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ICYMI: Yello Interviews Michelle George, aka The Tailor’s Daughter

by Karen Rollins Feb 13, 2023

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Antiguan entrepreneur Michelle George is the founder of The Tailor’s Daughter, a gourmet boutique gift shop located in V.C Bird International Airport which sells 100% Caribbean products.

Michelle came up with the idea for her business during her own travels. She wanted to create a special space where visitors could buy genuine Caribbean mementos which they could take home and treasure.

In 2019, Find Yello Antigua asked Michelle to give us some insight into her life.

She shared a bit about her childhood in Canada, the initial challenges she faced and errors she made when launching the business, and why she is so passionate about marketing and developing Caribbean talent.

Describe yourself using three words.

Curious, caring and enterprising.

Please share some details about your upbringing.

I was raised in Canada (Manitoba and Ontario) by my Antiguan father and German mother. I grew up in predominantly rural white neighbourhoods, innocently unaware of my colour, infused by my Green Bay, Antiguan heritage.

When I wasn’t in school, my brother and I were at our parents’ garment factory doing homework, playing between giant rolls of fabric, or helping around the factory. Summer holidays were spent in the factory too, and as we got older, we were sent out to sell the garments at flea markets.

One of the most impressionable memories of those early years was when I was nine years old, my dad came home from work one day and said to me: “Make sure when you grow up, you never make yourself dependent on any man, always be able to stand on your own two feet.” He had just put his employees on piecework at the factory, and one of them refused and quit because “she didn’t have to work, her husband worked, and she could stay home.”

It was the most profound thing my father ever said to me and that has had the greatest impact on my life as a woman, a mother and an ex-wife.

Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?

I think so. I feel like I was born and raised as one, so it was inevitable.

At one point I wanted to be a special effects make-up artist. But if I really think about it, even with that I never saw myself working for anyone else. So, I would have to say yes.

How did you come up with the concept of The Tailor’s Daughter?

I like to travel, and when I travel, I like to buy things that are from the places I visit. However, I don’t like “tchotchkes” – useless, dust collecting trinkets, usually very generic and often made in China! I despise those things and I don’t understand why tourists buy them.

I consider myself a bit of a snob in this department because I really think that no matter how much, or little money you have, there is no excuse for buying these things when travelling. They have no spirit, no life, no energy, and they say absolutely nothing about where your feet have walked, except the brightly written words shouting out the name of the place.

The things you bring home from your travels should have a story to tell. If it’s only the cap off the bottle of Wadadli beer, you drank from a beach bar, where you had a great chat with the local bartender. That’s a thousand times better than a shot glass that says ‘Ya Mon, Antigua’ with a Rasta man in a tam painted on it!

I thought about what I felt would be a meaningful gift or item that a visitor would want to take home. Something that could be made in Antigua, something that I would buy, something that I would give – I thought of food! It’s what we are good at, it’s how we connect with each other, and it’s what everyone must have.

The idea of food as a gift was born but it was four more years after the thought that it came to life.

What is The Tailor’s Daughter’s unique selling point?

Our unique selling point is that we are, without compromise 100% Caribbean made. I am committed to showing the rest of the world, one person at a time, that we are very cool people here in the Caribbean, and as such we do very cool things.

I love the freedom that I see people affording themselves by going out there and doing what they truly love, and my role in that process is showcasing the star talent we have right here in our small Caribbean microcosm.

Where do you get the products you sell? How do you choose them?

The products come mainly from Antigua, but not exclusively. I source products from all over the Caribbean but try to stay within the CARICOM area with a few regional exceptions such as Guadeloupe and the Dominican Republic.

I choose the items based on their origin, the quality of the product, the presentation (branding and packaging) and the ability of the producer to maintain consistent quality, delivery and meet demand for the product.

Why is it important that your products are 100% from the Caribbean?

100% Caribbean is important to me because The Tailor’s Daughter is not just about us, it’s about our suppliers. When our customers buy from us, they are getting their purchase, but they are also giving back at the same time.

A traveller can buy a watch, cigarettes or duty-free chocolate, but when our customers buy from us, they can also enjoy the benefit of knowing that they are genuinely putting back directly into our local economy, in exchange for having an item that is directly connected in spirit to the Caribbean.

What were some of the challenges you faced starting the business?

One of the challenges was location. I originally wanted to be in the airport. This was before the new terminal was built. It was being negotiated, and subsequently started, but no one seemed to be able to tell me who I needed to speak to or when it would be completed. A space became available in Redcliffe Quay, so that became the solution.

The next issue was inventory. The Tailor’s Daughter was then known as ‘Island Gourmet Boutique’ and it was important to me that the items we carried had international appeal.

They needed to be high quality, with attractive packaging, could easily travel, and they also needed to be of a “gourmet” standard in their branding. The Tailor’s Daughter is not a supermarket, and the items sold needed to reflect that. This required a lot more effort.

I looked outside Antigua for regional suppliers to fill the gaps. I attended trade shows around the region in Trinidad, Dominica, Jamaica, and visited St Lucia and Guadeloupe in search of items for the shop. Curating for my business has become an even greater passion for me ever since.

A lesson I learned in the process, and wrote about since, was that the location I was in was not where my market was. St. John’s proved to be a disappointment.

In my business plan I estimated that if we could pull in and sell to only 2% of the cruise passengers, we could be profitable. This projection seemed conservative and certainly achievable; however, it was way off, and I learned that I knew very little (if anything at all) of the retail spending habits of cruise passengers.

Our customers are not cruisers, they are land based and visit our shores by plane. Lesson learned. We are now happily located in the V.C Bird International Airport.

I then learned that this saying is true: “Man makes plans and God laughs.” Six months into our new location, opening at the end of the busy winter season, we had three hurricane-related airport closures, numerous cancelled flights, followed by a very slow start to the next season and thus a very rough start at the airport!

But we are now beginning to catch ourselves. That is the life of an entrepreneur. We must expect the unexpected.

Who are your customers? How do they find you?

Our customers are air travellers including some famous customers like Kate Winslet, Heidi Klum, Jah Cure, Tessanne Chin, and others.

They find us in the departures lounge at the V.C Bird international airport and many discover us in local publications, through social media (Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest) word of mouth, return visits, or while wandering around the terminal waiting for their flight.

What are your plans for the business over the next five years?

I prefer not to jinx anything by giving too many details, but we are looking forward to growing and adding a new location, once our footing in the airport is firmly planted.

We are also looking at ways to get into the world of online shopping. Many of our customers get home and realise how much they love their purchase and want more. Our local customers also miss being able to get their store favorites.

Logistics continue to be a challenge, but I am confident that a viable solution is on the horizon.

I’ve also started coaching and consulting for new Caribbean start-ups which I plan to invest more time in, in the upcoming years.

What do you love about Antigua & Barbuda?

I love the life I have here. I’m proud to be Antiguan; that I’m able to live in a place that many only get a brief stay in, that I have raised my children here, that I have wonderful friends.

I have met so many amazing people and have a truly blessed life. My roots are firmly planted in the soil of Wadadli.

What do you do on your days off? Where do you eat/relax?

On my days off I can be found sea moss farming (or just liming) with ‘Caribbean Seamoss Farms Antigua.’

Doing a lot of DIY projects around my home, some successful, some not so much; or on a beach swimming, snorkelling or just chilling (not as often as I should) and always seeking inspiration.

I love a sundowner at Sheer Rocks, it’s always a treat having a few drinks and bites with friends. I also enjoy breakfast at Tradewinds. Of course, The Larder for lunch is always a nice social outing, and when possible, I enjoy entertaining those nearest and dearest at my home.

What advice do you have for other start-up businesses in Antigua?

Do your homework. Plan and research as much as possible. Innovate don’t duplicate. If you can’t be first in a category, create a new one you can be first in.

Seek mentors, don’t be afraid to consult other business people who inspire or motivate you, and be sure to set reasonable goals that you can work toward accomplishing.

Business building takes time, patience, and a brave spirit.

What is your philosophy/ motto in life?

Fail to plan, plan to fail.

See more of what The Tailor’s Daughter has to offer at Antigua’s V.C Bird International Airport and on Facebook.