Karen Sudu, Gleaner Writer
SPANISH TOWN, St Catherine:UNDAUNTED BY life's struggles as a young girl, Joyce Lewars of Golden Acres in Spanish Town, St Catherine has defied the odds to become a top fashion designer, florist and events planner.
It was while a nine-year-old student at Race Course Primary School in Clarendon that she discovered her talent in sewing.
"The first piece I sewed was a pleated green skirt. When I took it home, my mom asked me where I got it, and I told her I made it at school. She said she didn't know that I could sew," a vivacious Lewars recounted.
Her 'mom' was, in fact, her aunt, Mary King, who raised her from she was six months old.
"She pressed the skirt with starch, the pleats were so stiff," said Lewars, affectionately called Janice. "I wore it with a frilly, frilly blouse and a hat with a ribbon to church and everybody said 'what a pretty little skirt' and I said 'Me sew it'," she related with a burst of laughter.
From then, she developed a knack for sewing and used every opportunity to garner experience. It was about the same time that the 48-year-old realised that she also had a passion for flowers.
At age 13, after her aunt migrated, she was left to fend for herself.
"I had to sleep in the trees, in the kitchen. I slept all over. It was a struggle," the Denbigh High School alumnus reflected.
Her challenges were compounded when she had her first child, a boy, at age 18. He is now a member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force. A year later, the second child, now a nurse at the Kingston Public Hospital, was born.
"I couldn't afford to buy clothes for them, so I used to make shorts and tops for them from other pieces of clothing," she recounted.
Carve out a living
With no support from the children's father, a tenacious Lewars decided to carve out a living from sewing.
"I started to sew curtains and little dresser runners, and people started to order stuff. I even started to alter pants foot and that's how I started to get the income for them to go to school," she said.
In search of a better life, in 1988, she left her children in Vere, Clarendon, where she was living, to work in a bar in Spanish Town. But that job lasted for a year, as the urge to pursue her dream motivated her to get formal training at J Mac's Fashions in the Old Capital and later, at Hollywood School of Fashion in Kingston.
Still wanting to enhance her artistic skills, in 2003, Lewars pursued a 12-week training programme in floral arrangement at B&E Floral and Gift Centre. In 2006, she did an interior decorating course followed by an advanced drapery-making course at Garmex HEART Academy in Kingston.
Always seeking avenues for professional development, the visionary returned to Garmex HEART Academy in 2010 to pursue further training in floral arrangement.
Now, the notable florist, who operates her business from home, has a wide array of flowers and ornaments, plans weddings and other events, as well as teaches from time to time.
Her desire to impart knowledge to others stimulated her to stage a well-received expo at her home on December 9.
Besides, she employs two persons at her home-based dressmaking establishment, Jan's Fashion.
Millicent Pinnock, a trained dressmaker, who gained experience from working at a garment factory, has been working with Lewars for the last eight years ago.
"Coming by her, I have learned even more than what I used to do at school, because she uses a different concept from the way they taught us at school," noted Pinnock.
Alecia Dawkins, a HEART graduate who started sewing from she was a student at Spanish Town High School, spoke to The Gleaner about Lewars.
"Miss Jan doesn't hide anything from us; if she is doing something and she feels we should know how to do it, she would show us. Although we are working, we are learning at the same time."
In 1994, Lewars wedded the proprietor of the bar where she worked, and the union produced two children.
Thankful for her achievements, Lewars said that her desire is to give back to the less fortunate.
"I always want to give back," she stated. "I am grateful for what I've achieved and I want to help others. So in the near future, I will be going to a girls' home to seek out girls interested in sewing and teach them the skill free of cost."