When Kimon Baptiste received an invitation to attend an international entrepreneurs expo in India, she had initially believed it was a scam. If not for a follow-up call from a colleague ensuring her of the legitimacy of the event, she would have missed out on what she describes as a career-changing opportunity.
The event was the Business Beyond Borders International Conference & Expo hosted by the Madhya Pradesh Association of Women Entrepreneurs (MAWE). It is an international event designed exclusively for women entrepreneurs to showcase their products, network and gain information on how to market their business and capitalize on export opportunities. Six Caribbean delegates were invited to attend with Kimon being the only participant from St Vincent and the Grenadines.
For the award-winning designer, former Miss SVG and the founder of kimmysticclo, the knowledge and networking opportunities gained from the event made up for the logistical headache that came with securing the visa to travel to India.
“I think throughout the entire process, that was the most tedious part… there was a lot of back and forth and I actually didn’t get my visa approved until the Thursday before the Friday I was scheduled to travel.”
With her pieces, business cards and other marketing materials in tow, Kimon made the long trip to India for the event which was held in Jabalpur on September 25 and 26.
She said when it came to the selection of fashion pieces that she would display at the expo, she considered the modesty of traditional wear in India as well as the fact that there would be a range of cultures in attendance.
“For this particular trip I thought it was important to take more of my classic pieces. I took all linen items- pants, blouses, pieces that I know would appeal to any woman of any culture, any age, any demographic.”
Kimon was exposed to the work of women entrepreneurs from 14 countries, including Barbados, Dominica, Grenada and Jamaica. While having the opportunity to network and hear from experts in the field of business, Kimon said the high point of the expo, for her, was when her work was praised by one of the panelists at the conference – an international United Nations gender expert from Australia by the name of Meg Jones.
“She came across my booth and she asked me what’s the story behind your brand? I explained to her about my country, I told her about the resilience of our people and the fact that we went through a major volcanic eruption just a few years ago. She saw two pieces that she liked and she asked me if she could take them back to the hotel to try them on. To my surprise, the next day, she walked in, completely outfitted. She declared herself my brand ambassador for the remainder of the conference.”
Kimon said the encouragement she received quieted the burning questions of self-doubt that can come with being a creative and an entrepreneur.
“That moment did something for me … sometimes it’s those little gestures that mean the world. It encouraged me just to continue doing what I’m doing.”
Kimon said she also gained insight on how to make her brand more sustainable and environmentally friendly after a networking session with a designer who uses ‘scrap’ fabric to make new products.
“We are supposed to be taking care of our world and the fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters… the dyes we use and I thought to myself – this is something that I should be doing.”
Based on the interest shown in her brand, it looks as if India will be the next country added to the list of source markets for her brand which also includes Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua, St Lucia and Europe.
The Caribbean delegates participation in the conference and expo was made possible with support of the UN Trust Fund for Human Security through the UN Women Caribbean.