Tue | Jan 21, 2020

Redesigning Jamaica Carnival: Jessica Campbell

Published:Friday | December 13, 2019 | 12:29 AM
Jessica Campbell (centre) with the models of her costume, dubbed ‘Khaleesi’.
Jessica Campbell (centre) with the models of her costume, dubbed ‘Khaleesi’.

Carnival costume designer Jessica Campbell is a force to be reckoned with.

Being one of only two Jamaican designers for Xodus Carnival, the largest band in Jamaica, she takes each achievement as a proud moment, ­recalling her proudest as being the inclusion of her designs ‘Khaleesi’ among the coveted Xodus line. Khaleesi is now ­completely sold out.

To say she’s talented is an understatement; she is a self-taught designer and now leads the pack in Jamaica.

A former Immaculate High student, Campbell says, “My first degree is in biology with a double minor in psychology and public health, and I have a Master’s in public health specialising in health education and promotion”, Campbell stated. Nonetheless, she has always had a passion for the arts and has continuously, in one form or another, participated in artistic outlets. Dabbling in the designing industry was a real trial of strength for Campbell; however, retaining her daily mantra, ‘You are never given more than you can handle, so it can and will get done’, the mogul stays afloat with her craft.

The jack of all trades was never interested in one profession; instead, she has always dabbled in several fields, exercising her skills in all aspects. While ­currently a designer, she is the director of Transformational Research and Innovation Limited, which is a Caribbean network of public health professionals that works in various capacities to develop public-health within the region. Pushed by a fear of not succeeding, she continually sets new goals to accomplish, which she describes as one way to stay motivated as she is constant work in progress.“I’m also motivated by the fear of not succeeding because I didn’t give my all. If something doesn’t work out for me, a design or a concept, I would like to know that I tried my best and there wasn’t anything else I could have knowingly done to have a different outcome,” the designer said.

The Breakthrough

Adjusting and breaking down old costumes to form a new ­concept was a strategy Campbell used to break into the carnival scene. “I never set out to pursue costume designing, per se. Eventually, I would get asked to design and make costumes for other persons, doing customised backpacks, Mondaywear pieces for Trinidad or Barbados carnival, and even, at times, swimwear,” she stated. “In 2016, I was asked to design and produce costumes for a private section, and from there, I went on to design and market my own public sections and have done so since,” she continued.


In preparation for the ­carnival band launch, the designer explains her tactics to achieve brazen results. “Each designer does things differently, but for me, I usually start with a colour that happens to be of inspiration at the time. I already knew before even hearing the theme that I wanted to design a green costume. When I was told of the theme, ‘Enchanted’, I started to think about magical enchanted creatures that would match my tendency to use metals and edgy materials, and a dragon was the first thing that came to mind. I then start with sketches of varying designs and a mood board with elements that portray the look and feel of what I am trying to achieve.” Relishing her quest for the perfect materials that will match the elements of her designs, the designer then goes through a series of samples, making necessary adjustments. “Most times, you never really end up where you started. The name ‘Khaleesi’ actually came after the design was completed. After understanding what the character represented, I thought the name would be ­fitting for the costume,” Campbell detailed.

After overcoming her biggest setback of mass production, Campbell now partners with Kris Jackson, a fellow local designer for a company called ‘Fakture’. Together, they produce not just carnival costumes but swimwear and other women’s apparel for local and international ­designers, now grasping the concept of ­quality control in production. “The carnival industry has changed a lot over the years with so many aspects of the carnival industry in Jamaica not tampered with” Campbell stated. “The best advice I could give someone who is truly interested in developing the carnival space is to talk to people; you don’t have to do everything on your own. We can get a lot ­further through ­collaboration than we can if everyone works independently. I’m looking ­forward to this Xodus journey with ­excitement and focus,”she ended.