Solange Govia’s first memory of ‘playing mas’ was as a little girl in a shark fin soup costume—soup bowl and spoon included. She recalls being enamored with her look, and as she was led on stage for the Carnival costume judging segment, she thought to herself “Yes, this is my vibe.”
Decades later, the Trinidadian is now celebrating 13 years as a sought-after Carnival costume designer, for the revelries in her hometown of Trinidad, Miami and Jamaica.
Coming from a family of creatives, Govia says she always knew she wanted to do something in the creative realm but wasn’t quite sure what it would be. Pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce degree at Ryerson University in Toronto she started taking wire bending and sewing classes which then evolved into her making jewelry.
On returning to Trinidad she began working with mas band Tribe at their front desk, and three years later started to dabble in design and use the opportunity to push her creativity. She is candid about her costume design journey. “I started with some misses,” she says with a laugh. “Because there is no school for carnival design; it is very much a trial and learn experience.”
What inspires the costumes she makes now? “The love of carnival, creation, and design. And the love of seeing the different people in the designs having a blast and loving the costume I created,” she says.
"You have to create options for every single body type and make people feel comfortable. It is very important, as women are the center of Carnival. Women run things."Solange Govia
Her design process has grown exponentially. “It is about me competing with me every year," she continues. "Always looking at the fashion trends and making the costumes look different every single time.”
Currently in Jamaica for Carnival on April 16, where her costumes are set to dazzle in the streets of Kingston, Govia reminisces about her first official handiwork with Tribe called Caged Canary. “It was a fuchsia and orange creation,” she says. “It was very bright and looked good on everybody.” This is key to a spectacular Carnival costume in Govia’s estimation—the ability for a costume to suit everyone that wears it.
When creating a costume, a really good design is of course important, but a lot of other factors come into play. Mass production, and how the finished piece will look on different body types, skin tones, shapes and sizes must also be given regard.
Having many repeat customers and a loyal fan base, Govia ensures she expands her options and colorways every year and decides on what she hasn’t explored before. She then contemplates the overall theme of the band and begins mood-boarding and sketching.
The biggest difficulty she encounters in creating a costume is finding the specific materials (beads, gemstones, feathers) and other knickknacks) and fabric that fit the vision of her designs perfectly, even though she tries to source from all over the world. But she has plans in the pipeline to start creating her own.
Body inclusivity is at the center of what Govia is about, so she says she designs for everyone. “Fit, feel, shape and form are always in my head. It’s how I think. You have to create options for every single body type and make people feel comfortable. It is very important, as women are the center of Carnival. Women run things. They are my base. They are my customers and I have to create costumes for all of them,” she declares.
“If one design is reading too sexy, I know how to create an option that covers all body types, or make a costume or section specifically designed for that body type,” she adds.
Considering Sambala, a white and silver creation to be one of her most successful designs thus far, the 40-year-old designer says “It looked good on every single woman that wore it. And that made for a spectacular costume, and that is a success to me when [the women] know it will look good on them.”
Any insider secrets? “If there are any, I would like to know about them,” Govia says with a chuckle. Giving the question further thought, she elaborates, “People see the side of when you are launching the costume, but the secret is trial and error, perseverance, pushing through and making sure that you have a vision. Have your own signature look and feel, and if it’s something that you really want to do, just start.”
Govia notes that when she began designing costumes she didn’t have social media, but it is now accessible and can be used to help up-and-coming Carnival costume designers branch out. “Now you don’t even need to be tied to a band, instead you can start with Monday wear (the clothing worn the day before the official road march at Trinidad Carnival), post it," she explains. "And if people like it, sell it and evolve from there. Use the tools at your advantage and you will persevere.”