A conversation with Heneka Watkis-Porter, CEO/Marketing Director of Patwa Apparel

This week we have a conversation with Heneka Watkis-Porter, CEO/Marketing Director of Patwa Apparel. It was always been her dream to own and operate a business and so Heneka started the operation of PATWA Apparel 2 years ago in august, 2007.  PATWA Apparel is a brand that is deeply rooted in the culture of the Jamaican society.  It honors the colorful dialect of the Jamaican people, recognizing that it is penetrates deep into the minds of all people.  The line features casual clothing with Jamaican expressions while it provides an explanation in English.  The response to this simple idea has been very profound with a far-reaching impact.  The expressions on the clothing has evoked many a smiles from all those who have come in contact with it.

Since inception, the line has been on several expos such as the Jamaican Business Expo (Ft. Lauderdale), Kumba Mi Yabba, SDC Festival launch, Yemaya Model Agency launch, Island Couture, among others.  Patwa Apparel has been featured on local television programmes – Smile Jamaica, It’s morning Time (TVJ) (2 times) and CVM at Sunrise (CVM) as well as in the popular Flair Magazine within the Daily Gleaner.

Where in Jamaica are you from?
I grew up in St. Mary and migrated to Portmore, St. Catherine in 2000

Do you currently live in Jamaica

Tell us how the company got started?
 In August, 2007 I was home recovering from a minor procedure done at the University Hospital of the West Indies.  I was supposed to be resting but then my wandering mind began to think again about starting a business of my own.  This came in the middle of watching a television programme on one of our local channels.  There was someone on the show promoting their business.  I immediately jumped out of bed and telephoned a former co-worker to help me come up with a name for my t-shirt line. I called other friends and companies who could do the production for me as well.  As soon as I return to work form my sick leave, I did a little survey asking persons to choose a Jamaica name that they would feel comfortable wearing.  The names I got did not resonate with me.  Then finally, there was an aha moment and the name PATWA came about as I thought this name would certainly speak to what the line is about.  

Shortly thereafter, I got a logo designed, got samples together, sought customers, registered a business as well as my trademark.

What Patwa Apparel?
Patwa Apparel  is a clothing line which designs and  marketing casual wear with a unique concept – Jamaican patois/slang with an English translation imprinted on its pieces. The creative use of the Jamaican expressions evokes a smile from anyone who has happened to encounter the line.  PATWA evolved from the recognition that the Jamaican dialect – a truly colorful, penetrating tool that resonates deep into the minds and souls of Jamaican nationals, the Diaspora and tourists generally, could be used as a cultural enhancement instrument to delve deeply into an authentic component of the Jamaican culture. PATWA apparel highlights the current need for linguistic expressions through a brand

There is a debate in Jamaica about Patois being a language. What are your thoughts?
Patios is an authentic component of our culture whether or not we want to accept it.  I think some persons are embarrassed by it probably because they link it to our class structure to which they would rather not be associated. I must caution though that it has its place and should never be taken out of context.  What I mean by this is that in the same way you wear your swimsuit to the beach and not to the office, for example when conducting business locally or on the international scene, I would suggest that the language of business is used – the English Language.

How do you keep up with the latest slangs?
Oh that’s easy.  One has to only listen to the talk of the youngsters around and it’s a no brainer.  The slangs that the older folks are used are not discounted though as an old time favourite,  ‘likkle but tallawah’ (don’t be fooled by my size) will never grow old.

You started this business after Graduating from UWI. Was it a major challenge jumping right out of school into business?
To be honest it, it has never been a challenge maybe because I was employed full-time to another company at the time I started (I still am), this is something I do part-time (for now anyways).  I wanted it so badly that even when I came across obstacles, I never viewed them as such but rather things that I could learn from and to motivate me.

How is the line doing?
The line is doing well considering we are in a recessive economic climate.  We are actively seeking out avenues for development for 2011.  We received grant funding from the European Union last year and that funds went towards collateral material such as printing of posters and catalogues.  We are considering offering a trademark license to distributors in the US and some sections of Europe as well.  There are several things on the agenda for this year.

Do you have any major retailers carrying it?
Oh definitely.  In Kingston there is Collectibles, Artique, Fi Wi Brandish, Things Jamaica Stores, Casa de Xayamca (Norman Manley Airport), Reggae Vibes, Most of the hotels in the Superclubs chain.  There are negotiations ongoing for other outlets throughout Jamaica as well.  (By the way, if there are any distributors wanted to carry the line they can give me a call at 849-2571)

Do you participate in Caribbean Fashion week?
No, but is definitely something to be considered.

How many new lines will you be releasing in 2011?
I am thinking about focusing on a line that will fit all body types, you know like a one-size fits all kind of thing.

What is your guilty pleasure?
I really, really love to do international travels as well as just chilling by the beach and watching the sunset or anywhere quiet with a nice view.  Just talking about it now and I feel like stopping this interview to go and chill.  And I must mention eating in general but more specifically mangoes, cheesecake, ackee & saltfish and mangoes (not together).

What is the movie that you never get tired of watching?
Pretty Woman

Any words of advise for budding entrepreneurs?

The business plan is very crucial…do one and stick to it.  Networking is something one can never discount.  It is important to attend business linkages event and follow up with them after the event even if you have no immediate needs for contacting them.

You ought to be highly motivated.  It is not what you do but why you do it.  Find the reason why you want to get in business and let that motivate you.  For example, you ‘why’ could be that you don’t want your family to experience the same suffering you did as a child.  That should be enough to motivate you to get ahead.

Thanks for the interview.
You’re welcome

Any closing thoughts.
I want to wish everyone a great 2011.  Be positive in every circumstance, don’t speak negatively about other people and ask God’s guidance in all that you do and trust His response.

About Patwa Apparel
Patwa Apparel is a member of the Jamaican USA Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Association of Jamaica, and the Jamaica Fashion and Apparel Cluster. The collection can be seen at most of the Things Jamaican stores, Fi Wi Brandish (Norman Manley Airport), Collectibles, Artique, Reggae Vibes, Casa de Xaymaca, hotels, Fontana Pharmacy (Mandeville locations), among several other locations.  For more information on PATWA, log on to www.patwaapparel.com or call 849-2571 for further details.