Photographs by Jay D Will, Epping Forest
When we featured the stunning up-coming Grenadian model Aria Francis in a dangerously high leg one-piece by Gillian. E. Murray Designs here, it warranted a response from the designer that led to this eventual interview. I opened my inbox to read, ‘All I can say is Wow! The world of us women needed you so. I am so very blessed by your hard work, Always, Gillian’. Let me be sappy and say, it bought a tear to my eye, for if this is how issues of ComplexdWoman make women feel, we’re never going to stop! When I found out more about this woman I wasn’t disappointed. From her heartfelt reply I realised that the inspiration and encouragement we feed to our readers was something Gillian needed to continue fulfilling her dreams, fighting for the acceptance for her Down Syndrome son and battling through a divorce. When I got a chance to wear one of her pieces I wore it with pride and sass, and hope that women who wear Gillian’s pieces do the same to motivate her through her personal challenges. So, without further ado, I present Gillian. E. Murray’s ComplexdWoman story.
A baby GillianName: Gillian E. Murray Age: 46 Occupation: Fashion Designer; Clinical Social Worker Place of birth: Jamaica Current residence: Kingston, Jamaica CW: Tell me more about your début collection shown at Caribbean Fashion Week (CFW), 14 and the white one-piece swimsuit I’m wearing?
GM: I called my collection ‘Natural Geometry’. I wanted to join elements of geometry, such as angles and lines, which I feel compliment female curves. My goal is to show that the curves of the female body can balance states of asymmetry. I’m also a lover of global art and history, initiated by my schooling experience here in Jamaica, where I learned Caribbean, American and European history. It really awakened my appetite for learning about different civilizations, era artists and those unique symbols which identified them, such as the Egyptians, Greeks, Aztecs and Indians, which all converge into one global word for me: “Detailed”. All of my inspiration comes from the world, art and history, which blend well with Jamaica’s multi-cultural motto, ‘Out of Many, One People’.
CW: How did your fashion label Gillian .E. Murray Designs come about?
GM: I entered a small-scale fashion show at the last-minute with the help of a wonderful seamstress. I presented six pieces in two weeks and unexpectedly; I received a good review in the press so it encouraged me to do more. I learned everything I could from attending fashion shows in Miami, watching Fashion T.V, to connecting with one of Russell Simmons’ old employees. I am a rebel by nature and I like to make sure I’m offering something unconventional as opposed to following trends. Designing is my gift and I don’t want it to be altered by conventionalism. I must admit that I put my label on hold for a while when I had my beautiful baby boy Daniel, who has Down’s syndrome, but I’m back!
CW: We loved your jaw dropping one-piece at CFW, 14! Did your son inspire the comeback?
GM: I design gowns as well, but I think the swimsuit market has been flooded with the same cuts and styles for the longest while. The only variety is in the colours and fabrics so I decided to do some unique and racy pieces.
After my two beautiful daughters I thought I had finished having children, then, Voila, a happy shock of my life, an XY – boy to boot. We soon learned some disheartening news after my prenatal screening, which revealed my unborn son had Down’s Syndrome. I clearly remember crying for my unborn son and the fact that I may outlive him and may not be there to protect him. I knew it was going to change my life forever, but I took it one day at a time to find inner strength and embrace this new life I was expecting.
When my son, Daniel Christopher was born, it was the most beautiful experience and reinforced the power of finding natural beauty in natures error. Daniel’s needs forced me to become a stay-at-home-mom and it was a major adjustment, after all I obtained a Master’s degree in Clinical Social Work from Barry University. My son’s needs connected the dots between my formal education and my dream, which was to develop my fashion label. My son is my hero; he changed my life dramatically and has been the crux of my evolution and revolution. I am now a woman who stands for truth, courage and fearlessness. With my gowns I plan to create bespoke works of art for auctions to raise funds for agencies that aid the disabled. My aim is to start in Jamaica, then infiltrate the region and eventually the rest of the world.
CW: What challenges have you come up against in Jamaica being the mother of a child with Down Syndrome?
GM: Most of the challenges lie in the stigma attached to having a disabled child. I am fiercely protective and proud of my son. Some of my in-laws wanted me to stay quiet about his condition, but I refuse to let their embarrassment be our issue. It’s my intention to educate him about his diagnosis as much as I can to offset the eventual day when he asks me why people treat him differently. There are relatives who insist that he will “grow-out-of-it”, sometimes I try to educate them and other times I know it’s just their way of empathizing with me in the best way they know how. It has led me to speak with Jamaica’s Down’s Syndrome Foundation who’ve been excellent and allowed me to share my knowledge with others in a similar situation.
CW: How do you plan to raise social awareness for children with disabilities through fashion?
GM: I hope to raise awareness a little at a time by being bold, proud and ready to educate anyone willing to listen. I even hope he will agree to walk with me on catwalk in the future, I know he’ll love the photographers’ flashes. I want him to be seen as an equal because we are all created with elements of weakness, which is where we eventually discover our greatest strengths. It seems that there is uncharted beauty in imperfection. For me, an extra chromosome in the road is not the end of the road. It is my hope to help bridge the social education and perception gap that affects the difference in the tolerance levels in the Caribbean. Giving gives me joy and in this case, giving to agencies that support the disabled is the goal. Donations in dollars can increase prenatal care for women over the age of 35, provide food and medication for mothers in need and accumulate more accurate census data and real live birth recordings of DS and other special needs children in the Caribbean. It will also help to seek greater international and local funding for early diagnoses and intervention and find disabled home-birthed babies and children in rural areas. Providing early assessment and education intervention will help our disabled children to become more productive members of society with skills that will allow them to defend themselves and their ability to vie for opportunities.
CW: What makes you a ComplexdWoman?
GM: I am a Fashion Designer, Clinical Social Worker and Special Needs Mother to all! I have a very high stress-tolerance level, which has allowed me to manage hits and misses all at once. Life has taught me to weather multiple storms, from all directions and always survive. I no longer try to please everyone. I have learned to never say never, but more importantly, I have learnt about Murphy’s Law, not to ever let these words escape my lips again: “What could possibly be next?” I learned that freedom is a state of mind and is definitely worth having and holding. I am me…with no apologies. I dare to take risks despite challenges and change is my favourite BFF.
For more information email Gillian on firstname.lastname@example.org or shop the collection at Shop Caribbean Fashion