Fri | Dec 9, 2016

‘Sewing’ the seeds of creativity

Published:Saturday | March 14, 2015 | 11:01 PMShelly-Ann Thompson
A Solomon Steele creation.

In Franklin Town, an inner-city community marred by hardships and unemployment, is a booming arts-based organisation - Solomon Enterprise. The minute you enter through the metal doors of this establishment, it feels like you're in another world. Colourful fabrics brighten the room while the ears are captured by the sounds of sewing machines.

This by no means reflects the chaos that surrounds the building.

Solomon Enterprise is stitching and painting a new image of Franklin Town. It's owned by one of the creative industry's wisest fellows, Solomon Steele. Originally from Trelawny, Steele as a child learnt several aspects of the visual arts from family members. His parents - an aunt and an uncle - who used the arts to put food on the table. The artistic family instilled in him the techniques of sign painting and fashion designing. By age 15 he was assisting his aunt to cut and sew as she made outfits for customers.

Years later, the skills he learnt supported the family, and today, he is a sought-after screen printer and bag maker. He does screen printing on T-shirts and on diaries and books.

 

clients

 

Steele told Arts & Education that Maggi, Magnum and J. Wray & Nephew are some of the clients he works with.

On the day of this interview, staff members were busy printing the image and words of Gully Bop on to dozens of T-shirts.

"I'm always behind the scenes. That's why most of the time people don't hear about me," says Steele.

In the field of sewing, he designs, he cuts and he stitches. On a regular basis he's making bags of all designs, such as sling backs, laptop cases, totes, string bags and shopping bags. Bags made from materials including jeans, twill, corduroy, leather, leatherette and eco-friendly fabric.

"A lot of bags out in the market area were created by me. But most people don't know," he smiles. He claims to be one of the first designers to market the elastic string bag, done years ago under his label Tuff Chat.

In screen printing, Solomon Enterprise offers a wide array of services. He can process and print up to eight-colour spot print. Steele can also provide the artwork that is needed to be printed on to the object. Screen printing is done with manual spot colour print machines.

 

struggling to stay afloat

 

"Want to improve to automatic maybe in the next two years or so, but funding is crucial, as those machines are not cheap."

Like many businesses, Steele is struggling to stay afloat in the troubling economy. He has had to move his production house from Heroes' Circle to Franklin Town. Staff downsizing was also a tough decision he had to make. Current staff members include immediate family members, his common-law wife and daughter, and one person from Franklin Town.

The community has welcomed the wise man and his enterprise with energy and support for the artistic awareness being unleashed.

"People appreciate me and dem work with me. They like to see that a business in their community. They talk about it all the time," he says.

 

share his skills

 

Steele intends to share his skills with the community. He wants to stage a workshop in the community to train persons in the artistry of screen printing and bag making. He is no apprentice to training. He has worked with government institutions, teaching women and young people how to sew.

But for Steele to fulfil his dream to train the youth, he must first garner more sewing machines. That would create a pool of extra machines, and in his spare time he could conduct training sessions and not disrupt the production flow. "When these persons can manage, then I could move them over into the work area."

He is pushing to achieve his dreams. Steele is not only a surname, it is a word for him to be weak but to harness the strength to triumph hardships and stand still during financial difficulties.

"My aim is to be the number one in Jamaica. When you say printing, I want people to think Solomon Enterprise."