Kalia & Co upping the bag ante
BORN OUT of a desire to upgrade the quality of merchandise available to tourists when they visit the island, Taneish Miller started Kalia & Co Designs. Launched in 2016, Kalia & Co specialises in handmade tote bags that evoke the tropical imagery of the Caribbean.
“Kalia & Co was my solution to a need to see better-quality locally made items available for visitors to choose from in our boutiques and gift shops. I worked in hospitality for a number of years and I was fed up of seeing all the sub-par mass produced items with Jamaica slapped on them being paraded as authentically Jamaican.”
She continued, “So I set out to make high-quality, locally made, sustainable pieces that are timeless in their designs but are done with a chic modernist aesthetic. Any Jamaican can proudly wear or gift my designs knowing they are truly well made.”
Starting as a personal challenge to improve upon existing products, Miller fondly recalled the inception of her business.
“My love of bag designing started more as a challenge presented to me by a co-worker at the time. One day I was being very critical of a piece of item in the store. I really disliked seeing the inferior quality and poor workmanship that some people accept as Brand Jamaica and I was vocal about it. So the gift shop manager, I think she was a bit fed up with me at this point, said ‘If you can make it better, do it’. I, on a whim, asked her, ‘If I should make something better, would you sell it in the shop?’ While she didn’t say yes immediately, she said if it was good enough, she would think about it. I took that challenge very seriously and so I took inventory of what was in the shop, because I wanted to make something that was different from what they already had, but not too difficult to make, while using the skills I already had which was obviously sewing.”
Carrying out her research on trends at the time, Miller decided to craft a pouch.
“When I presented the pouch to the gift shop manager she was so impressed with it that she immediately placed an order for 1 dozen, which sold out in a little over a week. Needless to say, she placed another order and that’s how I got started,” she reminisced.
Though not formally trained in fashion, Miller’s upbringing immersed her in the world of garment creation.
“I have no formal education in design. Everything I know about bag design is self-taught. With fashion, I love to invest in pieces that I know will stand the test of time and so I approach my business with that in mind. I create pieces that my customers can invest in. I did, however, learn to use a sewing machine at home. I grew up in the small community of Burnt Savannah, Westmoreland, and I was surrounded by sewing machines. My grandmothers, aunts, extended family members, every family household had a sewing machine. In fact, my aunt was a seamstress by profession and that was how I learned to use the sewing machine properly and gained some foundational sewing techniques that I am so grateful to have today,” she added.
Looking back at her years in operation, Miller told The Gleaner, “This journey has been an incredibly difficult one. Being a business owner is not for the faint of heart. It has, however, been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, and every hurdle I’ve overcome has strengthened my resolve to continue on my quest to make Kalia & Co a world-renowned Jamaican brand.”
Now with her eyes set on international distribution, Miller says she is starting her quest for world domination with the task of creating a website.
“I would love to partner with global stockists such as Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Anthropology, etc., and to be featured in major fashion magazines like Vogue, Elle and Harper’s Bazaar. Enormous goals, yes, but I believe I can do it,” Miller happily shared.