Berny Martin grew up under the care and encouragement of his grandmother, Elizabeth Catou Loiseau, sewing his first pair of jeans at age eight. Today, Martin draws from those childhood experiences and his travels to create stylish custom pieces, which he proudly calls Catou.
Martin first launched the now internationally recognized line of men and women’s professional wear in 2002. The clothing line has been well received among celebs like Tony award-winning playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Champion J.R. Smith, and celebrity chef Ron Duprat.
Catou has been featured on the runway during Paris Fashion Week, New York Emerge Fashion Week, Brooklyn Fashion Week, Chicago Fashion Week, and the African Travel Association Fashion Show. More recently, Martin was showcased during NYFW spring/summer 2017 Men and Women’s Collection show, at Studio 450, with a vibrant, colorful collection of classicly tailored suits.
From Style to Fashion
Martin sat down with Black Enterprise to share his success story:
Black Enterprise: What was your first job in the fashion industry?
Martin: Because of my location in the Midwest, I did not have the opportunity to have another job in fashion. I was always a fashion designer. The resources were lacking, but being a fashion designer in Indianapolis has allowed me to think more quickly.
BE: How did you transition from styling to designing?
Martin: I like to think of styling as a way to communicate to the customer where to wear certain clothes. I think of designing as a way to be creative and be myself. In order for me to be effective with my creations, I [must] investigate both sides.
BE: What was your most memorable gig?
Martin: It was designing clothes for a few kids in Hong Kong for a charitable event. The same organization allowed me to partner with an NGO in Haiti, and we did the same thing there. I designed a kids’ collection.
BE: How much, would you say, it would cost to produce a successful collection?
Martin: It costs me anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000 to invest in a new collection—per season. I raised funding through various organizations for my first collections.
BE: How do prepare to create your designs?
Martin: I put myself in a situation [condusive to] great, endless thoughts and feelings. I visit a lot of museums, read, listen to music (that is, not top-20 hits on the radio), and travel frequently.
BE: Do you find it difficult to get support as a designer?
Martin: It is difficult to get support, but it is also hard to stay committed. The client will not commit to you, if you are not committed. I have to stay the course of being committed [to the fact] that I am, indeed, a fashion designer.
BE: As an Afro-Latino, do you feel it is harder for you to be a designer in the fashion industry?
Martin: It is, but it is up to me to let that affect me as a designer. Life is a journey, and the challenges that I face make me more passionate about focusing on my craft. It is easy to let those things affect your life, and as time passes, you wonder what happened.
Tai Chunn is the founder of MVC Management Productions, a New York-based company that has handled backstage production for fashion events such as BET’s Rip the Runway, Caribbean Fashion Week, and Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week.