I had nicknamed her the face of UK carnival. It was 2015 and an image of a stunning woman in all her carnival glory was making its rounds on the social media circuit. The image reinforced the fact that carnival is woman and the impeccable execution of the costume reminded us that we are a creative and talented people. Fast forward to 2016. While scrolling through Facebook I stumbled upon a beautiful message about a hardworking, talented and dedicated woman. “First to arrive and last to leave” it read, describing Maurisa Coleman; the woman I’d nicknamed the face of UK Carnival. Immediately I wanted to know more about this Trinidadian beauty who was much more than a carnival body. Maurisa Coleman is this month’s Island Muse Spotlight. Here is her story….
If you had to describe yourself in three words what would they be?
Competitive. Loyal. Passionate.
Tell me about yourself and the journey that led to your current career as a model, actress, entrepreneur and choreographer.
My journey began as a child. I dared to dream and people laughed. I was pushed aside because in the Caribbean, skinny, buck toothed and knob kneed children like me, weren’t supposed to go far in life. Growing up my mother was my role model. I watched her overcome the odds and create a new path in life, because the traditional one was not good enough. I watched her stand firm and fight her way to the top, defying the expectations and what Trinidadian culture told her was right and wrong. That’s when I knew I wanted to be just like her. As a teenager there was to absolutely no focus on “modelling”. My mother was insistent that I focus on my education first, then I could do as I pleased. While pursuing my degree in Accounting, I rose rapidly in the Hotel Management sector and for a time all thoughts of a career in fashion were put on the back burner. I was very young when I took on my first management position and as a young black woman I quickly learned that I had to work three times as hard to prove my worth. The challenge was exhilarating at first, but eventually it took a toll on me. It was at this point that I remembered my dreams of a career in fashion. I thought…so far I’ve defied all the odds. I’ve achieved many things my detractors said I couldn’t, so I’m undertaking this as one more challenge. On my journey, I twice fell victim to scams run by people feeding off the eagerness of aspiring young girls to become models. My break through finally arrived when two photographers spotted me at a test shoot and asked me to take some photos with them. From there I was given a portfolio which launched my modelling career. I thank them all the time, because our paths crossed just when I was about to give up. Since joining the industry I’ve constantly been told that I’m too short for the catwalk or that I should focus on lingerie or nude modelling to elevate my career. When I walked for London Fashion Week it was an unforgettable experience and it felt good to know that more designers wanted to work with me. I continue to work hard because I don’t want to disappoint myself or the people that believe in me. Above all, I pursue excellence because I want to show young Caribbean girls that if I can make it, so can they.
You are currently the face of the UK’s top mas band Bacchanalia. Tell us about Bacchanalia’s 2016 presentation “Supernatural”.
Supernatural is the result of our band leader Kelly Rajpaulsingh’s vision. She waited a long time to create this collection and I think it’s because she wanted the timing to be right. Kelly is a mystical creature herself and has always impressed and surpassed the expectations of everyone involved in the carnival industry here in the UK. Last year, Bacchanalia celebrated it’s 10th anniversary, which was honoured through our carnival collection The Legacy of She. This year is super special because Supernatural boasts several techniques and materials that have never been used in the production of mas. We’ve also taken the stories and designs to another level and I’m pleased to say that the launch was a massive success!!!
In your opinion, how has Notting Hill Carnival evolved over the years?
I’ve seen the highs and lows of Notting Hill Carnival. Over the past few years bands have devoted more attention to detail, quality and variety. The variety, which caters to all ages groups and both sexes, helps us achieve what carnival was created to do- which is unite and equalize. With bands focusing so much more on creativity and design, I feel as though the people have become more passionate and as a result Notting Hill Carnival is slowly but surely loosing it’s reputation in Britain as a noisy, messy and dangerous affair. Carnival is becoming a beautiful, passion fueled, celebration of life. Even the police look happier each year! I must make special mention of the Carnival Expo which commenced last year and will now be an annual event. Events such as these educate others on the significance of this massive street party. Once people outside of our culture learn that carnival is a celebration of our people’s freedom, with no class barriers, they are instantly captivated. We in the carnival industry strive to make each year better than the last and it’s great to see more and more international masqueraders flying in each year to join us.
You recently launched your company Maurisa Coleman Inc. What services does your company offer and what inspired you to venture into entrepreneurship?
When I started my career in fashion, I realized that agents were doing a job that I was more than capable of doing myself. The company was initially set up to market me as a model and actress with my own in house management and PR. One day my husband asked me why I wasn’t offering my casting services, as people were always asking me to scout models. At the time I was also editing film scripts for free, so there was another skill that grew into a business. Maurisa Coleman Inc has since expanded to include the creation of Panther Productions a media company created to focus solely on our media projects. Apart from managing my model and acting career, Maurisa Coleman Inc offers casting, event planning and stage choreography services.
In your opinion what is the biggest issue affecting Caribbean women (in the region or diaspora) in 2016 and why?
I think we settle too easily. We don’t continue to push the envelope. When we immigrate we fight so hard to be seen and heard that by the time we get a “good job” and create a comfortable life we are ready to settle. We think we’ve reached the pinnacle of success. I also feel that we’ve become so used to adopting the standard of what our men told us was “beautiful” that we forgot that we set the pace and we have our own brand of magic. My mum always told me that Caribbean women are best known for being the most hardworking, multitasking, uncrackable women around. We go through many things but we still maintain an internal and physical beauty which comes from our powerful and unique history. It is my hope that we always strive for greatness and continue to support and lift each other up.
Biggest lesson learned on your journey thus far
I have two! One is a life lesson. I will never take for granted to impact of love. It is because of love I have the most supportive husband I could dream of. It is because of love I was able to achieve my wildest dreams and more. It is because of love I live my life with the aim of leaving a legacy behind for young women to learn from and build on. My career lesson; I am not afraid to sail my ship into waters unknown. Sometimes I will topple, but I will not sink. On my path to success I will only allow to board, those with an equal hunger for success.
How has your Trinidadian heritage impacted your outlook on life, success, business etc.
Thanks to my ‘Convent’ training, I learned the importance of personal image and executing a job to the best of my ability. St Joseph’s Convent drills that into their girls. It reinforces the ideology of ‘A Woman Of Worth’. I must admit I was not the stereotypical convent girl as a teenager. I was pretty lost growing up, but somehow those teachings have stuck with me as I journeyed through adulthood. When I was in the corporate world, I always showed up to work dressed for success. When my clients see me they must understand I mean business. I wouldn’t trade my Trinidadian education for the world. Being educated there has prepared me for life and given me so many advantages that continue to assist me in both the personal and professional arenas.
Favourite Trinidadian saying
When yuh neighbor house on fire, wet yours.
Favourite place to visit when in Trinidad and why
My favourite place to visit is Maracas Bay at 6:00am. I love the calm and the sun looks beautiful on the horizon. Also, after a good swim…bake and shark….oh boy. I can’t tell you what bake and shark means to me. You could bribe me with that.
Finally, if you had a few words of wisdom for Caribbean women, what would they be?
The world is massive, the universe is yours, never settle, and yes you can have it all.