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Vanessa Lissa Winston

Dominica

“I have always had a love for nature and creating things, I used to mix and match materials, go against the norm and design something you wouldn’t think of.”

From a young age, Vanessa Winston had a desire to be unique. Her grandmother had a business selling beads, leather and materials, Vanessa would create all sorts of pieces from them.

However it was always a hobby, it was not until she had her first child that she thought about using her skills to generate an income. Vanessa created New Beginning Gifts and Leathers - what started as a pleasurable pastime became a means of subsistence and ultimately transformed into a microenterprise.

Vanessa was ambitious right from the start, so decided to get in touch with Dominica Youth Business Trust (DYBT) and apply for their training programme. The month long course helped Vanessa diversify and adopt a more sustainable business model, she explains:  “Instead of a sole focus on leather products I taught myself to mould scented candles and soaps, and soon after perfecting the craft, I introduced a new product line and began to attract a wider audience.”

While the DYBT training program was incredibly fruitful for Vanessa, she did not participate without facing substantial challenges. Vanessa had had twin boys the same year she started, but she did not let that stop her.

“I wanted to be there, so I was going to the training with my boys, one in the bag and one on my arm. I had to be there at 7am each morning. Every day I wanted to give up, but every day I got up and went again, and it was the best decision I ever made." Vanessa turned to DYBT again when she had serious money worries. Vanessa could not secure a loan from local financial institutions, so DYBT came to her aid and provided funding. Later when Vanessa suffered an incident of domestic violence, which seriously affected every aspect of her life, DYBT were once again there:

“I had to leave my house, I ended up being a single mother so it became more challenging. I think my business helped me though, it was a form of therapy, something else I could focus on. DYBT became like a family. They stood behind me no matter what and had faith and confidence in me.”

As a female entrepreneur, Vanessa faced discouragement and scepticism from her peers in Dominica. The culture expects women with a high school education to get a practical job or do secretarial work; they are much less welcoming to women who want to drive a business forward. As a single mother of four, Vanessa remained determined.

“I have to be resilient, to protect my children and create a means of employment for myself and for them. Women here tend to accept situations, we feel that we have to take care of the children, so we will not move, we stay stagnant and won’t take risks. By going against this I hope to inspire other women, I want to be able to create a path they know they can follow.”

Vanessa’s resilience proved more important than ever when Hurricane Maria battered Dominica in September 2017. “When I got to my shop, it was under five feet of dirt and water. I just walked away because mentally I could not deal with anything.”  But she did not let that stop her and showed optimism in the face of disaster.

It paid off once more. In February 2018 Vanessa’s products were featured at a fashion show at Buckingham Palace as part of the Commonwealth Fashion Exchange. The fashion show celebrated artisan talent across Commonwealth counties and recognised the power of fashion to have a positive impact on the world.

Vanessa has always maintained an authentic vision to inspire others. Her empire is expanding, she is president of Dominica Arts and Crafts Producers Association and founder of New Beginning Craft Workshop, a place where young people can develop skills in the creative industry. Even with struggles as difficult as domestic violence, Vanessa values that period of her life because it helped her realize how hard she had to push to make a path for herself and her children.

“It’s been a journey, but I can truthfully say I would not go back on anything.”

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