s important for young people who are second and third generation Windrush to listen to stories of those who are part of the Windrush generation as it allows us to understand the sacrifices that our parents/grandparents made so that we can have the opportunities that we do now.”

The University of the Creative Arts Epsom student focuses on the generation’s everyday objects, such as ornaments and souvenirs the immigrants would bring from their homes.

The collection she presented at the college’s Graduate Fashion Week on June 5 featured embroideries of Caribbean plants and included a handbag with the slogan “You Called, We Came” — to show that the Windrush generation were responding to a call for help in coming to the UK.

Ms Smith said: “I started this project in October 2017, quite a while before the ‘Windrush scandal’ was in the media, so it didn’t really affect my creative process.

“However, when the media started reporting on the scandal and I heard the terrible stories of people that belong to the Windrush generation, who had lived and worked in the UK for years being send back to the Caribbean, it made me want to push my work out there even more to show people all the positive, great things that the Windrush generation had brought to the UK.”

The Graduate Fashion Week is an event that displays work of student fashion designers at the Truman Brewery in Brick Lane, east London.

Ms Smith was nominated for the event’s David Band Textile Award and the YKK Accessories Award.

“I used real raffia as a fabric to make garments,” she said. “Raffia can be very delicate and can split easily, so I had to work out how to make the fabric sturdier while still keeping the qualities of the fabric, so that I could use it on the sewing machine.”

She also runs a blog called Tizz Tazz, where she gives tips for students looking to pursue a career in fashion.

Lazare Sylvestre, the inspiration behind his granddaughter Tihara Smith’s fashion work, was a member of the Windrush generation that was invited to the UK from the Caribbean after the Second World war to work when the UK faced labour shortages.

He was born in Vieux Fort in Saint Lucia in 1939 to a shoemaker and a seamstress, the youngest of five children. His brother had already immigrated to the UK, so Lazare followed him three months later in 1958.

He said: “I made the decision to come to the UK because lots of my friends had come before me.

“Although I had the choice of anywhere in the world, I opted for England.

“What I would experience in England was not a great surprise to me as I was very aware that I would be coming into the ‘fridge-zone’, so I knew it would be cold and nothing like the tropical zone that I was leaving.”

Lazare was 19 when he arrived, and he lived with his brother in Dulwich.

He started working three days after arriving as a packer for Boots the Chemist in Piccadilly.

As he had always been good with his hands, he soon took up work as a mechanic at Moon’s Garage which was in Windmill Street, Piccadilly.

After several years he got his own place in Camberwell, where he brought up his six children with Fay, his Jamaican wife.

As well as being a mechanic, Lazare was also an amateur boxer when he was young and was himself quite fashionable.

He said: “I just wanted to ‘fit in’, so I did away with my bright coloured clothes and replaced them with stylish suits, which my friend from home – nicknamed “tailor-man” – would make for me.

“I particularly liked Italian designs and to be on trend.” Today Lazare is retired, but spends his time helping the family and taking care of the children.

He has six grandchildren, and he goes to the Balham and Tooting Social Club.

He said: “I had mixed feelings about coming to England, as I knew I would miss family and friends, but once the decision was made I had no hesitation about settling and making England my home.”

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