I moved to Jamaica in the pandemic and found my way

Marleisse Stephens
Marleisse Stephens

March 7, 2022

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Like many, I was laid off from my job in the midst of COVID-19 and was thrust into entrepreneurship after a decade in corporate America. This new reality afforded me the time and opportunity to rethink my existence and find ways to harness happiness, so I moved to Jamaica full-time in 2020.

My parents left Jamaica as teenagers and migrated to Canada. I was born in Toronto. They took me on trips to Jamaica throughout my childhood, but I developed a deeper relationship with Jamaica as an adult. There was a specific trip that really imprinted on my soul, and I realised so much I did not know that I was missing — mentally and spiritually. While many of us venture abroad for new opportunities and economic resources, we are engulfed in a very anti-black society that doesn’t truly appreciate the nuances of who we are as black people, let alone Jamaicans. I feel like so many of us millennial, first-generation kids have harnessed our parent’s dreams for us: access to education, job diversity, etc, but have subsequently been forced to adopt the plight of being black in America (and we know all too well what that comes with).

Many of our parents ventured abroad with no return plan. Technology has allowed us to work and create in innovative ways. I want to be an example of someone who capitalised on the value of migration and brought it back to Jamaica. As a creative director and brand strategist, my creative thumbprint is fuelled by wanderlust. My work has taken me all over the globe, from Sweden, London, Lisbon, Toronto, Paris, Morocco, Mexico City, and more — but there’s no place quite like Jamaica.

I have always loved to travel, and exploring Jamaica as a newly repatriated citizen has been so fulfilling. I feel like I am able to give so much more to my clients simply by immersing myself in the community and culture in which my lineage originates. One of my biggest missions is to motivate job diversity in Jamaica’s creative and entertainment industry by connecting local graphic designers, photographers, and creatives to global brands.

I developed my private community, The Working Remotely (TWR), in 2018, which is a group of thought-leaders and professionals composed of culture changers in media, brand, and tech. TWR provides a private digital forum where members openly exchange expert advice, career opportunities and build community. This community keeps me tapped into global conversation regardless of my location.

It’s been about 19 months since I moved to Jamaica full-time, and it’s probably been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. Outside of Jamaica, Kingston still has a skewed perception that is sustained in media and movie portrayals. The thing I aim to emphasise most to my friends abroad is that Kingston is a Mecca of entrepreneurship, innovation, and business that can be enjoyed safely and productively. Ironically, the COVID-19 restrictions have forced me to build my new network more intentionally, outside of the beloved party/entertainment scene that we cherish.

Marleisse’s Picks

Below are a few of my favourite places to work, dine and live.

WORKING REMOTELY

As an entrepreneur, I work from home most of the time. However, I feel most productive when I am around others. When I moved to Kingston, I really wanted to create a schedule for myself and remain super structured outside of the traditional corporate American culture.

Raggamuffin Coffee Bar: I always meet a new person when working at Raggamuffin Coffee Bar. What I love most is their partnership with social enterprise, Deaf Can, which exists to engage, equip and empower deaf youth to believe in their abilities, dream big and thrive.

Cellar 8: They have an amazing menu that can be enjoyed from day to night. Their staff is super friendly and hospitable, and it’s such a great place to quietly work and munch uninterrupted.

GOOD FOOD ON THE GO

We all know how much of a struggle it is to work from home and feed yourself. I literally start working on a project, and seven hours later, I’ve barely eaten anything. My favourite place to pick up a quick and good lunch is Lorna’s on Mountain View, and the Your Way Smoothie shop in front of Azan’s parking lot in Cross Roads.

DESIGN AND DÉCOR

Jamaica Antique Market: I found the Jamaica Antique Fair on Facebook in my pursuit to secure some unique glassware and décor for my new apartment. Kim Kong and Wayne Nasralla have been in the business of collecting Jamaican antiques for over 20 years. They host a yearly antique fair that has been defunct for the past two years due to COVID. When I connected with them, they invited me to privately view their collection on their property in Barbican, and I got so much more than I had anticipated. Jamaica Antique Market has not only been a great source in procuring gems for my apartment, but has been a great space to product source for client projects.

IN PHOTO: Marleisse Stephens at Jamaica Antique Fair where she procures gems for her apartment and client projects. PHOTOS BY DESTINEE CONDISON

BEAUTY AND WELLNESS


Le Champ Cosmetics: This place is a completely vegan beauty company made naturally for ‘us’. I found out about Le Champ after being connected to the founder, Shanique Ellington, by a mutual friend. I love Le Champ because of its diversity in shades and product types. I am the type to go as minimal as possible with my make-up because my skin is extremely oily. LeChamp’s mattifying setting powder is my go-to everyday staple while running around the city.

Earth Elements: When I stumbled upon Earth Elements, I felt like I struck gold. Jamaica is so rich with natural resources that soothe and heal us from the inside out. They have managed to package the richest herbs and fruits found in Jamaica into functional skincare products. I literally recommend anything from them, but their body butters are my absolute favourite. If you’re like me and love to layer scents, their body butters serve as a great base scent, while providing natural moisture and shine.

SHOPPING

Mac’s Couture: This shop is located in Havendale, and while I haven’t found a favourite boutique (as yet), I have had a lot of fun buying fabric and working with local seamstresses to create looks. This has been so therapeutic for me and an added creative outlet. Everyone knows that Jamaican seamstresses are the best and baddest on Earth. Mac’s Couture, also known as ‘Auntie Mary’ hands are anointed.

Have a column you want to share with Flair? Email lifestyle@gleanerjm.com.

Marleisse Stephens

Author

Marleisse Stephens

Marleisse Stephens is a creative director and brand strategist who has carved a niche for herself in the world of brand marketing and entertainment. Over the past decade, she has led the impact at global entertainment brands like Universal Music Group, Spotify, and Netflix.

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