Photo/Courtesy of Andrea Wilson
Andrea Wilson’s vibrant personality and candidness make her one of the most charming human beings I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. As I sat down on a scorching Sunday afternoon for our Zoom interview, I could feel her passion for design and her overall zeal for life. Post-interview, I felt rejuvenated and inspired by this powerhouse of a woman who believes that all that she wants already belongs to her.
Born in Guyana and residing in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) since the age of 21, Andrea Wilson's story isn’t the traditional ‘started from the bottom now we’re here’ narrative. Rather, it is one about fearlessly seizing the opportunities that came her way. “The brand didn’t start off at the bottom,” Andrea beamed when detailing her beginnings. “It started off with a supermodel.” At her launch in 2016, America’s Next Top Model Naima Mora became the face of Absolutely Unique's Islander Swim Collection. This helped Andrea's brand to gain international recognition.
However, like most independent fashion designers, Andrea had her fair share of struggles. Andrea opened up about the inevitable financial trials that come with being a fashion designer. She detailed how the industry functions in the British Virgin Islands. She said, “In the BVI, stores take things on consignment. So it’s not like they’re paying upfront. So sometimes you sell a whole lot because it’s tourist season, then next month absolutely nothing is going on and you still have that bill to pay… It's a lot. But it’s fun. Fashion is fun. It’s a lot of work but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
American's Next Top Naima Mora in the Islander Swim Collection
Absolutely Unique Expands Into Active Wear
Although she is well known for her unique and fun swimwear and accessories, the designer is expanding her brand into the booming activewear space. Her new activewear collection - Islander Body Snap is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. Andrea incorporates black and white representation in the collection by weaving in a zebra print in all her pieces.
The launch of Wilson's Islander Body Snap collection is set for December 18 at the Tortola Pier Park. She is also collaborating with Olympian Chantel Malone on her upcoming promotion campaign. Andrea plans to not only showcase track and field but also hockey apparel following her big launch.
Creativity Is In Her DNA
As a child, Andrea Wilson wanted to become a lawyer and she was very focused on that goal. Even so, she remembers constantly sketching designs that her grandmother, a seamstress, brought to life. She abandoned her dream of being a lawyer after heavy yet comical objections from her devout Christian father who always remarked that ‘Lawyers are liars.’
Naturally, she found her way back to expressing her creativity a graphic designer, photographer, television producer and advertising maven. Leveraging her background in graphic designs and visual and multimedia communications, Andrea has worked for clients across the globe including Africa, Switzerland, and Germany.
Andrea’s destiny transformed when her sister introduced her to Guyanese designer Pamela Fox. Andrea said, “We have a lot of designers in the Caribbean that are just as talented as their international counterparts but they don’t have the financial means or any idea how to market their products or get it out of their countries or territories.” As such, in 2012 Andrea hosted a fashion show to launch Pamela Fox’s designs in the BVI, negotiated with business owners to get the designer’s products in local stores, and even launched an e-Commerce store on Amazon to make Pamela’s designs available internationally. This experience inspired Wilson to launch her fashion brand.
Running a Sustainable Fashion Business
The single mother of two officially launched 'Absolutely Unique' in 2015, mainly selling handbags and footwear. The business took off when she joined the Branson Entrepreneurship Accelerator Programme. The Programmed equipped Andrea with the tools and mentors she needed to launch her Islander Swim Collection in 2016 - her first in-house collection. This collection was followed by the Blue Spirit: Save the Ocean Collection in 2017, and the Islander Wave Collection in 2018.
The Branson Entrepreneurship Programme was also her introduction to sustainable business. Running a socially and environmentally responsible business is a core mission for Andrea. She tries to source her materials as sustainably as possible and also works with artisans from regions such as Ghana and Nicaragua whose products make use of natural fibers.
With the experience that Andrea has gained over the years, she wants the next generation of designers to remember one thing, “You don't have to have a million dollars to start your dream. If you want to do it, jump all in. Jump and hope that the net appears.” Andrea lacked the finances to pay her models and manufacturers in her early years but she hired them anyway with the belief that somehow, the money will come. And it did. She also urges young designers to be creative and trust in their designs. It doesn’t matter if others think that your designs won’t work. After all, the business is yours and the creation is yours.
You can view Andrea's latest collection at @theislanderswimcollection on Instagram and Facebook.