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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Costume Conundrum Part 3!

Got the following email with photos of costumes that Pakar India have stated they have produced for Trinidad Carnival:

I self designs around 80/90 costumes per year. Of course all not selected .i just gets approval of 10/15 of my designs. So most of my sold costumes are designed by particular band.

Hence I am a manufacturer I treat all designs costumes equally. In my knowledge the raw materials used in any particular costumes reflect exclusive or cheap.
Beside clients customize raw materials I used same kind of back fabric/raw-bra cup/stitching /gluing etc for all costumes.

At last I able & will glad to produce your stuffs.

. Note I had started my work with dead mass band. Beside costumes I worked for accessories for many bands. All appliqué/braid/bead fringes etc.

Ok hereby I attaching few complete costumes I worked in Trinidad.

I also got another email from someone affiliated with one of the large mas bands in Trinidad who informed me that we need to add "customs and V.A.T. (value added Tax of 15%) which marks up the costume by 100%. I would honestly love for someone who imports costumes to give me a costing breakdown of how they come up with the final figure because we masqueraders are supposedly "misguided" thinking we can price costumes based on the cost of importing the costumes from Asia.

There were also some other interesting emails regarding this issue:

Hi there

I’m a long time reader and first time responder to your blog. I’m always curious to see what topic you are going to touch on next and I am a big fan of your page! I’m writing you in regards to your blog posted about costumes being imported. I work and live in North America and I’m also an accessories designers and rep for a huge company that specializes in the trade of what we call “Import/ Export” business. A line of working that is always booming and creates customers and clients all around the world. I would just like to shine a light on how things work to give you an inside idea.

OF COURSE!!!.....everything and I do mean just about everything now these days are being replicated in 3erd world countries such as China , Indian, and even Mexico . The company I work for specializes in leather band bags, wallets, scarves and may more accessories. We by the way, export our finished merchandise all over the world. I have met with buyers from companies that would shock the average consumer who is thinking that there favorite shopping department store is creating “original” work. Well, I must say…NOTHING IS AUTHENTIC THESE DAYS! I have been in stores sample shopping, seen an item with the departments stores logo on it, then gone into its computation store, and then seen the same item with maybe a color change or an added zipper or button somewhere ,but with another logo..

The reason for this is because it keeps the import cost and the landed taxes low in price, so that the buyers can purchase at a very low rate, and sell at a high rate. The landed taxes are tax rates that importers have to pay when moving items in bulk overseas. Production in 3erd world countries is very cheap. In this case, the buyer would be the band leaders. Why pay workers in Trinidad to make costumes, when you can get the same work done for a fraction of the price?

One thing I must say is that I love to play my mas! Every year the whole office and department will know that production will shut down for the 2 weeks in February, while I’m on the streets of Port of Spain ! Once costume time comes around, not only in Trinidad, but Toronto , Miami , and other places around the world, its sad to say that one in this business can even sometimes tell were the costume is made.

For example, I have played with one of the larger bands in Trinidad for carnival a few times back. I do not wish to reveal there name, incase some readers might get the wrong impression of alienation towards them. Nonetheless, I had a wonderful experience with that band. Great service. But, when I collected my costumes, I almost was in tears laughing. The simple bead work, color schemes and pattern layout look so familiar to me, that I called out the manufactures name. Me, being the curious kitten that I am, had to ask someone in charge just to see if my gut feeling was correct. However, once I did inquire about the costume, the people working within the mas camp did not want to answer my question directly. No big deal!

The point is that this is a business. Keep the imported cost down, keep the taxes down, and sell to the consumer to make profit. I can tell you a known fact that majority of costumes made out of Trinidad cost band leaders no more than 30-50$ USD per costume when bought in bulk. Once there is a supply and demand for something, you have a business just waiting to collect profit if handle professionally. Bottom line is, if you can replicate designer bags in good quality, and enjoy its profits, then…why not mas costumes?! It’s Genius!

-cosmic love

Hi Saucy,
As a follow up to my last email to you re: "BRAS", I want to compliment you on the research you did on "imported carnival costumes". I too did some checking on Pekar of India and found his costume samples to be soiled, and not consistent with my standard of the production of costumes. Yes, as a matter of interest, I did request and received samples from Pekar (Sanjiv) (5) but returned them when I found that they were below par to the costumes I produce, some of the glued parts were even falling apart.

Now, let it be known, that I am very adverse to the importation of costumes, mainly because -
1. The skill of costume making is being gradually eroded.
2. Masqueraders are being ripped off in a big way as you realized. ( you did the math)
3. The enjoyment of participating in carnival and playing mas is gradually being taken away
from the low income person (see #4)
4. The perception of the high costs of a costume borders on discrimination (rich vs poor)
5. As mentioned in my last email, bras do no fit properly as all sizes are not available
6. Costumes are turning up all over, same design different colour (I go to many carnival )

It comes down to one thing, every Tom Dick and Harry want to bring a band because they think there is easy money to be made being a band leader, and there is no longer any work to do. Pay somebody to design, send your design abroad , order costumes, borrow money, get a mas camp for registering and delivering purposes, do some advertising and after carnival, visit the bank with a deposit slip. Have some managerial skills and it's that easy.

There are numerous other reasons why I wouldn't support the importation of costumes, but time and space forbids it. I can assure you though,that I am comfortable with the quality I produce.

The Costume Conundrum Part 2

The first time I learned about Trinidad Carnival bands having costumes imported, buying ready made costumes from China, India and even online websites like Neckelmann's I have to admit that I was quite surprised. I grew up in the generation that knows of costumes being made in mas camps by friends, family and hired staff, so to learn that costumes were not only being made outside of Trinidad but being picked off a website was news to me.

Of course with progress comes change and as Carnival is a huge business now I was quite aware that there are now production companies in Trinidad that specifically catered to making costumes; Harry's Designs being one I can call off the top off my head as having been in the business for a number of years. Now we have others such as Elwin Johnson as well as Richard and Anthony productions who also design and produce costumes locally. The manufacturing of costumes has gone from a friend hot gluing on one appliqué after the next in a mas camp to it being done assembly line style by the professionals.

What I was not aware of, however, is the fact that costume designers have now gone one step further and they are having their costumes either designed overseas by these production companies or they are submitting designs (ideas) of their own, a sample is made and sent from China or India, sent to Trinidad and once approved is produced overseas. There is also a well known local contact, a liaison, who not only "designs" costumes but is the middleman for the Chinese producers. This contact has samples already on display from which "designers" can go in, take a look, make adjustments and place an order; there is nothing like designing for theme, the costumes are chosen and a name is slapped on to it!

The only parts of the costumes that are made locally, and this is for SOME bands, are the headpieces and backpacks. But you can also buy headpieces and backpacks from the right person overseas, such as Juan Pablo and Neckelmanns.

To get an understanding of how this whole process works I have been communicating with one of the costume producers Pekar India who has provided me with the following information in response to my email which is highlighted in BOLD:

Good Day,
I am writing to you from Trinidad and Tobago. I am interested in having some costumes made for Trinidad Carnival and I was told you do this type of work. Do you have costumes already made that I can choose from or can I submit my designs and you produce them? Also what do you produce in terms of the cosutme (bra,belt,arm and wrist pieces, necklace) and what is the price for each costume? What is the minimum order can I place and what is the deadline to do so. Finally, can you tell me which bands you have worked with in Trinidad and I would be grateful for any photos of the costumes you have done so I can see the work you produce.

Sorry for bit late response because I was outstation for last few days. Well, we factory specialized in the manufacturing /exporter of carnival costumes & accessories and have excellent track record around world. We capable to provide you any customize design with best quality & cost. OUR PRODUCTS: #Complete CARNIVAL COSTUME (bra+belts+neck+arm/leg band) (A.V Cost- 35 –45 vary with designs) # All kinds of Beaded fringe ,appliqués & flowers etc. # All kind of artificial necklace set. #Braid trimming & other decorative accessories QUALITY We have profuse designs with series of quality grade & expressly our price is best because of manufactory. You can ask for a free sample to check quality anytime. AVERAGE COST/DISCOUNT/EASY PAYMENT TERMS Our average costume cost around 35-45USD vary with designs. Also we provide 5 FREE COSTUMES ON MINIMUM 100 SET ORDER QUANTITY. Along with we have easy payment terms & I can detail latter on. DELIVERY TIME:
Our skilled manpower able to deliver average 2000 COMPLETE COSTUMES per month. NOTE- WE PROVIDES COSTUME DESIGNS & SAMPLES OF YOUR CHOICE ALL AT FREE OF COST. for timebeing i already sold all my 2009 designs. if possible give me a idea about your required costume & i can produce that for you or you can show me your style i can copy that.
i already worked for many bands there . from which band you belongs. i hope your bandleader must know me. if intersted to see i can show you few of my last designs those already sold to diffrent bands woldwide. Looking forward your kind advice, With best regards, Sanjiv, India Ph- +91 112 619 4332, +91 987 154 3933
Thank you very much for your response. We are a new band, but I know of the bands Island People,Spice, Tribe, Pulse 8 and Dream Team. I would love to see the last designs that you have already sold.

Well, I think all 3 new bands already lunched also am working one of them.

Among old bands I worked with genisis.dream team, trini revelers, dkrew, c.nationza, pulse 8,tribe etc. From tornto – I works for almost all bands. Beside that I have client on uk & brazil.

I can understand your concern. Don’t worry I one most reliable & largest manufacturer of spl carnival costumes from my country. You can check my quality anytime you wish. Also you can check any size of raw bras before. (I think this most important issue for band/section leaders to produce costumes from overseas market)


These are the photos that were sent as examples of work done by Pekar India for Caribana:

I wrote about this subject in 2006 when I realized that one of Harts costumes came from Neckelmann's, that article is called The Costume Conundrum and you can refresh your memory of my thoughts then. The fact remains that these Asian factories do produce some well made costumes and at a VERY cheap price; I can see that this is what is giving a huge boost to more and more bands having their costumes made overseas. In addition bands will argue that there are now too few local producers to meet the demand of the growing number of bikini and bead bands.

But, is this a chicken and egg syndrome? Are there too few local producers because everyone is now having costumes made overseas or have people turned to the Asian factories since the number of people who can do the job locally are too few? Then there is the issue of standards, with the capabilities of these Asian factories to whip out 2000 costumes a month and with intricate beading and workmanship is there anyone locally who can match that caliber of costumes? I mean take a look at any of Island People's costumes (since it is no secret their costumes are made in China) Rays of Light for example and the detail on the bra; the beads and stones are embroidered (not hot glued) unto a flesh coloured bra. I have seen costumes from some other bands that are made here and you can actually see the hot glue remnants where the braid was stuck unto the bra!

The thing is for ME, I would love to be able to say I am supporting our local producers, I think they need to step up the game from mediocrity and start producing work that can rival the Asian counterparts. And since we STILL need local wire benders for headpieces and backpacks it is not as if we can eliminate out local costume producers anyway. I want to be proud of what is made here and these imports are not doing it for me. I can understand why bands import costumes but I am not a supporter of it, simply because I KNOW that we can produce spectacular costumes in Trinidad; I believe that!

Take for instance the work produced by Harts who by the way chucked Neckelmann's costumes after that piece of drama, they do work internationally, producing costumes for Las Vegas and other Carnivals. Legacy also makes costumes for an international market and there are other bands that still make costumes here for export to other islands. I am not even going to mention Mc Farlane who does his work locally as the topic is about bikini mas, but suffice to say if Peter Minshall can produce the opening of the Olympics we surely have talent in Trinidad and Tobago with enormous potential. So, why are we selling ourself short and buying from Asia? I want to believe that the COST is a huge factor in this importation of costumes, one supplier has quoted me an average figure of $35 - $45.00US for a costume set which includes bra, belt, neck, leg and arm band! Compare THAT to the average cost of a cosutme this year at $500.00US!

Ok, so I know the COST of my costume is not all that I pay for when I choose to pay that price; we have the all inclusive feature to consider as well as security, music, cost overheads and all that but really, how much of that $500.00 that we are paying is purely profit if the COSTUME costs on average $45.00US ? Not to mention that most bands get some form of sponsorship which can be considered a lagniappe!

Not to mention that this importation of costumes have messed up the sizing, so now instead of being able to order according to a specific bra size like 44DD masqueraders have to choose between XS to XXL. Bands are claiming that they have to meet deadlines, I guess for of having overseas production and cannot take special requests for costumes after a certain date NOR can you even ask to drop off a bra of your own to get it decorated! No wonder band launches are starting earlier and earlier' everyone has to meet some overseas production deadline!

So now the questions have to be asked,; do you as a masquerader care if your cosutme is made in Trinidad, seeing as even the costumes that are made locally still have to use imported materials as Trinidad does not manufacture fabric, beads, sequin or feathers? Do you prefer a WELL MADE costume that is heavily beaded and embellished with the best that an skilled Indian labourer can produce? When you fork over your money for a costume are you saying YES buy local or give me more than three strands of beads stuck to a bra please thank you very much! And knowing the COST of the costumes that are being imported do you think that the "savings" should be passed on to the masquerader as costume prices are way too high, bands can afford to sell for less or are you satisfied that with all things considered you are getting value for money with a WELL MADE imported costume?

Trinidad Carnival Diary... the forum.

Owing the enormous popularity of the Cbox (chat box) and the limited capabilities of that feature on the blog, and due to requests to have an outlet where members can message each other Trinidad Carnival Diary now has it's own forum! Yes another feature to suck up your time at work!

You can check out the forum here; everyone is welcomed to macco, browse or register and join in the chat. There is also a section for COSTUMES WANTED and COSTUMES FOR SALE.

Bookmark it people !

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