Fashion brand, Willique has been pioneering in sustainable fashion in the TCI for nearly two years. Although the business was once UK based, Willique now calls the Turks and Caicos Islands home.
Anya Pratt, the woman behind the brand, hails from both Providenciales and Grand Turk. After 7 years abroad in the UK, she returned home and has now created a new collection that is not only inspired by the Turks and Caicos but is produced right here in the country.
We spoke with Anya to get more insight into her background in fashion, her experiences, her hopes for the future of Willique and more.
Q. How did you get into fashion?
So actually, it started here [in the TCI], a few of my friends were into fashion. A circle of that used to take part in Courtney Robinson’s shows – that piqued my interest.
Then I went off to school and I started with Under Fifty Fashion bags and I just got more into it. A few of my friends were stylists at the time, so I would go to the shows and when I finished university, my dad was like “why don’t you just make your own stuff?” So, I told him “well, I could try.”
That’s how it all got started, from being around my friends in that atmosphere.
Q. What does your creative process look like?
It starts off, like if I want to start a new collection, sometimes it’s based off my environment or if I’m interested in something. Last time it was the Caribbean and my heritage, and I incorporated that on the bags. I also did a kind of homage to straw where I used the leather and manipulated it to look like straw.
So, it starts with that, and from there I start doing research and looking at materials, then start putting the collection together, practicing. Then I select the materials and cut the patterns, cut the leather, creating the sample bags. Then it goes into “how would you style this?”, “how would you wear this?” and it goes into a marketing side of it.
Q. Who, or what, inspires your work?
When I was living in London, I just would people watch and I would just sit there and look, because that’s a great way to pick up trends. We don’t consciously realise we do it, but we buy things that others have and people watching is a good way to forecast and see what may be trending.
Most recently, since I’ve been home, I think what I have been looking into recently was the salt industry and how they used the bags for that. They used it for everything: clothing, for carrying stuff; and I was just like “oh, okay,” and that really made me interested. So, it’s a little bit of history inspired. I wouldn’t say much like on the celebrity side, but I do kind of admire women that have their handbag as a centrepiece, because it tells a story.
Q. How has TCI influenced your work?
This new collection that I did recently, I didn’t realise that most of my influence – like I use a lot of heavier colours a lot of browns and blacks and heavier leathers – now, everything is basically based around the water. I use more blues, lighter colours, a lot more sustainable materials and I just love it. I also looked around and kind of say “what type of bag would I need here?” [TCI] has kind of given me a different perspective in how I create now.
Q. I know that for Willique, sustainable materials are regularly used. What made you decide to use sustainable materials?
Because none of my vegan friends would come to my fashion shows. They would boycott me! I would have these shows in London, and I’d say, “I didn’t see you,” “oh you used leather,” and they wouldn’t show up. And my friend said, “maybe consider using different materials that are vegan or sustainable and doesn’t have a negative impact on the environment.” This was maybe a year into it, and I started to do my research and that’s when I found out about Piñatex and I worked with them. Then I started working with this new cactus leather.
I also learned how fashion has one of the heaviest impacts on the environment and I decided that I wanted to be a change in the industry. So, that’s why I push that so much.
Q. What moment in your career, thus far, stands out the most?
It was my first ever Fashion Week. I remember this lady had stopped me on the street and she was like “oh my God, I love your bag. You should do Fashion Week!” and I was like “yea, whatever,” like “haha.” And then she was like “this is my contact, if you ever consider it, do it.”
And I remember standing there, I had my table, I had my stuff on display and I was like “OH MY GOSH, I’m here. Like I dreamt about being here!”
Q. You’ve already been outside of the TCI with Willique, so how does it feel to bring the brand back home?
That feels amazing actually. You know, because everybody was telling me that I’d be making a mistake coming home, but I love it. To me, it’s like, “what’s better than being home?” I love the warm reception I’m getting with the brand and just working in this environment – I love it.
Q. Anything you wish you would’ve done differently in your career?
Yes, I would’ve followed my dream more. I would have pursued it earlier instead of saying “no, I’m gonna go and do this degree” cause now I’m realising that you have to love what you do. I think that would have been something I’d do differently in my career and just dive deeper and have less fear.
Q. Where do you see Willique going in the next five years?
I think, in the next five years, ‘cause I’m actually working on getting the shop soon. You know, I started first with the workshop, and in five years I want to see more growth, building a team, probably have a more diverse brand. I want to diversify the brand a bit, maybe getting a little more into the clothing side of it.
Basically, I think the next five years will be about development. Product development, growth and just longevity. I want it to be a heritage brand, so just trying to make the brand have a legacy.
Q. As it is Women’s History Month, what would you hope that a young lady would learn from you and your experiences with Willique?
It would have to be that they should take the leap, have no fear and be inspired to follow their own path. Within the idea of fear, we might not know something, but it can be easy to learn. Don’t be afraid to keep learning and developing yourself. Also, tap into who you truly see yourself as, because sometimes, we’re afraid to do things because of what other people might say or what they think. Look at my journey as an example for it being okay to do the unconventional thing. ‘Cause if you knew me about ten years ago, you wouldn’t have thought that I’d get into the field but if you think it, you can do it.