Talking with Toni Smart is refreshing to say the least. She is the co-founder and current face of the latest brand of swimwear to hit the shores of both Trinidad and Martinique, and making quite a splash in the process!
There are only a few swimwear collections that I deem to be worth the investment in the Caribbean, which is strange considering the year round summers and beach runs. One would think we were swimwear experts by now!
However, where many simply regurgitate designs that to do little to fit, flatter and have the ‘wearability’ factor year after year on regional runways, Whole Peace is different, both in style and in concept.
Like many women who struggle with finding the perfect bathing suit – especially after a certain age or major events that inevitably change the way we feel about our bodies – Toni was in search of whole-piece swimwear that was comfortable but still on trend. She purchased a few pieces from a designer friend who was selling them out of a suitcase. The cut and fit of the Brazilian-made swimwear garnered a lot of attention and compliments, at which point Toni – who currently lives in Martinique, but often models for designer Meiling – decided that this would be a great business opportunity.
‘I called my cousin in Trinidad and told her I had this idea… Before she even heard the details, she was on board!’ she says. ‘I called the suppliers in Brazil and told them I wanted to sell their pieces under our brand Whole Peace, using creative input from around the Caribbean and they agreed.’
And so, co-founded by Toni Smart and Lynmerie Parris, Whole Peace came into being. Though neither of the pair designs or sews, their business savvy and experience in the industry on other levels has given them what is looking to be like a pretty decent start in the world of fashion.
‘A lot of the creative people and artists in the Caribbean don’t have the business knowledge to really sell their work, and that’s why so much of the talent gets little exposure,’ Toni explains. I completely agree, and admire the way that in making up for not having the design skill, the cousins and partners have piled together all their resources to ensure the brand’s success.
Not only does she have extensive modeling and travel experience around the world, Toni is also a lawyer and chartered accountant, making her indispensable in a business setting. Meanwhile, Lynmerie has recently returned to Trinidad after working as a buyer for Macy’s, experience and knowledge that is undoubtedly golden, as well as her current work in the field of digital marketing. However, Toni jokes that these qualifications are only a small part of their current job description when it comes to Whole Peace.
‘We are also the janitors of the operation!’ she says, which indicates how much of themselves has been invested into the business thus far.
But Toni’s most important job is one that I feel has contributed significantly to her endorsement of the product. Like me, she is a mother to a young child. For most women, motherhood is a life-changing event that morphs the way we perceive ourselves on a physical level. While some women easily return to their pre-baby figures, others have a harder time doing so; stretch marks and less-than-taut skin are also ‘gifts’ of our labour.
The Whole Peace ‘Melissa’ swimsuit
That is what makes the pieces in the current lineup attractive to me. It is not at all a statement that any woman should look to cover up once becoming a mother; but rather, relief in the knowledge that you don’t have to wear a bikini to look sexy. The colours are gorgeous. See above the ‘Melissa’ in a blush rose tone that I believe would flatter practically any skin tone. And then there is the ‘Tracy’, which looks like a one piece coming, but turns into a bikini going.
The Whole Peace ‘Tracy’ swimsuit
The Whole Peace swimsuits are sexy, without being overtly so. In fact, I see myself donning one of the deep blue, aptly named ‘Toni’ pieces with a sleek pencil skirt, or perhaps a white blazer and shorts combo… In short, the swimwear is more than just a bathing suit. It is versatile. For me, looking at the Whole Peace catalogue screams: Play Time!
The Whole Peace ‘Toni’ swimsuit
Don’t think that these pieces are aimed at just one type of woman, however! Having sold to a client as young as 13 as well as homemakers and businesswomen alike, Toni describes the Whole Peace woman as ‘any woman who embodies confidence or who wants to feel confident. That’s where the pun on the brand’s name comes into play; these swimsuits are for women who are – or want to be – at peace with themselves and their being… Our product works just as beautifully for the fiercely independent degree graduate who wants to gift herself as it does for the housewife who wants to gift her husband. It’s affordable luxury.’
Following a launch in Port-of-Spain and one in San Fernando – in the form of trunk shows – the Martinique launch of the brand is set for 7th July. While many of the pieces in the current catalogue have been sold out, Toni assures me that the most popular items will be reworked and re-released in the new collection, as they have proven to be top sellers. The new collection, which is set to be available before the end of the year, will be featuring designs from Olivier Couturier. Whole Peace also looks forward to working with designers throughout the region over the next few collections.
‘We want to share this platform with regional talent and really have the opportunity to showcase the Caribbean on different levels. It’s not something we need to do; it’s something we really want to do.’
From what I can tell you, there are still many surprises in store before the end of 2012 from this brand, which will eventually be expanding throughout the Caribbean and, without a doubt, globally. Having already been spotlighted by a number of popular publications, endorsed by women across the country and with Meiling as a supporter, it’s safe to say Whole Peace is well on its way to creating way more than a splash.
Keep up with the Whole Peace brand here