A Caribbean Couturier in Lewisham

The textile legacies of the women of the Windrush Generation

A Caribbean family pose for a wedding photo
Image courtesy of Joy Prime

In 1963 Sylvia Prime travelled from her home in Trinidad to London to begin a new life in Lewisham. Although she was an accomplished fashion designer and seamstress in her homeland, she soon learned that her skills were not recognised in the UK and was forced to find work as a sample machinist.

Almost sixty years later her daughter Joy, who also worked as a couturier for many years, is telling her story and that of other women like her who helped to rebuild post-war Britain.

Background

Joy’s project explores the forgotten textile legacies of the women of the Windrush Generation and their work both in and out of the factory.

Sylvia, like many other Caribbean women of the Windrush Generation, produced made-to-measure, couture gowns and dresses for formal occasions alongside their day jobs in the textile factories of London.

They had a lasting impact on Britain’s cultural landscape, but this legacy has largely been excluded from the history of British fashion.

To address this, Joy is gathering a wealth of memories, garments, photographs and artefacts from the people who made, wore and remember them.

Project

Through oral history workshops with elderly Caribbean residents and an engagement stand at three local festivals, Joy is shining a light on the skills and cultural significance of Lewisham’s Caribbean couturiers.

Image: Engagement event at the Hummingbird Club (June 2022)

Furthermore, Joy is employing the help of local design students to create a replica couture garment inspired by her mum’s work.

The project culminates in an immersive exhibition at Lewisham Shopping Centre in October 2022 to celebrate Black History Month.

The event exhibits garments and photographs from the period alongside a full replica of a home machinist environment complete with mannequin, wardrobe and sewing machine.

Through an insightful panel discussion, an immersive installation and a community fashion show, the forgotten histories of Caribbean couturiers are brought to life.

Share your memories and images of handmade garments made by Caribbean seamstresses in Lewisham

Project team

  • Joy Prime, Project Lead