If you had asked Vanessa Mohammed 15 years ago where she’d be in her life right now, her answer wouldn’t include owning her own successful business, designing her own collection of resort wear and slowly taking over the swim, carnival and wedding industries in Trinidad. In fact, Vanessa’s thoughts 15 years ago were solely reserved for wanting to travel the world as a flight attendant, her job at the time with BWIA.
So when BWIA closed down after 7 years of flying with them, Vanessa found herself without a job and with absolutely no clue what to do. Through a friend’s encouragement, and just as she was about to buy a car herself, she became a sales representative at Suzuki. She knew absolutely nothing about selling cars and was very hesitant, but if you sit down for a conversation with Vanessa, you’ll understand why she succeeded at the job.
But with the economy slowly crashing and car sales declining, Vanessa eventually decided it was time to move on. She landed a role as the manager of the industrial department at Caribbean Chemicals. Despite not knowing a thing about the industry, she single-handedly grew her department’s profits by close to $10mil., a trend that clearly worked in her favour. And while she excelled at her job, Vanessa always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur, she just didn’t know how or what she’d do.
But it wasn’t until she received an email from a client about a trade show in Colombia that she really got the idea to create her business. As she scrolled through the show’s details, she realized there wasn’t much that would benefit her job, but she saw a small part about swimwear brands that got her thinking.
As a swimsuit lover herself, she asked her boyfriend at the time, who’d lived in South America for quite some time, his thoughts on Colombian swimwear. Confident in the quality, Vanessa thought this might be exactly what she could start her own business doing. After months of research, contacting suppliers and lots of back and forth, Vanessa got the rights to sell a swimwear line from Colombia – and without a storefront, decided to do pop-up shops.
“I did pop-up shops for about a year, until one day I told my father I was going to open a store,” she said.
“He asked me ‘Where are you going to get the money to open a store?’, and I said ‘I don’t know, I’m just going to do it’, and so I did.”
And so I did. Just like that, Vanessa makes it seem so simple. But for her it was: she made up her mind, and did just that. And in 2012, she opened the first Bikini Cabana storefront, bringing her dreams to fruition of becoming an entrepreneur and business owner.
But she was working full-time and found it very difficult to manage both her full-time job and the store, and eventually, she submitted her resignation and became a full-time storeowner. Except for Vanessa, that wasn’t enough, and shortly after, she accepted a sales and marketing consultancy job in the oil and gas field – and she balances both Bikini Cabana and that almost effortlessly.
“But it works,” she said. “I find the oil field is so interesting, and I enjoy it!”
It’s clear that Vanessa enjoys a challenge. And so with a store that was running successfully with its own clientele, she took on yet another challenge: designing.
Fashion is funny, because while trends change regularly, it’s sometimes the simplest of things that sell and have a high demand, and Vanessa found that was the case with her clients.
“What brought me to start designing was that clients would come into the store wanting something simple,” she added. “They wanted a simple skirt or throw, they want to show off the bathing suit, and I found it so challenging because none of the lines I was buying from had the things that everybody wanted.”
And noticing this gap in the market, Vanessa figured out the easiest way to bridge this gap was to produce these products herself. And so birthed Bikini Cabana the brand. With resort wear (much like the dress Vanessa wears in this issue) and cover-ups (most notably seen on the Miss World T&T stage as each model wore her designs), Vanessa listened to what her clients wanted, did the research and found sources for materials, fabrics and most importantly, for production.
“At the end of the day, you want your client to be happy,” she explained. “So that’s the journey that I’ve been on for the last few years.”
She described travelling the world – from Bulgaria to Colombia – looking for manufacturers to produce the quantity and quality of items that she wants.
Every detail of Bikini Cabana just showcases Vanessa’s love of design, of details and for her clients.
But her production goes way beyond just cover-ups and beach dresses. In fact, in 2017, Vanessa produced her first line of lingerie – with lace and detailing to make you feel your absolute sexiest – for the sub-section of the brand, Bikini Cabana Bridal. These products are not your average Victoria’s Secret mass-produced lingerie. No, each piece is perfectly designed and detailed, perfect for a special occasion just like your wedding night.
And, of course, there’s Bikini Cabana Carnival. With a section in Bliss Carnival since 2016, she and her team have perfected the art of carnival. With costume design by Andrew and Thais, and all of the VIP-details handled by Bikini Cabana, every moment from registration to pick-up to the very last minute of Carnival Tuesday has you feeling like a rockstar, which is exactly how Vanessa likes to treat her clients.
Just hearing her describe the amenities at the Bikini Cabana tent at the Bliss lunch stop made me want to register for their section immediately – enticed by glam squads and prosecco bars alike.
But all of this shows more than just Vanessa’s creativity and adaptability, it shows her drive to always create more, and do bigger and better things, and it shows her ability to create a brand that has transgressed across all of Trini culture.
To think that 7 years ago, she was just selling bikinis out of different homes, and now has created a brand that is known for producing and providing products that make women not only look amazing, but feel their very best – whether it’s at the beach, on the road or in their bedrooms. And to think that 15 years ago, she was a flight attendant at BWIA, not knowing where her dreams would take her, and not knowing how far she would go.