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More Than Fashion, Designer Taribba do Nascimento's Handbags are Symbols of Culture and Heritage

St. Lucian designer Taribba do Nascimento wearing a turquoise sundress and Flor de Gaillard inspired canvas espadrilles

Photo/Courtesy of Taribba do Nascimento

Taribba do Nascimento did not have any interest in entrepreneurship growing up, but an internship in Ethiopia changed that. While working abroad as a development professional, she launched Même Bête, a culturally-grounded, fashion-forward handbag brand. Thirteen years later, the brand's ethos still resonates with culture-conscious consumers.

I caught up with Taribba do Nascimento to talk about her entrepreneurial journey and her vision for the future.

Her Entrepreneurial Journey

Taribba witnessed the challenges and failure of her father's charter flight company and vowed never to pursue entrepreneurship as a career path. The promise of a steady salary was very appealing to her. Furthermore, she felt that the mindset in most Caribbean households when she was growing up was that people who "worked for themselves" did so as a last resort because they could not find a job with a major company.

The St. Lucian native studied International Development at the University of Toronto in hopes of landing a lucrative job. While in college, Nascimento got an internship in Ethiopia, helping female entrepreneurs get their products ready for export, and she saw their business grow.

That's when things changed. Taribba's path to entrepreneurship was guided by this experience.

Taribba came from a long line of seamstresses and knew how to sew. In Ethiopia, Nascimento learned how to work with leather and the basics of bag-making.

Back then, black and brown leather bags were ubiquitous in Ethiopia, but she preferred brighter hues. In 2009 Taribba launched her business as a side-hustle to make extra money. She incorporated the vibrant colors and rich textiles from that region to create practical and fashionable handbags that set her apart from the rest. She sold her bags to her circle of friends, associates, and eventually to consumers online.

African and tropical inspired leather handbags from Meme Bete

In 2012, after giving birth to her second child, Taribba moved back to St. Lucia to be closer to family. She found a full-time job and continued to run the business part-time. When the company started to take off, she quit her job to grow her brand.

Taribba applied for the We-Xport Program, a Caribbean Export Development Agency initiative that supports Caribbean women in business. Twenty entrepreneurs from across the region were selected out of 186 applicants. Although she did not originally make the cut, by a stroke of fate, after Yve Car Momperousse, co-founder of Kreyol Essence dropped out to pitch her brand on Shark Tank, Taribba received the open spot. Through the We-Xport Program, she received access to financing, a business coach, developed marketing materials, and expanded the capabilities of her e-commerce website.

Eight years after launching her brand, Nascimento also attended a 1-week intensive apprentice program in Italy to hone her skills.

Designs Imbued in Culture and Heritage

Since returning home, Taribba has commissioned St. Lucian artisans to create original prints inspired by the islands and her Afro-Caribbean culture and heritage. Taribba and her staff work with traditional cloths such as African wax print and madras and combine them with natural jute or fine leather.

"I want my designs to tell the stories of my island and my people," she says.

One of the designer's most sought-after collections pays homage to Flor Bois Gaillard, a St Lucian runaway slave who led a rebel group of Maroons and enslaved Africans called 'Armee Francaise Dans Les Bois' to defeat the British in the 1700s. Having pushed the boundaries for the freedom of enslaved people in St. Lucia, Flor Bois Gaillard's contributions are equivalent to Harriet Tubman in the U.S. and Queen Nanny of Jamaica.

Meme Bete's Flor Bois Gaillard inspired handbags

A more recent print commemorated St. Lucia's independence in February. Designed by artist Ted M. Sandiford, the print depicts the strength of Caribbean women. The cerulean blue, black, and yellow fabric is a symbol of the St. Lucian flag, which represents the harmony of its people, prosperity, and the prevalent sunshine in the Caribbean.

St. Lucia's history, culture, and African influence are stitched with precision into each Même Bête bag, connecting and unifying her customers wherever they reside.

The Future of Même Bête – Arts and Crafts Tourism

Taribba do Nascimento says she has no desire to become a fast-fashion brand. She takes pride in creating custom handcrafted bags with quality finishing and enjoys the bespoke nature of her business.

Today, arts and crafts vacationers visit Même Bête's St. Lucia atelier to experience the craftsmanship behind Même Bête's bags. Nascimento says she hopes to provide tours of her workshop on a larger scale one day. Her goal is to purchase the historic building she is currently renting and transform it into an artisan hub.

"I want to allow my country to shine through my brand," she says. "I want to help put St. Lucia on the map, and I want Même Bête to be known as the place to purchase quality, Made in St. Lucia products."

Arts and craft tourism has the potential to bolster the tourism economy in the Caribbean region. And if Taribba has her way, Même Bête's experiential tours will become synonymous with St. Lucia tourism.

Shop the collection here.


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