When I was a young child in Australia, my parents decided a sailboat would be a good way to have a common interest for the whole family. I think my mum just thought we would go for little sails every weekend on the local lake, and back to normal life during the week. However, I think my father had something more adventurous in mind, and eventually he would take us out of school for 3 months of the year, drive for 3 days (towing the boat) from Sydney up to the Great Barrier Reef. It was like driving from NYC to Florida every year, towing a huge boat, going 50 mph with 2 whining kids in the back seat….no AC, no iPads. This was the 70’s.
(Sailing in Australia. Photo courtesy of Kim Van Loo.)
After a few years of this annual migration, he sold up life in Sydney and move us all up north to “paradise” – that’s what he called it.
Well, we girls decided sailing wasn’t much fun anyway, even in “paradise” and our teen years were full of friends, school, basketball, and dance lessons. I graduated high school, went off to fashion college, and started my career in the fashion industry, while that taste for adventure lay dormant. Fast forward to my late 20’s and I fell in love with an adventurous man from South Africa, who read a magazine article one weekend about a couple who bought a boat and went sailing to the Caribbean islands. He put down the magazine and said “let’s buy a boat and sail to the Caribbean islands.” Just like that, the dream of “paradise” came alive in me again in that life-changing split second.
We saved all our money, bought a small sailboat, took classes to learn how to sail, navigate, read the tides & weather conditions, provisioned and prepared for an enormous ocean crossing. Exactly 2 years after that magazine article, we were already halfway across the ocean on our way to “paradise.” Our first island stop was after 16 days at sea. Sixteen days with no sight of land, and we arrived at the tiny remote island of St. Helena. There is a small community on this island, but with no airport, and only 2 ship visits per year, this really is a “remote” island. When we first arrived, the locals were so friendly, they didn’t want us walking anywhere, they just kept stopping to say “do you need a ride,” to which we replied, “no thanks, we have been at sea for 2 weeks, we want to walk.” Next they would ask if we had any onions, as the island was out of onions and the next ship was still months away.
(Living the dream: a sailboat in the Caribbean. Photo courtesy of Kim Van Loo.)
It took a total of 55 days to sail across that ocean and arrive in the most southern Caribbean island of Tobago, and when we arrived we just dropped anchor and slept. It was hurricane season up north, but we were really so exhausted we were in no hurry to leave. We were in “paradise” at last.
We stayed in the Caribbean for 10 years, we got married and had a baby girl, sold our small boat, bought a bigger boat, lived on various different islands and started a business. After many years in the fashion industry, working for other designers and clothing companies, it was in the Caribbean that I eventually started my own clothing line called WEST INDIES WEAR. I started designing pure cotton clothing and sarongs, with island themes and bright tropical colors. We staged our own photo shoots on the islands, with myself as the model, my husband as the photographer, and my daughter as the most adorable feature.
(Running beneath the palm trees. Photo courtesy of Kim Van Loo.)
We sailed around from island to island, visiting the resorts and meeting the buyers and showing the line. We would drop the anchor off some amazing island resort, and I would have to iron the samples with one of those old-fashioned irons that you heat up on the stove top. Then I would pack it all in a big sample bag, and my husband would drive me ashore in the dinghy. I would hold the huge sample bag on my lap, so that it didn’t get wet on the floor of the dinghy. When he dropped me off, sometimes there was a dock, so that was easy to get ashore and stay dry, but some resorts just had the beach; then I would get wet, sandy feet before going up to the resort to find the buyer. I thought that was a bit unprofessional and embarrassing really, but I think the buyers actually enjoyed it.
(Living the good life, Caribbean style. Photo courtesy of Kim Van Loo.)
Over the years WIW (WEST INDIES WEAR) grew and eventually we had to move off the boat and onto land. There was just not enough space on the boat to store any stock, as I had already filled more than half the lockers with samples and fabric swatches. Also, I was finding it difficult to stay in touch with the factories and buyers as the internet on the boat was always sketchy. So we settled for a few years in St. Maarten. St. Maarten is a half-French, half-Dutch island with millions of cruise ship visitors per year and a lot of amazing resorts. It is a duty-free island which made it very easy to import my stock, there was good internet, lots of jobs, and friends…. we had a great island lifestyle. Our daughter started school and we took on other jobs to support ourselves while I worked at night to keep WIW growing. My baby sister Amy also moved to the Caribbean and she became the model for me.
(Modeling WEST INDIES WEAR. Photo courtesy of Kim Van Loo.)
These days, we work with a professional photographer and my sister rounds up her gorgeous island friends to model with her. We are still a small island family company, supplying our pure cotton island clothing to little boutiques throughout the Caribbean, the Bahamas, and the USA. Our company sells tunics, dresses, and other colorful clothing and bags, and you can find us -- or a store that sells our creations -- by visiting our island website.
It just goes to show, amazing things can happen when you follow your dreams! Island smiles…
Thanks so much to guest blogger and Australian native Kim Van Loo for sharing some of her tropical adventures with us! Check out her Facebook and Instagram feeds for more amazing island photographs.