I’m the costume designer – designing all the costumes for the sections going on the road. This involves coming up with the original concept, interpreting the concept, doing the research, the drawings, sourcing all the materials, and then actually going into production, manufacturing all the costumes and overseeing all the fittings.
I’ve been a professional costume designer for over 30 years, in television, theatre, dance, circus… so carnival is kind of another aspect of doing costumes… I work freelance, and when I am not working, I sell vintage clothes once a week at Spitalfields market.
I first came to Elimu in 1989, through a friend who was with Elimu from the beginning and was always saying you must come down. I just turned up with my sewing machine and I absolutely loved it; everyone from toddlers, to grannies coming in and picking up a glue brush, sticking things, it was a lovely atmosphere and people coming around to ask if you want something drink, something to eat. It was very exciting - it was a complete kind of organised chaos is the best way to describe it. It was so different from what I was used to, because I am used to working in an organised controlled working environment, it was just fabulous with music blaring and people coming in and out. It was just a lovely atmosphere. So whenever I could for 11 years after that, I would go in and volunteer, and help make the costumes.
The theme this year was ‘Black in the Union Jack’. So I sat down and thought about it, and went back as far as the Romans, where there were black Roman centurions and generals. I thought it would be great for the children to be Romans, and I thought the little boys would love to be Roman Centurions and the girls will be dressed like Roman ladies. Moving forward to the 18th Century, I found there were a couple of famous black scholars who were free slaves who got their portraits in the national portraits gallery. So I designed the boys costumes with the wig and hat and the 18th century coat.
The teenage girls are iconic 18th century ladies. However our teenage girls are the real hardcore dancers of the band, and they are really brilliant, brilliant dancers, and so less is more with them, so the less cloth they have around them the better. So I gave them a very practical kind of dance workout outfit which was basically a little pair of shorts and a little top and with a nod to the period which would be the white stockings, and the huge over sized lace sleeves, and a fan and a parasol.
The adults are the post Windrush generation, so we chose to represent nurses, and academics, because a lot of families sent their children over to the UK for their university education and so on. The last section is Britannia, which is an instantly recognised icon of Britain. This was a practical thing as well, because we always have a section for the ladies who want to be a little more covered up.
When I came to Elimu in 1989 I found a lovely warm, very sociable and friendly group who just created something out of nothing. I just thought it very admirable as everyone had full time jobs, and everyone would come and work through the night. it was just a wonderful sprit and a wonderful energy and just lovely people, and a good laugh and just a very unique situation where the community comes together and everyone gets on with everybody else and it does not matter where you lived or worked, or how old you were, their was no discrimination everyone was welcomed and it was just a really lovely, lovely atmosphere.
It’s always great to be see the children’s faces when they get into their costumes and also the joy and excitement of the adults and the teenagers. It gives me Goosebumps, and I think for all the frustration and stress and anxiety, it is always worth it. That’s what it’s all about, seeing everybody really enjoying their costumes, and having a great time.
At the moment the budget is a bit of a cause of frustration, because this year we are making 135 costumes, and I am doing the best I can to find the cheapest materials but I have to cut corners. It would be so fabulous to throw a load of money at them and say wow, really hype it up!