There’s so much that can be said about this brilliant beauty; Nissa Hanooman. Founder and creative genius behind two successful Trinidadian based brands, Breakfast at Tiffany’s Couture Cupcake Boutique and Little Black Dress & Co, Hanooman’s meteoric rise has proven that a dash of determination mixed with confidence and an entrepreneurial spirit, can take you places you’ve always dreamed of.
I first came across Nissa approximately three years ago when I was toying with the idea of Island Muse. At that time, I began to notice a wave of influential and entrepreneurial women emerging from the Caribbean. As I began scoping out my subjects, Ms. Hanooman always stood out to me. She just had that ‘it’ factor. Incredibly beautiful and talented, with an eye for detail, Hanooman was operating her couture cake shop Breakfast at Tiffany’s Couture Cupcake Boutique; a one of a kind shop based on the island of Trinidad & Tobago. 2012 was the same year her cake design won the People’s Choice Award at Anna Wintour’s first ever Couture Cake Competition. Not only was she was the only “foreigner” to enter the competition, she was a Caribbean woman.
Since that career highlight, Nissa’s creativity and drive has launched her into new avenues particularly on the Caribbean fashion scene. Similar to Audrey Hepburns’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Nissa oozes class and elegance. She’s a successful entrepreneur, a fashion enthusiast and most importantly humble and intelligent. Truly a rare find. Nissa Hanooman is this week’s inspiring Island Muse Spotlight.
If you had to describe Nissa Hanooman in three words what would they be?
Loyal, driven and creative.
Tell me about Nissa Hanooman. What inspired you to launch successful businesses in two different industries?
I was born and raised in Trinidad. My family is from the southern part of the country. Growing up, my parents placed a great deal of emphasis on education. I went to the best schools and I did well. I attended the University of the West Indies (UWI) for Sociology, however I always knew that I wouldn’t be able to work for someone else. Freedom is important to me, as well as the time and space needed to create. My mother Karen is a very influential person in my life. As a successful business woman, the accomplishments and accolades she’s garnered have been on her own merit. She’s definitely inspired my love for fashion. She’s always well dressed and impeccable with her fashion choices. After a successful career in real estate she went on to open two boutiques in Gulf City Mall, San Fernando Trinidad. It was during this time that I saw and appreciated what it took to launch and operate a successful boutique. In terms of my love for baking, I’ve always been obsessed with designing the perfect cake. The perfect cake for me is not only one that tastes good, but is one that allows me to infuse my love for fashion and design. I’m self taught and my specialty is the couture cake. My shop Breakfast at Tiffany’s Couture Cupcake Boutique, was inspired by Audrey Hepburn’s character in that movie. I truly connected with her and in my opinion, Hepburn is the epitome of a lady. That famous black dress she wore in the movie continues to inspire me all the time and thus my second business Little Black Dress & Co was born.
Tell me about your experience at Anna Wintour’s Fashion Night Out. How did you come to be in involved in this once in a lifetime opportunity?
The first cake I ever made was my signature cupcake bouquet. When I created that style, that was just me being creative and doing something that I love. Six months after I seriously started baking, my friend who lived in Florida told me about the competition. She’d seen the flyer and immediately thought of me. She opened up her home to me and from there I decided to enter the competition. It was the craziest packing I’d ever done for a trip (laughs). I packed up all my baking utensils and jetted off for Florida. I truly enjoyed every minute of that experience. It was inspiring to be surrounded by competitors of such a high caliber. Some of those people had been baking for years and had a great deal of experience. It was great to see all the different and latest techniques in the cake baking world. One of my designs went on to win the 2012 People’s Choice Award. I remember how heartwarming it felt to have so many Trinidadians rallying behind me. I was truly honored and grateful for all the support. It was an unforgettable and eye opening experience in my life.
You once said in an interview that you would teach your daughter the importance of independence. Why is independence a vital trait for women?
Growing up, I watched how far my mother’s work ethic, drive and determination propelled her. She’s never had to rely on any man to create a successful life for her, she’s truly a self made woman. She taught me the value of independence and creating my own opportunities. I always strive to make her proud. Many people who follow me on social media know that I have a wonderful and supportive boyfriend. He is truly a blessing and a great person. However, (God forbid) if things didn’t work out between us, I know I’d survive because everything I have, I’ve worked for myself. Also being an only child, I don’t come from a large family, so I’ve never had that safety net to rely on. In 2015, women in the Caribbean are definitely progressing and it makes me proud to be apart of this progression. However, I still find that at a certain age our society expects a woman to be married with children. I can’t tell you how many times people approach me wondering why I’m not married yet (laughs). In our culture, it still seems that no matter how much you accomplish as a woman, you’re not truly successful unless you’re married with children.
If you had a few gems of wisdom for Caribbean women, what would they be?
Sky is the limit. Our women should know there are ways to achieve your goals on your own. Also, it’s important that as women; no matter what industry you’re in, we realize that we need to support each other. It takes a collective to facilitate change. The fashion scene in the Caribbean as a whole is so blessed. It’s flourishing and many promising careers are being launched. Mei Ling, is a successful and well known name in the fashion industry in Trinidad. As a designer, she has been a major source of inspiration for me. She’s made fashion her business and most importantly she’s been able to enjoy longevity. Longevity is not an easy accomplishment in the world of Caribbean fashion. Longevity, not popularity is something I truly respect.
Last but not least…
Favourite Trinidadian saying;
“You have to take in front, before in front take you.” I like to apply this to my business. Whether it’s my cake business or my store, I always push myself to remain innovative and ahead of the curve. Anything that I do has to be done on an “international level” in terms of quality and presentation. I don’t do anything halfway, I’m a bit obsessive in that respect (laughs).
Favourite place to visit in Trinidad and why?
I love Down the Islands. When we want a little getaway, my boyfriend and I take the boat out and go there for some relaxation. But if I can add, after Trinidad, New York is my favourite place to visit. I have a serious love affair with Manhattan. But of course after a while I can’t wait to get back home to Trinidad.
What’s next for you? Are you working on any new and exciting projects… please share.
I have a few projects on the go right now and of course baking is something I’d like to start doing again. I’m toying with the idea of creating a clothing line for little girls. I’ve always noticed the reaction of little girls when they pass my store. I’d love to have something for them as well. I also want to start featuring local designers in the shop, so I’m in the process of scoping out potential designers. In the meantime, whenever you’re in Trinidad you can visit Little Black Dress & Co at The Falls at West Mall located in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago :).