SafiaElena X Connect Forward

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Check out the original interview via Connect Forward

“Something that many people don’t know about Elena and I is that we both pursued science-based majors in university upon completing high school. We know that back then we were afraid to pursue something creative, but now that we’re older we recognize that the fear we were experiencing was partly due to a lack of information. I mean there was a flood of information and resources readily available on science and business, but information on art seemed more scarce and difficult to access. Sometimes we wonder how access to information on different creative career paths would have shaped our decision-making process. Would we have gone another way?

“At the end of the day though, we have no regrets. Our journey so far has been nothing short of incredible, and we are grateful to have discovered our inner creatives along the way. That being said, we understand the struggle and conflict that others face along their journeys which is why we were super excited to hear what our friend, Rebecca Walcott, was aiming to do with the brand Connect Forward.

“For those who may not know, Connect Forward is a “collaborative, digital workspace dedicated to providing resources for students & entry level professionals”, who may need some guidance on how to make informed, educational career choices to create the future that they want.

“If you are in a position of uncertainty due to a lack of information and access to proper resources (like we were a few years ago) we encourage you to check out Connect Forward and reach out to Rebecca via this Contact Sheet to find out how to go about designing the future that you’ve always envisioned for yourself.

“Here’s a small preview of our interview with Connect Forward where we share some of the information we’ve learned along our creative journey thus far! We hope that our experiences can provide some insight into what being a creative in T&T is really like. Be sure to check out the FULL interview “Q&A: CARIBBEAN CREATIVE INDEX – SAFIAELENA” on their website!”

-Safia & Elena

Safia Elena Ali & Elena Marquez

Safia Elena Ali & Elena Marquez


Tell me a bit more about some of the challenges you faced when you started. How did you get your brand and business off its feet and what helped you get there?

SAFIA: The biggest challenge we face is a shared challenge among local creatives- money. There are many people who still undervalue creatives; they think “How hard can it be to take a photo? How hard can it be to dress someone?” The process for creatives isn’t as simple as just taking a photo or just dressing someone; creatives are analytical too but of their own craft. Plus, as with any job, time is money, and just as people would expect no less than their promised salary for their 8-4, creatives should also expect to be fairly compensated for their time and expertise.

ELENA: Safia works and I’m still in University. Finding time to bring our ideas to reality has always been a tough one. While it’s difficult, we still make the time because we both really love what we do. It’s a great de-stressor.

What’s the best piece of advice/ resources in the Caribbean you’d like to share with the younger generation? What resources do you wish you had when you were starting off?

ELENA: I would definitely say that surrounding yourself with people who really accept and encourage you is key. This can be a bit difficult at times if you are new to the creative community or trying to branch off into something. It’s great though, because this community is growing and welcoming.

SAFIA: The best advice I have to give is to be fearless and confident in who you are (keep that ego in check though! Humility makes us open to learning). We’re all different and we can all bring a new perspective to the table, so allow your natural uniqueness to propel you forward. And don’t worry about “being weird”. We’re creatives- we’re all weird.

Can you talk a little about collaboration in T&T, what are some of the benefits and drawbacks of doing collabs with local creatives?

ELENA: I just truly believe that exposure to like-minded people really encourages the expansion and development of the many creative processes and just overall, truly positively impacts individual creativity. Even if your personal experience with a creative isn’t the best, you still gain the knowledge of what you don’t like or how you’d prefer to operate differently.

SAFIA: Collaboration is really what knits the local fashion community together. It’s a fantastic way to learn and experiment, and I would 100% encourage creatives to work with and engage with each other- even if it’s just for advice. However, it’s important to ensure that when you collaborate there’s a challenge for you in there. If there’s no obvious challenge, then design a challenge for yourself.

What message do you have for the younger generation who are thinking of pursuing a career like yours?

ELENA: Your life is yours. If the creative route interests you, then explore it. Take photos, paint something. The internet is a fantastic tool for inspiration. Surrounding yourself in an environment which promotes growth and development is also key. Reach out to friends and create with each other, it all starts there.

SAFIA: Remember that everybody starts off somewhere. Don’t be discouraged by where you are now or whatever the current issue at hand might be. Make use of what you have and reach out to other people for help and guidance. BE BRAVE; being a creative takes a lot of courage, a lot of persistence and a LOT of hard work. The journey is long and difficult and never-ending, but being able to wake up every day and do what you love will make it all worthwhile.


Click here to read more on our experience with collaboration, our favourite shoots to date, and the future of SAFIAELENA!

Model Checklist

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The fashion industry can be riddled with expectations, especially for models, so it’s wise to be as prepared as possible. That being said, it can be confusing to determine what will be provided for you versus what you should/ should not walk with to modeling jobs and bookings.
Here’s my list of the top things that models should always carry with them on shoot and show days:

Punctuality

As with any job, models are expected to be on time. Being punctual is a sign of respect for the people you work with, and lets them know how much you value the opportunity to work with them, and their precious time (because time is money!). Punctuality is also one of the first signs of your professionalism and seriousness about what you do. If for some reason you are unable to attend the gig or are running late, please give ample notice! Last minute cancellations can be interpreted as highly unprofessional, and usually result in bruised reputations, and time and money being wasted on production efforts.

Nude Seamless Underwear for the Ladies

This might seem like an obvious one, but you’d be surprised. Generally speaking, thongs are preferred because they guarantee an even greater panty-line vanishing effect, especially if the clothing is transparent, super tight, or has a cheekier/ lower cut. Also be mindful of what colour would be classified as nude on your specific skin tone.

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Form Fitting Undies for the Fellas

The age-old question: boxers or briefs? The answer: both. Guys, try to walk with a variety of form-fitted underwear in both black and white.

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Panty Liners

Panty liners are extremely important, especially in the case of swimwear or resort wear, and they should be worn at all times by models during fittings, shoots and shows.

Nude Bras

Not every designer will want you to wear a bra, but it is still wise to have at least two in your arsenal: a standard simple bra, and a strapless bra. Bras should be in nude tones and black, and non-padded! Push-up bras are a big no-no; you can always add cutlets if desired by your designer or stylist. It also helps if they are seamless and wireless, but those aren’t really a necessity, as long as they fit properly.

Vests for the Guys

Male models should also walk with plain, sleeveless vests in both black and white as a precaution as well.

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Pasties

More commonly, you’ll find models to be without bras. In that case, it can always be handy to have a pair of pasties, and revisiting points one and three, they should be as close to your skin tone as possible.

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Clean Skin and Nails

I’ve seen many a model show up to a shoot with a face full of makeup or greased down in baby oil. Unless requested of you by the designer or stylist, you should come with clean, fresh skin, and nails clear of polish- a blank canvas essentially.

Colourless, Odorless Deodorant

Deodorant marks are annoying on our own clothes, so imagine getting them on somebody else’s! Colourless, odorless deodorants are available and should be worn by models to fashion events to avoid the soiling of pieces. I also recommend taking it with you, to ensure that you stay fresh throughout the day or night.

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Nude Heels and/ or Flats for the Ladies

Nude, nude, nude… there’s a reason why! A model’s job is essentially to display the look that she’s wearing- not distract from it, and with shoes nowadays being available in every size, shape and colour, it has become increasingly difficult to depend on models to have an appropriate pair of heels. EVERY model should equip herself with a pair of simple, elegant, heels in both nude and black. Pumps are a thing of the past! Keep it minimalist.
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Casual and Dress Shoes for the Guys

Just like with women’s shoes, the options for guys are limitless. Follow the instructions of your designer/stylist, but generally try to stay away from loud colours and styles, and veer towards simple, neutral toned shoes, with appropriate socks for each pair.

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Comfortable, Easy to Remove Clothing

Nothing is harder to watch than a model trying to pull a tight top off after her hair and makeup have already been done. It’s downright cringeworthy- you really feel for the hairstylist and make up artist. On shoot/ show days, remember to wear clothing that is easy to remove to avoid messing up hair and makeup, and to make changing easier and more efficient. Button-up shirts are probably the best option.

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Water and Smart Snacks

The waiting game can sometimes be long and unpredictable, so be sure to  have some healthy snacks and water handy. As a general rule of thumb, try to stay away from snacks or drinks that are messy and have the potential to soil garments. Also, try to bring smart snacks, meaning healthier options, and snacks with higher protein content to keep you full for longer. Some good options would be nuts, protein bars, and non-messy fruits and veggies like apples and carrots.

A Positive, Professional Attitude

Being a model in the middle of the hustle and bustle can be overwhelming, but it’s important to keep your cool. At times, people may say or do things that you disagree with, but take a deep breath, process your thoughts, and respond if need be, in a cool, calm and respectable manner. Remember, on these days everyone involved tends to be stressed to the max, so try your best to be patient and professional 100% of the time.

 

Q&A with Maya Cozier

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Trinidad and Tobago-born filmmaker (/dancer/artist) Maya Cozier has been praised throughout the region for her ability to highlight the Caribbean’s rich culture through the art of filmmaking. Having looked up to Maya as her junior in secondary school (shout-out to all my Holy Name girls!), and having had the ability to work with her on more than one occasion, I know that there’s so much more to her than meets the eye. Maya is a daring individual with a keen sense of self-awareness and appreciation for individuality and uniqueness. Her body of work speaks volumes to her character and inspires creatives such as myself to be truly fearless. She is a force to be reckoned with; a strong, independent, Caribbean woman.

I’m extremely grateful to have gotten the opportunity to work with Maya again this past weekend. I decided to ask her to share with me a few things about her that most people don’t know, so here are a few fun facts about this local she-ro:


What does beauty mean to you?

Beauty to me is about challenging the norm and experimentation. I always find the most striking people to have some unique feature that stands out. I mean think about why a model like SlickWoods is so popular? Her energy is alluring. Confidence and individuality are beautiful. We’re no longer going to accept the same one dimensional beauty ideals in 2018.

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Slick Woods | Image from hypebae.com

Who are your favorite people to follow on Instagram?

Right now I’m really loving Savannah G Baker. She curates the PumPum Gyals page and her styling work draws from an electric mix of influences.  Mykki Blanco is musician and he’s not afraid to say it like it is. I find his messages about being an openly trans artist quite inspiring. And well Museum Mammy is your quintessential art world cool girl.

What does feminism mean to you?

My feminism is intersectional. I’m not a fan of elitist feminists that exclude women based on race or class. I love when women without a college degree claim feminism as their own. Isn’t it powerful that ex strippers like Cardi B and Amber Rose can be a part of a movement that’s meant for the liberation of all women (including trans women)? I think we’re giving into the same patriarchal systems we’re trying to fight by excluding some and including others.

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Amber Rose and Cardi B | Image from Wetpaint.com

How would you describe your personal style?

Growing up I always borrowed shirts from my dad. He would complain about shirts that have gone missing over the years. I never limit myself to what I feel a woman should wear. My personal style draws on DIY elements where I would piece together things I’ve found and try to make it work. I always like looking free, comfortable and effortless. I was made fun of a lot in secondary school for some of my style choices but I think I really learnt to embrace that side of myself when I got to NY.  I realized then that it was kind of OK to be weird.

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Photography by Bernard Alexander

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Photography by Bernard Alexander

What’s your favorite music?

There’s so many genres that I vibe with but on most days I listen to R&B. I remember discovering SZA and Kehlani on Spotify before they blew up. I love Blood Orange and Frank Ocean. I love listening to Nina Simone one second and Vibez Kartel the next. My music taste is all over the place.

I know you don’t want to reveal too much but what can we expect from your next film, She Paradise?

You can expect sisterhood, discovery and a lot of jump splits lol

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Behind the Scenes Look at She Paradise the film


Follow Maya and She Paradise the film on Instagram to stay in the loop and learn more about Maya and her projects!

Instagram: @mayacozier

She Paradise on Instagram: @sheparadisethefilm

 

Creative Exhaustion

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Balancing acts as a part-time creative can be quite difficult to pull off. After successfully pushing through several projects in the past few months, I found myself in a state of creative exhaustion. It seemed as though juggling a full-time job, personal responsibilities, and my various fashion ventures was really starting to catch up with me. I’d put my brain through so much that the creative powerhouse decided to shut down and leave me in a panic. I couldn’t conceptualize at all.

As someone who feels an unexplainable sense of fulfillment and joy in accomplishing her goals, I started to feel afraid. The self-doubt monster crept in and I questioned whether or not I was truly capable of being the independent superwoman that I wanted so badly to be. All I could think about was how much my hard work would suffer if I stopped being consistent. I just felt as though I couldn’t take a break. Even if I decided to, where would I find the time?

Since wrapping our last big shoot a few weeks ago, I had been struggling to motivate myself to create. My passion started to feel like a chore, like something I had to do instead of something that I loved to do, and I was incredibly disappointed in myself for allowing that to happen.

Wary of the future commitments I’d made, I knew that I would have to find a way to snap out of it in order to put my best foot forward. I could not bear to face our clients and collaborators without a sense of confidence; I needed to put on my brave face and just get the job done.

We had two shoots scheduled for the weekend. The first, a collaboration between friends/ creatives for the launch of a new clothing line, and the second, a conceptual portrait shoot for a local creative. I can’t tell you how many times I thought of backing out. I was just looking for any excuse to run away out of the fear that I would not be able to do my best, with this giant cloud of doom and gloom hanging over me. I had never felt so unprepared.

Going into the first shoot, we had a clear idea of what the client wanted to portray, but for some reason I still felt a wave of crippling anxiety come over me. However, just as quickly as it set in, it vanished. The good vibes were contagious. Surrounded by nature, positivity, mutual respect and authenticity, I found it extremely difficult to keep the smile off of my face. We spent the afternoon driving through the hills, ole-talking, laughing and playing the fool (and working! I promise we did the work). This was far from a chore! It was an adventure! I started to feel like my old self again, and as soon as Elena and I saw the photos we breathed a huge sigh of relief. They were perfect.

Photos by Elena Marquez

The following day was my shoot with Maya. While we had discussed the shoot several times before, I was still so nervous about it. I knew that this series would be particularly challenging for me styling-wise, so I felt scared of falling short and disappointing everyone, including myself. I was surprised that despite having such an inspired Saturday, my mental block was still up, and I was STILL unable to conceptualize the looks. I mean, we had tons of inspo photos, but I was fully responsible for finding a way to execute “the look” through sourcing the right pieces.

Pieces, pics, and anxiety in hand, I walked in to Maya’s house on Sunday afternoon. I took a deep breath and tried to think of the best way to approach it. Out of all the looks, there was only one that I was sure of, so I decided to start there. While preparing the first look, I could feel the creative gears turning slowly. One by one the other looks started coming to me. I felt this invigorating jolt of energy rush through me as I stood, waiting to see the first set of images. They were beautiful. Joy filled my heart, and peace and confidence filled my mind. I was ready to power through it.

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Photo by Marlon James

The next few looks fell together seamlessly. With Maya’s open, artistic mind, and Marlon’s expert eye, we were able to accomplish a shoot that I am now so incredibly proud of. It was a dream. Having that true creative freedom was liberating. It ended up being the breath of fresh air that I didn’t even know I needed. I went home that night feeling recharged and HAPPY, having being reminded of why I sacrificed and continue to sacrifice all that I have to be in here in the first place.

Styling is my passion. It is my love. Everything that I am doing right now no matter how difficult, is centered around being able to do what I love, in the Caribbean that I love, surrounded by the people that I love.

Photos by Marlon James

This is not the first time I’ve experienced creative withdrawal, and I know it won’t be the last. On my quest for achieving stability and balance through all aspects of my life, it’s only expected that challenges will arise. However, after experiencing all that I have over the past few months and successfully overcoming it, I do feel better prepared for future curveballs and would like to offer a bit of advice to my fellow creatives.

1. Make time for yourself. You deserve a breather. We all know how hard the industry can be. Every now and again put things on pause and spend a day or a weekend regrouping and just relaxing. Don’t give it the opportunity to exhaust or overwhelm you.

2. Do shoots that challenge you to try new things. While they might be intimidating, those are the shoots that will foster the most growth and development.

3. Constantly remind yourself of the reason you chose to be on this creative path. You’re here for a reason, so allow that reason to motivate you and keep pushing you to  do better.

4. Keep your creative goals in check. All creatives have different goals in mind. So while nothing is wrong with collaborating, ensure to make each collaboration worth YOUR while. The only person who can truly seek your best interest is you.

5. Do at least one selfish project per month. In this age of social media we often create content that we think people will want to see, or things we think they will like instead of focusing our time and energy into projects that we actually want to do. Make yourself a project wish list, and promise yourself to execute at least one per month. There’s nothing better or more fulfilling than being able to focus all of your attention on you.

Hopefully these tips can help save some of you from experiencing creative exhaustion, or help guide you out of it if that’s where you are now. For us creatives, our minds are our money, so let’s take care of ourselves so that we can continue to do what we love and feel good about doing it!

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Photo by Marlon James

 

The Story of SafiaElena

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15th July, 2017

… a special day for Safia Elena Ali.

On July 15th, 2017, a 22 year old Safia received the validation that her soul had been longing for. It was on this day that her “fairy godmother”, Kered Clement, expressed her confidence in Safia’s ability after exposing her to a life-changing opportunity.

The beginning- Kered

You see, for years Safia struggled with left brain vs right brain syndrome. A condition characterized by its difficulty to diagnose, these unique individuals often spend a large portion of their lives trying to deny either their analytical, practical nature, or their creative, imaginative traits out of fear of disappointing themselves and others.

After spending the majority of her school-going days pursuing a career in medicine, she’d had enough. She could no longer surpress the overwhelming urge to explore her creative mind. In a single moment she vowed to never sacrifice one over the other again; she would do her best to maintain balance, to allow both sides of her personality to be challenged, to grow.

Even though she couldn’t openly admit it at the time, Safia was always intrigued by the idea of fashion. From the moment she could safely operate a scissors (yes, I really said that), she dedicated hours to scrap-booking her favourite looks from her mom’s old fashion magazines, and when she got a bit older, would take them with her when she traveled to make sure that she spent her little pocket change wisely. And that was just The Beginning. For all the time that followed, she continued her research. She spent copious amounts of time googling the latest trends; she stared for hours at her laptop screen admiring the craftsmanship of the luxury fashion houses; she trashed her room almost every night playing dress-up, trying to find different ways to “style” her clothes… a real budding fashionista.

As she grew older, the love grew deeper. She became known in her circle as “the friend who likes to dress up”. Bet your bottom dollar, if Safia was leaving her house, she’d arrive looking like a whole snack: put together. She did not come to play. This is what she loved, and she was good at it. It made her happy.

After many years of surpressing that love, there was a moment of clarity. Matter of fact, it was one of her first days in her first year of Med School. One of her teachers stood up in front of the class and asked a single question:

“How many of you have ALWAYS wanted to be a doctor? How many of you know that this is your passion?”

Hands all across the classroom shot up at the speed of light, but in that moment for Safia, time stood still. She couldn’t raise her hand. She knew it wasn’t true. She looked around her at a room full of future doctors, smiles stretched on their faces, their hands waving in the air, and for the first time, felt like she didn’t belong there.

A seed was planted.

She questioned her place and her role. She truly loved being in that classroom and learning all there was to know about the intricate human body, but was it enough? Would it ever be enough? She knew it wasn’t, and it would never be.

Things got harder after that. Up until that moment she never questioned her decision. She believed that she was doing the right thing; the more practical thing; the thing that made the most sense, but her heart was not in it, and she believed that in order to really succeed in something, one has to be fully committed to seeing it through.

27th Dec, 2015

… Safia receives a journal from Rushell Rousseau for her 21st birthday, and begins to document her thoughts.

“What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?”

“21/01/15- I would drop out of med school and do fashion. It’s where my true talent & passions lie, and if there was a guarantee for success, I would do it. It’s what my heart wants.”

“Why be afraid of something you want?”

“18/01/15- Because sometimes I put other people before myself, and I become afraid to pursue what I want because I don’t want to hurt others, even though I know it would make me happy.
5/10/16- Sometimes I feel like I want too many things and I don’t really know if I can have it all. I want to be IN fashion. So badly. It’s my dream job. But it’s too risky. I would love it, but I’m not sure it’s worth it at the moment.”

“What difference does it make if the thing you’re scared of is real or not?”

“7/10/16- I’m scared to pursue my dream of getting into fashion because it’s such a big sacrifice to make for something that’s so risky. I’m scared to lose the things & people that I care about while I’m on that journey.”

The more she expressed her thoughts, the more she doubted the path she was on, and eventually she realized that unless she gave this a chance, she’d always regret it. School felt harder and more stressful because motivation was harder to find. “Take a break,” she thought, “figure out what you really want to do before you go any further”, and that’s what she did.

After withdrawing from medical school, she began working for a local, Grenadian boutique: The Boutique at Calabash. It was at Calabash that Safia was able to experiment with her creativity. As the manager of The Boutique, she found herself dedicated to doing whatever she could to promote the business. From organizing photo shoots, to creating original content, to managing The Boutique’s social media, to hosting Grenada’s first ever pop-up, she fully dove into her responsibilities, and was able to experience fashion from a different perspective.

Safia met Kered Clement early in 2017 through her work at The Boutique and through a mutual friend. Over time their relationship grew, and Safia began to think of Kered as a mentor and role model. She felt very much encouraged by Kered, and as a matter of fact, it was Kered’s encouraging words coupled with the success she was achieving at Calabash, that motivated her and nurtured her confidence. In Kered she found a confidant and valuable insight into the world of fashion; whenever she needed help or advice, she was never disappointed. It wasn’t long before Kered found Safia ready for something bigger.

19th May, 2017

Kered offers Safia a life-changing opportunity.

As a contributor to several fashion publications, both local and international, Kered was frequently asked to participate in shoots inside and outside of Grenada. On this day, Kered messaged Safia to let her know that one of those opportunities could be hers. A fabulous shoot for Elle Kazakhstan was to take place in Grenada and Safia was asked to assist with the styling. She was so excited but also nervous. At this point, her experience was limited to her work with The Boutique and her own personal research, but she trusted Kered’s assessment of her readiness and hopped on board.

23rd May, 2017

Shoot day.

At 9:30am Safia arrived at the Grenadian market square as ready as she ever would be. She’d spent the days before preparing- googling everything, making checklists, and everything in between. However, as much as she prepared, nothing could have braced her for the realness that came her way. Before this moment Safia never truly understood the amount of work and responsibility that a stylist was expected to accept on such a set. She thought it was pretty straightforward- you come, dress the model, look after the clothes, undress them and then you’re done! But no! There was far more to it, and under the guidance of Kered, wise people on the internet and the very experienced photographer, she fell right in. At first it was awkward- stopping the photographer mid-shot to adjust some minuscule detail. “Who do I think I am?”, she thought. But that was all a part of the responsibility, and after a while it became second nature.

At the day’s end she was physically exhausted but her soul felt recharged. On that day not only did she find a renewed sense of purpose, Safia also found her place. Finally, she had found her place. She felt tremendously proud of herself; she felt more confident than ever and knew that nobody would ever be able to take that feeling away from her.

2nd July, 2017

@safia.elena was born.

In an effort to document her experience, Safia created the Instagram page @safia.elena. It served as a platform for her to share her experiences, work, and inspiration with those around her, and she thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. It provided her with an even fuller sense of purpose and motivated her to start creating original content. She wanted to continue to build a name for herself. Safia also knew that eventually she wanted to expand @safia.elena and so decided to invest in her very own online portfolio and fashion/ style blog,  safiaelena.com.

September, 2017 – July, 2018

Upon moving back to Trinidad, Safia continued to search for ways to strengthen her portfolio and build her brand. She frequently enlisted the help of her best friend and number one cheerleader, Elena Marquez, on shoots, and eventually in May 2018, the two collectively became known as the dynamic duo behind most of @safia.elena’s independent creative projects.

Safia Elena Ali & Elena Marquez

Safia Elena Ali & Elena Marquez

After completing several successful projects, Safia’s mind went back to safiaelena.com. After some time had passed, and after discussing ideas with Elena, she decided that it was finally the right moment to resume work on the website. Initially she imagined safiaelena.com to be an online portfolio and fashion blog, but over time that idea shifted. There was just so much that she’d learned, so much that she wanted to share with people, and just so much more she wanted to do. Safia and Elena, thrilled by their drive to create, made up their minds. They were gonna do it.

18th July, 2018

Today.

Safiaelena.com is launched.

As you can see, SAFIAELENA has been a long time coming. A big shift from its intended purpose, Safia and Elena decided that safiaelena.com will not only serve as an online portfolio and informative fashion blog, but will also act as a means of connecting people to Caribbean designers and creatives, as well as connecting international fashion to the Caribbean in an attempt  to assist in the growth of the local fashion industry.

Safia and Elena would like to welcome you to this new part of their journey and they hope that you will enjoy it as much as they do.