Tourism Links: Craft vendors benefit from SRI’s artisan project

by Apr 28, 2022People

Many years ago, executives at Sandals Resorts International (SRI) opened their doors to local craft men and women through the SRI’s Caribbean Artisan Programme. In a nod to SRI’s late Chairman Gordon ‘’Butch’’ Stewart’s strong belief in the importance of supporting local artisans, they were granted the opportunity, at no charge to them, to ply their wares on the breathtaking grounds of the luxury all-inclusive resorts.

With 16 Sandals Resorts and three Beaches Resorts across the region, craft vendors have showcased and sold their handmade products to visitors from all across the globe. The initiative is a perfect example of how the tourism industry directly benefits individuals, shaping lives across generations.

The Jamaica Observer’s recently visited Sandals South Coast in Whitehouse, Westmoreland where we spoke with three of these creative individuals. 

The painter

Leroy Brown has been selling his paintings at SRI for about 30 years.

“I do paintings… landscape of different areas in and around Whitehouse — just what depicts the culture of Jamaica,” he says.

Sandals South Coast-based artisan Leroy Brown with of his hand-painted pieces.

His first introduction to the industry, Brown tells, came as a youngster working alongside an older cousin at the family-friendly Beaches Resorts.

With his cousin’s help, he later transitioned to Sandals South Coast when that resort opened in 2006.

Recounting his life as a less fortunate youth who lost his mother at a young age, an emotional Brown described the opportunity to sell his paintings to hotel guests as life changing.

“My journey to Whitehouse changed my life. Growing up poor, whatever I have is because of Mr Stewart. Sandals changed my life. When you created this brand, believe me, you did an awesome job. God bless your soul,” the artist says.

The father of six tells that he has one simple message for the current chairman of SRI, Adam Stewart.

“Continue opening your doors to the vendors like your father did, so we can continue to make ourselves better [and] send our kids to school because this helps us a lot,” he urges.  

The designer

After 15 years of creating resort wear for guests at Sandals South Coast, local designer Carla Higgins is grateful that her children were able to get a college education without her or them being buried under a mound of debt.

Local designer Carla Higgins hard at work at Sandals South Coast.

“It has been great because it allowed me to send my kids through college, build a house, buy a car,” says Higgins.

“I had two kids in university and a small one in private school and with the income that I earned from Sandals I was able to send them through college without student loan,” she continues.

One of the most memorable moments for Higgins was being invited to showcase her attractive designs in Washington, D C. The invitation came from Margaret Bernal, the wife of former Jamaican ambassador to the United States of America, Dr Richard Bernal.

She had seen Brown’s colourful line of beachwear while vacationing at Sandals South Coast.

“Sandals opened many doors for me,” says a proud Higgins. 

New kid on the block

With less than a year of experience, the youngest craft vendor at the resort, Craig Merchant, tells he looks forward to growing his jewellery-making business at Sandals South Coast.

Artisan Craig Merchant

“This is my mother’s business. She introduced me to it, and I started to work alongside doing the heavy lifting like carrying the tables and she would pay me,” Merchant explains.

Initially discouraged by the novel coronavirus pandemic, he gradually discovered his passion for craft and decided to take a leap of faith.

“During the lockdown I started to watch what she was doing, and I learned how to make jewellery — that’s how I ended up here at Sandals. I see myself doing this long term because so far so good. I have no complaints,” says Merchant.

Like his colleagues, Merchant, too, is grateful to the chairman of SRI, Adam Stewart.

“I really want to tell him thanks for the opportunity to be here because this has been a blessing not just for me, but for my family,” Merchant says.


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