Mon | Nov 18, 2019

Tailored for the road

Published:Sunday | February 3, 2019 | 12:24 AMStephanie Lyew/Gleaner Writer
Tia Johnson in one of her front line designs.
Xyleena also offers a monokini design.

The much-anticipated carnival road march is about 12 weeks away, and the calendar has become jam-packed with fetes that already have soca lovers feeling ‘sweet fuh days’. However, there are a few spirits that have been dampened as costumes options have become limited and time runs out to secure a piece from one of the four bands – Xaymaca, Xodus, Bacchanal and Rebellion. Some bands have already announced some of their sections are sold out!

With the warning shot being fired as the season heats up, are you ready for the road? That is the question US-born, Jamaica-raised designer, Tia Johnson, the brains behind Chamber Charlie Amber, is repeatedly asking socaphiles. The clothing brand which caters to both male and female, have been creating a buzz outside of the carnival season, but the emerging designer has decided to throw her hat into the ring for this year’s Carnival in Jamaica, with the debut of her costume – Xyleena.


The Greek word translates to ‘of the forest’. Johnson says she is independent of any bands or carnival affiliates in Jamaica. The option to provide this alternative has been an idea brewing since she designed pieces (unofficially) for Trinidad and Tobago’s carnival. The designs include a front line and back line, wire bra bikini and monokini.

“Both designs are equally sought after, though there still lingers the obstacle of fete-goers having reservations about trying the unfamiliar, but my band was created to not only give revellers a competitive alternative, but to add something unique and broaden the awareness of my brand,” Johnson explained.

Her timing coincides with the island’s environmentally conscious move to ban single-use plastic bags and straws. “Xyleena was inspired by the natural environment. I wanted it to stand for more than carnival, to acknowledge that the issue of global warming is real, and to take some accountability to Mother Earth. It is organic in my opinion, and it would be an even greater feeling feting in a costume that is environmentally conscious.”

The local carnival industry has grown exponentially, and with it, increasing potential for designers or creatives in general to capitalise on costume creation. Johnson says her clientele extends beyond the region, with clients in Europe and Central America placing orders. She notes that no matter how seemingly saturated the market is, there are more opportunities. From persons making feathered head gear to bejewelled stockings, gem work, footwear and make-up are all production opportunities. “Its success or failure is solely dependent on an individual’s ambition, vision, pursuit and, most important, their overall approach and execution.”

While breaking into the carnival world is not always easy, Johnson notes that it’s worth it. “Despite adversities, I have always felt inspired to have my work be a part of the euphoric experience.”