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“A drop of negativity can spoil a pool of positive things. I don’t let negative people rent a space in my head.”By Abena RockcliffeIt was French fashion designer Coco Chanel who expressed the notion, “Dress shabbily and they remember the dress; dress impeccably and they remember the woman.” Our very own Sonia Noel has epitomized that concept throughout her life. She strives to always look her best and her name has been duly positioned among the top locals in the field of fashion.“I grew up hearing my Mom say that ‘a shoemaker never has a proper shoe’ so naturally, I thought the theory applied to persons of similar professions.”Grandma momentHowever, Sonia subsequently learnt and has proven that it’s not always that way.Most of us would have read of Sonia Noel, the immaculate designer who always dresses the part and has made impressive contributions to Guyana’s fashion industry, which she pledges “…will continue happening until the day I die.”The question is: how many of us know Sonia Noel the secondary school teacher, the vendor and the cook?Yes, she’s indeed an interesting as well as special person.Sonia Noel was born in Georgetown, on August 15, 1971, to Claudia John and the late Patrick Noel. She spent most of her youth in Bartica, being raised in a single-parent home.She explained that her mother was a victim of domestic abuse and when she finally mustered the strength to leave her abuser, he decided no longer to contribute to his children’s lives.“Our happy moments depended on him not being home. He was a policeman and he use to beat mommy a lot, most of which I witnessed. That is why I incorporate domestic violence in my fashion shows. Mommy was a victim of both physical and verbal abuse, and the worst part of my childhood was watching her going through that hurt, knowing there was nothing I could have done about it.When mommy finally gathered the strength to move on I was happy and even though things were hard, financially, I found comfort in the fact that she became free from the abuse that she really didn’t deserve. Despite all mommy went through she managed to be a perfect mother.”Sonia recounted that she and her family (mother and five siblings) moved to Bartica, from whence her mother originally hailed, and essentially started life all over again. She was nine at the time but had the irresistible urge to assist her mother. At that tender age, she started making tamarind balls, plantain chips and fudge to sell at school. Then, when she entered secondary school, she moved to selling in front of her mother’s yard.“I could never forget Sandrina Timmerman, who thought me to make pastries. I started making them to sell. I used to put a basket on my head and walk through the village and sell,” she reflected with a smile.Asked how a teen with a basket on her head turned into the attractive, fashion-conscious and accomplished individual Guyana has come to know and respect, she responded,Cheap NFL Jerseys China, “I was always glamorous I just never had the false pride. There is pride and there is pride, my mom taught me to have values, but not to one day think I am less than anyone else”.Love for fashionSonia poses with her two daughtersIt was funny how Sonia remembered,Adrian Wilson Cardinals Jersey, in detail, everything she was asked about her younger years, except, when she realized that she was in love with fashion. However, I guess one can say it’s because she was obsessed with fashion for as long as she remembers.What she does recall is that it more than likely stemmed from a combination of her idolizing an aunt, and the first pageant she entered at the age of 12.“I use to always admire my aunt Corine, she was my young aunt; mom’s youngest sister. Aunt Corine has always been and remains immaculate in her dressing. Everything she wore always matched. She is what we call a fashionista… of course I didn’t know that word back then, but that is the exact word needed to describe aunt Corine.I loved her; she let me wear some of her clothes because we weren’t far apart in size. Mom is not like aunt Corine, she is quite simple, but Aunty had style, and I think she definitely influenced my perception of style.  Aunty Corine is now 49; sadly she had an amputation. She is still the one who does my signature hair style.”“I have been wearing my own designs since I entered my first pageant at the age of 12. But back then I was shy, so I had to be pushed to enter the pageant. I can recall my teacher, Mona McKenzie, had asked mommy to allow me to participate and mom said yes, ‘but Sonia isn’t going to enter a pageant, Sonia is very shy.’”“Ms. McKenzie tried to persuade me until she eventually told me to just go to the rehearsals and watch the other girls. As I sat in rehearsal watching the other contestants I said to myself ‘I could do that’. So I entered the pageant.  I designed a blue, white and red skirt-suit. The shirt had three-quarter sleeves and the bottom was actually a skirt pants. The front was designed in a tennis-style and the back was a pants effect.”Sonia was first runner-up in that pageant which was commonly referred to in Bartica as the ‘cotton fashion show’, since cotton had to be used to create the pieces worn by the contestants.She also placed first runner-up in Miss Bartica Mashramani, and it was the same in Miss Bartica Regatta and Bikini Regatta. She indicated that she considered going up for Miss Guyana but decided against it.BEAUTIFUL BARTICAA picture taken during one of Sonia’s visit to Archer’s HomeSonia related that she gradually moved away from the selling,Deion Jones Falcons Jersey, as the time for her to write CXC drew nearer. She sat the exam and did well enough to be hired as a secondary school teacher at age 18. For two years, she taught Social Studies at Bartica Community High.She subsequently experienced even greater fulfillment as the proud mother of two girls, Mariska and Shantay.And what about Bartica?“Bartica is a beautiful village, I really enjoyed living there. I enjoyed going to the river. My friends and I used to swing from shipwreck to shipwreck. I was like a fish; I even saved my friend’s life. His name is Eon Loncke, but we called him Shabba. One day we were swimming and my friends and I saw him going up and down in the water…at first we thought he was kidding. Luckily, when he came up like the third time I saw the fear in his eyes and I plunged in and saved him.”Career-wise, she said that reality about her environs quickly set in.Though she loved teaching, Sonia decided to open a store in her hometown and named it Mariska’s Fashion (after her first daughter).For quite a few years she stuck with the store that gave her “a comfortable life” before she decided to move to Georgetown.“My years in Bartica were lovely, but I knew it wasn’t the place to be if I want to become a designer.”With that in mind and the fact that Sonia wanted to start a “new life” away from her ex-spouse, she decided to take “the plunge.”Sonia said that when she disclosed the news of her intended departure to her friends and family, most people thought she’d “lost it”.“Most people were like, Sonia are you sure? You know what you have here? You don’t  know how it will work out in Georgetown. But mommy believed in me, she was supportive; so was my friend Leon Redford, and I believe in God and by extension myself,Authentic Jerseys Cheap, so I went for it.”Recognizable NameIt all evolved from the tender years of pageantry and the competitive environment and spirit, along with other personal challenges, but most significant is the fact that over the last 15 years, Sonia has become one of the more recognizable names among Caribbean designers.She has cleverly positioned herself throughout the region at all the noteworthy fashion events and intuitive enough to create a label Mariska’s Designs that is a unique hybrid of Guyanese craftsmanship, Caribbean ingenuity and a pervasive, universal style.Sonia’s designs can be worn from the beach to the ballroom. She indicated that she has dressed from housewives to first ladies.Her tireless efforts to make Guyana proud have seen her being awarded the accolade of ‘Caribbean Fashion Ambassador’ at the 2011 British Virgin Islands Fashion Weekend.She also received the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association Limited (GMSA)’s Award for her involvement in youth development and cross-border promotion of the local fashion industry.The designer signing autographs at a conference held in China.As mentioned earlier, she has participated in many significant fashion events throughout the region – Caribbean Fashion Week, St. Kitts Fashion Week, Fashion Week Trinidad and Tobago, USVI Fashion Week, Antigua Independence Fashion Weekend, among others.In addition to these grand expositions, she also took part in the Caribbean Gift and Craft show and highlighted her Mariska label in St. Vincent, Suriname,China NFL Jerseys, Cayenne, Grenada, St. Lucia and Barbados, even going further afield to New York, Toronto and London.In 2007 she was a recipient of the Shabeau Magazine award for excellence for her contribution to fashion in the Caribbean, and during that same year, launched Guyana Fashion Week 2007.  In 2008 she was given the Pride of Bartica Award, and in October 2009, she led a small delegation of designers to China to participate in the largest fabric and design fair.She produced two reality television series – Guyana Model Search and Designers/Stylist Portfolio – and a pioneering talk show for television – Diatribe. Back in 2008 the government of Guyana commissioned her to head the fashion component of Carifesta X.She has also been appointed the official designer of the Barbados Music Awards 2013.Personal Expressions Sonia’s father died 20 years ago. His death came at a time when she was preparing for reconciliation.Attempting to hold back her tears and gently ridding her face of the single trickle that streamed down, Sonia related that “a little before he (her father) died I told mommy that I would have bought him a Christmas gift and try to make up for lost years, but I hadn’t the chance.”“I have an uncle named Orin Richards; he was always there for me, so I took my daughters to see him from time to time. I can recall taking my daughter to see uncle Orin and daddy was right upstairs and I didn’t allow him to see her. He died not knowing his grandchildren. I regret that,” she said, bowing her head.After his death, “I realized he was following my work and was proud of me. His new wife, who is a very nice person, showed me some newspaper clips he kept of me. But he never showed me.”Positivity and role modelSonia said that she believes a little negativity can spoil a pool of positive things. “I fear God and think that with his help I can work around anything. I hate hearing the word problem, I catch a fit, I tell people who work with me to refer to it as a situation that has to be dealt with and we take it from there.”Asked about the negativity attached to pageantry, models and designers, Sonia opined, “The stigma does exist but I think there is more positive in pageantry than negatives, it builds self-esteem and open doors of opportunity.”Further, Sonia noted that the youths who passed through her hands gained more than fashion tips as “We try to help them find themselves; some youths find themselves faster than others.I try to instill morals and values in them also, as you know we see persons from all backgrounds, but the runway is the end result… we do a lot of work otherwise.My aunt Avis who died of breast cancer taught me to be meticulous with time and she bought me my first fancy dress. But I try to instill the importance of being on time also.”Asked how she deals with the publicity and the negative things about herself that may pass her ear from time to time, the designer said that fabrication and amplification of the truth “…come with the territory. It used to bother me years ago but with my travel, I learnt how to just let it go and try not to listen. I know that success breeds enemies”.And then there is Jaden – the “special” man in Sonia’s life. For those who don’t know, Jaden is her grandson. Yes, Sonia is a grandmother, and proudly so. Jaden was born to Sonia’s first child who is currently studying in Jamaica. “I have the best son in law I must say.”Even though not currently occupied, Sonia has already planned her wedding.“It will be a simple beach wedding; simple dress, possibly designed by my younger daughter. Only loved ones will be invited. I will make that man the happiest man alive. All he needs to be is ambitious and able to make me laugh.”Apparently, his only competition might be Sonia’s two-year-old dog that she shampoos, cooks pepperpot and buys cheese cake for.
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