Frances Hanson-Lewis' career choices connote the figurative 'chalk and cheese' concept. Educated in the field of geology, she has significantly embarked on a career in one of her passions which she ultimately ignored for many, many years.
She is an environmental consultant and has been in the field for 15 years. Recently, she took a leap of faith and opened a boutique, Hi Maintenance, located at the Royal Palm Plaza. She supplies professional clothing, formal dresses, casual pieces and accessories.
So how do you go from geology to fashion? Throughout her life, she has had several contrasting experiences where she's had to learn to adapt. As a young child, she first attended a private school and when that school stopped its operations, she transferred to a public school; the transition was not smooth. "It was shock to my system, a true culture shock for me. At the private school, we didn't know about getting 'licks' but at the other school, teachers were beating you and they were stricter."
She graduated to the Naparima Girls' High School where she studied Language and Science and then went on to pursue studies in geology in Jamaica. During her classes though, she was always sketching designs – and got into trouble with the lecturers for it!
Friends, knowing her capabilities, allowed her to design their graduation ball dresses but the idea of a career in the field of fashion was not an option. "My parents wanted me to do something 'of substance', something safe, so to speak. You can't really blame them because back then, you couldn't make much money from careers in graphic design and fashion and that kind of thing because they weren't as popular and in demand as they are now."
A mother of two daughters, she insists, "I wouldn't have had my life any other way. I've gotten satisfaction from being a consultant in geology but my passion for fashion has never gone away." Stress made her quit her job before but she learned to balance things better. "I balance the two jobs. As a consultant, I enjoy a certain flexibility. I just decided that now is the time. I told myself, 'You know what, you can't really afford everything right now but just do it!'"
She is still determined to outfit her customers in the best as she wants them to have high quality items that would last over the years. Some of the designer brands offered are Calvin Klein, Nine West, Maggy London, Liz Claiborne, Larry Levine, Just Taylor, Adrienne Vitadinni and Evan Picone. The department store/brand names include New York and Company, Worthington, Style and Co. X0X0, Rampage, Sharagano.
"Career dresses are very popular so I usually have different styles in those. Wrap dresses also go very, very quickly! People who complained about difficulty in finding trousers that cater to their sizes, have been very please with the trousers that I've had." she said proudly. "If there is anything that someone would like that I don't have in stock, I can order it for them as well."
As the interview progressed she was interrupted by customers and I observed that several persons came into the store looking nervous or intimidated, but that changed and they became more confident as Hanson-Lewis asked the relevant question and dealt with them with friendly professionalism.
"I just try to give a complete service. Sometimes people feel that they won't look good in an item but once they try it at my urging, they are pleasantly surprised. I include imaging as part of the services provided at Hi Maintenance."
Passionately explaining aspects of fashion, she said, "I'd like to help women understand their sizes. For instance, some think that petite means short and a size 2 but you might be fairly tall and might just need a size 18 in petite."
"I don't bring more than two or three pieces in the same style. People don't want to see someone else wearing what they're wearing! I wouldn't want that for myself – especially if the other person is slimmer and sexier!" She burst in laughter, slapping her mid area.
Hi Maintenance definitely caters for the more mature woman and not the regular 'tight, teeny' look. "I don't carry the skimpy, small tops. If you need something for a cocktail event or weddings or work, yes. The clothes are classic chic, the styles of before with a modern twist."
Inclined to natural foods and personal care products, Hanson-Lewis said she has a holistic outlook on life. Talking animatedly and laughing, she said, "In my field, I find out a lot of things so I pay attention to the contents of my food and even my lip gloss!. I swear, if you think about what's in some foods, you won't want to eat anything! My daughters cringe sometimes when we go to the supermarket. They're like, 'Oh gosh, Mummy, can we get this pleeeeeease?' Or they'll be like, 'Please don't tell us we can't get this!' Little by little, they're getting into it though."
Known to have had a 'hot mouth', she wants the store to be a place where women can meet, converse and bond. She has occasional wine and cheese events at the store and intends to continue that trend. As for her VIP status for customers, that will also be a mainstay.
Hi Maintenance is certainly not low on her priority list as she intends to expose her raw talent and knowledge to all.