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Liz Mannette Designs “A Bold Pan Statement”

Barbara Sealy Rhoden (BSR) interviews Liz Mannette, pan jewelry designer

Born in Trinidad as cousin of the renowned pan builder, Ellie Mannette, Liz has distinguished herself as a pannist, tax attorney and parliamentarian.  She recently attended the Duty Free Trade Show for the Americas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and shares the experience, her keen knowledge of business and a powerful vision for the future of the steelpan art form and industry.

BSR: What was your experience at the trade show you attended?

LM: I recently attended the Duty Free Trade Show for the Americas to make contact with retailers in the Caribbean tourist market.  I have also attended Fashion Accessories trade shows in the US and other parts of the world.

BSR: Why should business people attend trade shows?

LM: To meet business contacts in person.  Often if you research online, you may find a number of potential business partners, but you don’t know if they are legitimate business.  At a trade show, you can meet and talk with the owners or staff and their presence at a Trade show is a good indication that they are a reputable company (trade show booths are quite costly).  Also you may get more realistic costs and other info when you meet people in person as opposed to asking a question over the Internet or even on the phone.  To learn what is new in an industry.  At fashion accessories trade shows, and jewelry shows I can see the new designs for upcoming seasons, and see new manufacturing techniques, business issues, etc.   To see the standard of other competitors.    To network with a range of companies in your sector in one location.

BSR: What motivated you to become a pan jewelry designer?

LM: I wanted elegant, classic jewelry that reflected my identity and heritage and could not find it.  Most of the jewelry I found was copper or very thin gold or silver.  I wanted fashionable chunky jewelry that could make a bold statement that “I am a Pan Woman” and “Pan was invented in my country!”   I also wanted pan things that were authentic replicas, not rough approximations.

When I could not find what I wanted, I decided to design my own ideas.  After others, including my pan family members, saw what I was wearing and wanted pieces, I began to expand.  Eventually, I so enjoyed it that I began to design for stores and decided to become a full fledged fashion designer.  My first Collection is jewelry, but I will be launching new items by Christmas 08 into Carnival 09.

BSR: How does it feel to combine fashion and pan?

LM: It’s natural to me.  Pan is a fundamental part of who I am, and like so many other Trinidadian and Caribbean women, I like to dress stylishly and fashionably.  So I wanted to combine the two.  Also, you want to be a bit unique, while at the same time wearing clothes that everyone else does.  Having an accessory is one way to set yourself apart from the crowd, and in a silent way, display your uniqueness.

BSR: How do you market your product and what is the demand?

LM: At present, I market through special pan events, by linking with Trinidad embassies and consulates, and via online communities of steelband and Trinidad people.  I target Caribbean tourists through hotels, starting with Tobago and now going throughout the Caribbean.  Many tourists look for quality local items to take back with them after a vacation in the Caribbean.  There is little unique Caribbean jewelry available, so the demand is there.

BSR: Where are your customers located?

LM: My largest market is in Trinidad at this time.  But I have customers in other Caribbean islands, in the US, and in Europe.  Many Trinidadians have found me online and ordered through my online store at www.lizmannette.com.  Pan people in Paris, in Japan and even in Israel have visited my website for steelpan jewelry.

BSR: Is there a pan industry? What are the elements?

LM: The pan is a musical instrument with strong cultural roots.  Like any other instrument, there is an industry for the manufacture of the instrument, the required services and other collateral products, like merchandise, music and events.

BSR: Can you estimate the value of the pan industry and comment on how it is evolving?

LM: I have not been in the pan industry long enough to be able to estimate the value of the industry, and also my product line transcends pan and is a part of the overall jewelry and fashion industries.  However, pan manufacturers tell me that the industry is still in its embryonic stage.  There is so much more to be done just from the instrument side.

But I see the pan industry evolving as pan players, performers and supporters begin to desire lifestyle products that reflect the music they enjoy and are passionate about.

BSR: How do we encourage more youth to become involved in the business of pan?

LM: I believe they need to see more role models of successful “pantrepenuers.”  So those currently in pan business need to become more visible, raise their profile and tell their story.  We need to let the youth know that it is possible to use their creativity and talent to develop internationally acceptable products and reach a global market.  We need to let them know that the pan is now an instrument accepted in educational, music and cultural institutions around the world and this opens a door to a range of products and businesses to service these markets (and this is not only for players and steelbands).  Perhaps a forum on business opportunities in Pan may be one idea.

BSR: What are the goals you have set for your business?

LM: My goal is to provide quality, fashionable accessories to enable pan people of the world to display their passion and identity with style.   Just like Ellie Mannette is known as the top steelpan builder and manufacturer today, after more than 50 years in the art form, I want the Mannette name to be synonymous with top quality fashion and lifestyle products in the pan and fashion world.  And so I am looking to expand and have distributors in major cities with significant Trini and Caribbean people (NY, South Florida, London, Toronto, Atlanta, etc), in steelband communities around the world (Europe, Tokyo) and throughout the Caribbean.

BSR: Liz, on behalf of the pan community, I thank you for sharing your time, talent and dedication to the steelpan art form and industry and wish you much success in meeting and exceeding your goals.  Would you like to add a closing comment?

LM: I believe it is important for each of us who love this music to determine the value or contribution we can make to the development of the steelpan industry: particularly as it benefits the players, pioneers, the country of its birth, the spread into the wider music world, the business opportunities, etc. and to do that one thing well so that the pan industry advances.  Each person will have a different perspective and view different things as important.  One may be really concerned about scoring of panorama tunes, another about the management of steelbands, someone else may be focused on arranging at a different level, or honoring pioneers and patrons, etc.  I wanted to wear quality, fashionable expressions of the music, so I started this jewelry and fashion accessories business.

The key is to make the best of whatever idea God has put inside of you and present it back to him in a more developed or improved form so that he is pleased with your use of your talents.

Meet Liz Mannette and see her pan designs at PanJazz 2008, Frederick P. Rose Hall, Home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Saturday June 14, 2008, 7pm.

Contact: Liz Mannette | emannette@gmail.com |

Contact: Barbara Sealy Rhoden | steelpanvibes@yahoo.com

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