Yolanda Bennett - Always the designer
Years ago, on her mother's sewing machine, Yolanda Bennett would make dresses for her dolls with little to no effort. Little did she know that she was practising to cop the No. 1 spot in the recently concluded Helen G's Design a Wedding Dress Competition at the Make Your Day Fashion Show, winning the $100,000 prize.
Born and raised in St Elizabeth to Joslyn and Lorna Bennett, Yolanda is the 'wash belly' of four children. Her mother was a dressmaker and she fell in love with the art with a special love for scissors.
"I remember my sister (Shevaunne Bennett) was left to take care of me and a friend, Charlotte Myers. We took my mom's scissors and started cutting each other's plaits. She was halfway through my hair when my mother caught us. She almost lost it," Bennett told Flair laughing uncontrollably as she recalled the encounter.
Young and energetic, she channelled her desire to cut everything to solely fabric, and the rest was history. Her family was a great support unit for Bennett and encouraged her passion. Her aunt Novlette Whitely was the volunteer model who Bennett practised her designs on.
After completing a diploma programme in fashion designing at the University of Technology in 1999, Bennett hit the ground running after designing for a few very loyal clients. In 2005, she started designing for Saint International Jamaica Limited, which she recalls was one of the best periods of her life.
"Deiwght Peters and his team were so supportive. I got some experience there that really helped me with my business," she told Flair.
One change they helped her make was her design name. She remembered them telling her that Yolande Bennett had more of a ring than Yolanda Bennett. She made the change and, since then, she has been using Yolande as her professional first name.
After her collaborative stint with Saint International ended, she continued to design, while expanding her clientele. In late 2015, she saw a social-media post promoting Helen G's Design a Wedding Dress Competition. She was contemplating entering and her brother, Rohan Bennett pushed her to.
"He told me to go after it because he believed that I had both the potential and zeal to win the competition," she recalled.
So with her brother's encouragement, she went for it. The competition required her to design a beach wedding gown in four weeks. This was no easy feat, but she knew she could do it. Bennett was not even nervous about the time constraint - she had all the major work on her dress completed in just four days.
Her nerves kicked in on the night of the runway show on February 13.
"I knew that I had put in the work because I had worked hard, but it was up to the judges to see it and like it over the other dresses," she admitted. This is what kept her on her toes.
The moment she heard her name, Bennett burst into tears completely overwhelmed with emotions.
"It was amazing. Oh my God. I could not contain myself. I felt so overwhelmed. Proud, too, because I had put in the work, but the tears were coming and I could not hold them back," she told Flair.
Bennett received her grand prize cheque and was just overjoyed by her victory. She described it as the best time of her life.
Bennett looks forwards to continuing her business and hopes to acquire an international clientele.
Her advice to young and upcoming designers is to learn about their craft and remember that the fit and finish is important.
"Be in love with it, if you love what you do, you will never give up on it," states Bennett.