Woman in a non-traditional business empowered by Fresh Start Programme

Basseterre, St. Kitts (September 26, 2016) — Working with leather, and shoe making in particular, has always been seen as a man’s job but thanks to the Development Bank of St. Kitts and Nevis (DBSKN) Ms Joan Hamilton has defied all odds and is today an accomplished entrepreneur in that field.

Joan’s Designs Leather Crafts is a business that stands out on the Main Street in Tabernacle Village, next to the Methodist Church, where she has been producing high class sandals for women.

Ms Hamilton who previously operated a business that was not doing as well as she wanted looked to supplement her income by ordering sandals from Jamaica to sell locally. As the demand for the sandals increased, the entrepreneurial spirit in her kicked in and as it is often said; the rest is history.

“The idea came to me, what if I make the sandals?” she reasoned with herself. “Since I am buying the sandals and bringing them here to sell, I can do it. I did not train, it is a gift. All I did was research online. I started to look up leather, different types of leather, how to make this, how to make that and that is basically how I started out.”

She started in 2012 and was making the sandals by hand, which she noted was quite tedious and more difficult for a woman to cut the leather manually. She therefore started looking for help in terms of getting equipment that could better help her.

“Not only that: With the equipment it can produce more work, it would go faster than when you are here cutting with your hand one by one,” explained Ms Hamilton.

As a person with an ear to the ground it did not escape her attention when early September 2015 Prime Minister Dr the Hon Timothy Harris, who is also the Minister for Finance, launched the Government of St. Kitts and Nevis-Development Bank of St. Kitts and Nevis ‘Fresh Start Programme’ that was offering concessionary loans of up to US$100,000 to operators of small to medium enterprises.

“I got involved with the Development Bank after I heard about the Fresh Start Programme that could actually move small businesses,” said Ms Hamilton. “I figured that the sandals were good, but they could have been better. They could have a better finish and I needed equipment for that, so that is when I approached the Development Bank, gave them my idea on what I was about, what I was doing and asked for help, which they did really help me.”

At the Development Bank of St. Kitts and Nevis Ms Hamilton was assisted by Mr Lockhart Alleyne, the bank’s Business Support Technical Officer. According to the Development Bank official, Ms Hamilton had a good business idea and was very enthusiastic and passionate about what she was doing.

Mr Alleyne reasoned that Ms Hamilton was tapping into a market that is self-sustaining, and that she was doing it differently. He was keen to observe that the product she was producing by hand was as good as the one from overseas, and the market supported her by buying the sandals. With Bank’s assistance, she could only produce better quality that would appeal to a larger audience.

She had approached the Development Bank last October and by January this year the loan had been approved. The equipment and raw material she ordered arrived in February/March because all the equipment came from overseas. The equipment includes a clicker machine and cutting dies that enable her to produce perfect products.

Other than shoes Ms Hamilton also produces leather clutch purses for ladies and is now getting ready to go into the production of belts, because persons have been asking for leather belts for kids for school, and for adults.

Marketing of her products is mostly by word of mouth, and Facebook. She is also on Instagram and Twitter and is getting ready to set up a website which would help her reach the broader Caribbean region. While she does not have an outlet in Basseterre, she is working on that aspect so that people could go there to get their sandals and other leather products.

When the Development Bank of St. Kitts and Nevis held its 3rd Business Fair at the Independence Square in Basseterre in May, Ms Joan Hamilton was one of the ten Fresh Start Programme beneficiaries who took part, and she put on display her quality leather products.

“I would say if you have a vision and you have a dream go for it,” commented Ms Joan Hamilton. “Development Bank is there to help us, small businesses who are struggling, people who have ideas and want to put them out there, Development Bank is the best way to go. They have been good to me especially Mr Alleyne, who worked with me on my business plans, and my books.

“So I would recommend Development Bank. I am happy with the Fresh Start Programme, it is good, it is actually really a fresh start; it boosted my business for sure.”

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