Balando Designs move upmarket
Baldwin Dulston was among a group of 21 at-risk youth from the inner-city community of Flankers, in Montego Bay, three decades ago, who received opportunities to change their lives.
He learnt leather craft and jewellery design through a government skills-training programme and never looked back. Today, he and his wife, Joy, operate Balando Designs, which produces sandals, belts, handbags, and wallets for the local and overseas markets.
"We want Balando Designs to be the top Jamaican leather craft brand that is synonymous with quality in the industry," he said, and that is based on the passion for excellence that he felt once he completed his training. As he pointed out, "I felt that leather craft had chosen me."
The company also manufactures jewellery made from sea and coconut shells, cow horns, and other unprocessed material. He explained, "The majority of our products are organic, and the ideas for our designs are influenced by nature." And these designs include necklaces, bracelets, anklets, rings and earrings.
The business expanded from the original centre at his home in Flankers to its present location on Thompson Street, downtown Montego Bay, housing their manufacturing area and showroom. The items in the showroom are mounted on the company's website at www.balandodesigns.com.
Balando products are mainly marketed through shops at several north coast resorts, with some limited sales in North America. He and his wife have carved a niche in the upper end of the Jamaican craft industry, estimated by the tourism ministry to total some $4 billion annually. However, this niche is being challenged by a flood of low-cost craft items being sourced from Asia.
Recently, the entrepreneur revealed that his other challenge was the cost of acquiring efficient machine tools. He said, "We had issues in terms of accessing funds to grow our business."
Those issues, however, changed as Dulston was referred to JN Small Business Loans (JNSBL), and the advice and funding his company received have been a boon to the business.
"JNSBL has been very good to us," he stated. "Some institutions would have simply loaned us the money and left us to survive on our own, however, the JNSBL agent advised me how to position the new equipment and explained how it would impact our production process."
Gillian Hyde, general manager of JNSBL, said, "We have maintained a solid relationship with Mr Dulston and his company in recent years, and we are confident that Balando Designs, with its accent on innovation, will attain the level they desire."
The future for Balando Designs is also being underpinned by its committed team of six staff members and the addition of his son, Balvin Dulston, who handles distribution in North America. His son also plays a key role in the jewellery-manufacturing aspect of his business.
"At first, it was just me and my wife before the company acquired the financial resources to expand, but we could not have reached where we are now without the input from our staff," he explained.
Moving from his start with a tiny operation in Flankers, Dulston and his team have carved out a small but significant niche for Balando Designs, and looking ahead, he says, "An umbrella marketing initiative for the sector would give us so much more potential in future."