Rhea Gayle honours sewing legacy of matriarchs

Krysta Anderson
Krysta Anderson

April 12, 2022

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THE DISTINGUISHED — FASHION

In the midst of despair, Rhea Gayle found fashion and has been honing her unique sewing skills ever since, garnering what she could from her talented mother and grandmother. Today, her Rhea Imani designs are known in all the right circles.

“I dress the everyday woman. I dress the woman I used to be, the woman I am now, and the woman I aspire to be. Rhea Imani is for the evolving woman,” she told Flair, adding that she designs to suit her needs, as well as those of other powerful women, women who are unapologetic about who they are. “As women, we are expected to be so many different things. There are so many rules on what we are supposed to be, and I feel like we should be living by our own rules,” she said.

For her, fashion is the purest form of self-expression. Who she is, how she feels, and how she chooses to show up in the world are all distinct characteristics that define her daily life. “I’ve always been a creative person. I’ve always been into art and design of all sorts. At one point, I was even a jewellery designer,” Gayle said.

The designer never truly tapped into her talent as a modiste until 2014, when she left the University of Technology during her third year.

“I started finding a creative outlet, and fashion was it for me. Fashion was my release, how I coped with everything that was going on in my life at that point, and out of that Rhea Imani was born,” she shared. The label emerged out of a desire to create that represented her at her very core. Going by the full name Rhea Imani Gayle, she dedicated the first half of her name to her brainchild.

Transitioning from an old-fashioned tabletop sewing machine making magic on her back veranda, the entrepreneur opened her first showroom in January 2018 in Negril, and her second in October 2018 in Kingston, before moving to her new location in Negril in February of last year. Her sizes range from extra small to extra large, and customisation comes it play beyond that.
With no formal training, this fashion designer satisfies her craving to create by feeding into the process. Whether it is bridal or resort wear, the pieces produced are breathtaking. “I didn’t want to play by the rules. I still have a hard time playing by the rules of ‘fashion’,” she admitted.

Over time, the vision developed from making wardrobe essentials for herself to sharing her innovative gift of luxurious apparel with other women. The skill came naturally to her, and her designs were usually the result of daydreaming or those had via slumber.

“I’ll be walking somewhere randomly and I will see the pattern of a leaf, or, like my last collection, it was a braid,” she revealed, reflecting on the symbolism of the braid to our African heritage and dedicating an entire collection to that enchanting artwork presented on a canvas of ready-to-wear pieces.

It was no walk in the park trying to make a name for herself. When she wasn’t garnering information on her own, she was putting in the work. She is only following in the footsteps of the strong and talented women in her family who have dedicated decades to sewing.

“My mother has been sewing for over 40 years. They were never recognised as creatives. They were just seen as a ‘likkle seamstress round di road’. The truth is, they didn’t have the resources. It was so hard to shatter that ceiling,” she said.
Today, Gayle pays homage to the timeless traditions of her phenomenal matriarchs. She is ecstatic to be carrying on their rich legacy. “I feel blessed to be in a position where I have their strength behind me. Because they walked, I can now run; and I want to run for them.”

Empowered by this female force and stylistic expression, she takes a strong, bold yet comfortable approach to design. This has paid off in the eyes of her customers, who are head over heels in love with a Rhea Imani original.
Not one to go fangirl on trends, the trendsetter feels that it is instead important to know your personal style, navigate the options, and own your design destination of choice, strutting into the world and taking up the space you so rightfully deserve.
She hopes to one day use her platform to shine a light on the many creative and innovative persons in her community.

krysta.anderson@gleanerjm.com

Krysta Anderson

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Krysta Anderson

Tackles sex and relationships with honesty and openness. For months, she took readers on a journey of self-exploration with personal dating column 'Single but Iffy to Mingle'. Now she's ready for an even bigger adventure.

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