Courtney Washington’s journey from cook to celebrity designer
Courtney Washington is today creating fashion for many well-known celebrities and moving in circles that are exclusive; however, his journey to the top has been adorned with many twists and turns.
Born in lower Franklin Town, the ‘other side’ of east Kingston, Washington attended Franklin Town Primary school and spent two years at Clan Carthy High School. Dunkirk, he said, was his playground growing up, as he watched it built and walk through the area on many occasions.
At age 17 years he dropped out of Clan Carthy to go work as a cook at The University of the West Indies Common Room on the Mona campus. He was to hold that position for two years before taking over the restaurant and running it following the death of the person who originally had the contract.
It was while working as a cook that he was to have a chance encounter that would change his life and set him on a course for a career in the fashion world.
“One afternoon I accompanied a friend to her fashion designer and it was there that I first met June Escoffery,” he told The Gleaner.
Washington’s mother was a seamstress but she would beat him whenever he attempted to use her sewing machine. “There was a designer on our road who was reportedly gay and my mother thought that by discouraging me from an interest in designing I would not become like him,” he said.
Having met June, Washington said he would visit her every evening after work and began designing dresses for his younger sister and cousins. Still, his mother sought to discourage him, although other women wanted his clothing. While visiting with June he also designed pants for a number of female clients and began developing a following.
In 1988, Washington went out on his own. His first visit to New York was in 1990 but he was not intrigued because of the level of crime taking place in the city.
“By then I was fully operational in Jamaica and did not see the need to move to New York. I was doing okay,” he said, having his studio at the time on Haining Road.
The first to model his design, he said, was Althea Laing. He also took part in different events in Jamaica showing his designs.
In 1995 he went to New York to attend Pratt Institute in Brooklyn to study fashion designing. He was also to study at the Fashion Institute in Manhattan.
After establishing his work studio on Livingston Street in Brooklyn, Washington started doing trade shows on both the East and West coasts.
“My designs began taking off because I had a product that no one else had,” he said.
Today, the Courtney Washington brand is well known in the fashion world with many celebrities wearing his designs.
He moved his studio from Livingston Street to Fulton Street in Brooklyn where there were many black-owned studios on the strip.
“After COVID I folded everything into one and moved to New York,” he said.
The iconic brand Courtney Washington is found in several major stores in the United States.
Recently, Washington brought his creativity to the COJO fashion show in Westbury, Long Island, to raise funds to support children in Jamaica. He told The Gleaner that his show with a Jamaican theme featured several original creations.
“I decided on the COJO show because it is my way of giving back and I know that the organisation has a stellar reputation for helping children and I just want to give back,” he said.
As for the future, Washington is opening an e-commerce platform which will not only feature his designs but will also showcase accessory products from other Jamaicans.
He will also be making a more concerted push to get his designs back into several name brand stores.
As for his advice to youngsters seeking to get into the fashion business, be sure it is what you want to do.
“It is not easy but learn all areas of the craft and you will have a greater appreciation for growth of your brand. It has to be your passion, your universe. You have to be dedicated to be in it for the long term. Be sure it is what you want to do,” he said.