Kaché Knowles is many things – creator, storyteller, and an island gal from Eleuthera with big dreams. Then there’s the fact that she is proud to be Bahamian, and embraces all of the nuances that make a Bahamian … well – uniquely Bahamian, especially dialect. It’s that pride that led Knowles to launch the “iisabahamianbey” (standard English translation – I am a Bahamian boy) brand, a Bahamian-inspired clothing line and social media-based community, through which she brings awareness to and celebrates the uniqueness of Bahamian speech.
Through her brand, Knowles aims to empower Bahamian culture by preserving the past, educating the present, and building the future – as she says it. “iisabahamianbey” aims to celebrate Bahamian people, their tongue, their spirit, accents and dialect.
The “iisabahamianbey” brand is not new to the market. Knowles launched in 2019 after a three-month backpacking trek through southeast Asia where she immersed herself in what she said was a rich, but simplistic expression of culture.
“I remember being at a small dance performance in Bali [and] thinking to myself, why don’t we have these small intimate expressions of culture back home.”
Knowles did not get around to answering her own question, but three months later, “iisabahamianbey” was created.
And it all started with Knowles making a simple open-ended statement on her social media. “I is a Bahamian …” The statement sparked debate between family and friends, and gained popularity with Bahamians abroad who used Knowles’ page to teach their friends about Bahamian speak – what words mean and even how they are spelled.
“Prior to ‘iisabahamianbey’, I noticed that people always argued about the correct spelling, so when I created this design, I did so to bring awareness to our similarities and a celebration of our differences. ‘iisabahamianbey’ is about inclusivity,” she said.
The Eleuthera native said it as a “simple expression of culture” – one Instagram post at a time, one hit at a time.
The “iisabahamianbey” founder is one of two sisters and the middle child. She has a bachelor of science degree in biological science and earned a master’s degree in marketing, and like most Bahamians she and her siblings were taught the importance of “proper
grammar” and in their formative years, were always corrected when they “talk bad”.
Always speaking proper English is a concept that never stuck with her.
“I rejected it from a very young age. People would tell my mom, ‘The oldest and youngest speak so well, what happened to Kaché?’ My response from when I was a child was ‘I is a Bahamian, so I’ll talk the way I want.’”
She said the idea of speaking proper English and Bahamian-ese being bad is a concept that impacts the Bahamian identity and the way Bahamians see their authentic self.
Knowles who was educated in Canada said while there she quickly realized that no one understood what she was saying and that she had to make changes. So, she understands the importance of being able to communicate effectively, but her goal is to also teach that Bahamian-ese can take up space as well.
“We don’t have to have to be scared, ashamed or judged for our language,” she said. “Our language should be seen, validated and empowered. It’s our identity and right as a Bahamian.”
Knowles brought this validation to t-shirts which proudly proclaimed “I is a Bahamian bey” which she said embodies everything that the brand is about – Bahamian identity, vernacular and empowerment.
Her t-shirts were hits.
She expanded her merchandise line (t’ings) to feature hoodies, sweatshirts, crewnecks, hats, tumblers, bags, and books, all with popular Bahamian-ese phrases.
Her favorite phrase/design she said is the one that she created, “Bey bui bei” where she features three different spellings of the word “bey” which is probably one of the most commonly used Bahamian words. It means “boy”, but can be used to refer to any person.
“Bey” also happens to be her favorite word because of how ingrained it is in Bahamian culture, and its meaning. It can be used as a greeting, to describe shock, disappointment, and the opening/ending to a sentence.
“‘Bey’ is very dynamic depending on how you say it, your tone, your pitch … the context of the sentence. It could be a question, a sentence, exclaim excitement. It’s very dynamic and very complex,” said Knowles.
She also chose to sell it three different ways “bey bui bei” because of the debate over the years on spelling, which she said can depend on the age of the people debating, and the island they are from.
“The word is one of many that is a part of the beautiful Bahamian language and culture,” she said.
She is also a fan of the saying “kerpunkle (kapunkle) up” simply because she just like how it sounds fun on the tongue. It means drunk or simply when a person is a mess and all over the place.
And it’s a given that “vell mudda sick jdred” (also vel mudda sik dred) is another favorite for her.
“It’s almost our Bahamian curse word that we use when everything’s going wrong.”
Knowles started out with t-shirts. In addition, also offers hoodies, sweatshirts, crewnecks, hats, tumblers, bags, and books. Her merchandise offerings continue to be expanded. And, of course, words and phrases like “Aye Sweetness” (hello, good looking), “Biggety”, (rowdy) “No Broughtupcy” (no manners) have all gotten Knowles’ stamp of approval.
Before Knowles started “iisabahamianbey” she wanted to do an art page; she is a painter. In trying to come up with a name for her art page she wrote “I is paint bey.” She then wrote different “I is” statements. The last one she said she wrote was “I is a Bahamian bey.”
“The last page was my language does not dictate my intellect. I’m smart, even though I speak what you deem improper – and by whose measure – and that sort of catapulted from ‘I is paint’, ‘I is cook’, to ‘I is a Bahamian bey’, which I really believe is my purpose and mission. I’ve been exclaiming this since being corrected by my parents and grandparents.
“I have a master’s degree in marketing, a bachelor’s degree in biological science. I wanted to do an environmental business, combining the two, so fast forward, I have all this education, and you want to tell me I’m not smart because I want to talk Bahamian which is a language and not broken English. We’ve been taught that there’s no place for it. What I want to create is a space where Bahamian English can be valued and appreciated.”
Knowles said she should not be judged for what she speaks.
“I’m not saying don’t speak proper, but that there should be a space for the Bahamian language. Let’s break down what we see Bahamian is, and create a new definition of Bahamian-ism and redefine it.”
That speaks to the flip side of the coin when she recently posted another open-ended statement to allow people to fill in the blank – “I is a Bahamian, but I don’t …”
Since starting in 2019, Knowles said she is proud to have seen an increase in Bahamian words being used in corporate campaigns and sees “iisabahamianbey” as a direct influence to use words that Bahamians have tossed aside.
The Eleuthera native packed up her Georgie bundle (merchandise) in two suitcases and relocated to New Providence.
“All I had was gumption and a dream,” said Knowles who proceeded to host a series of pop ups around the island.
She hosted her first “Bahamian Ting” Christmas Pop Up Market in 2021 and hand-selected participants. It proved to be a success. She is now making preparation for her 2nd Annual Christmas Pop Up Market at Collins House on Saturday, December 17 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
After three years, and many pop ups later, she said it is time for her to share her space with other young Bahamian entrepreneurs.
“My first pop up market was in 2021, vendors were hand selected. On the day of the pop up, I had so many vendors reaching out to ask if they could be a part of the event. This year, I’ve opened it up to anyone.
People wanting to be a vendor can email or direct message Knowles at firstname.lastname@example.org.
““I’m creating the space I wish I had when I first started in 2019,” she said. “The goal of the pop up is to showcase young Bahamian entrepreneurs and artisans. There are so many young business owners that have amazing products, but where can you find them? This space was created to bring exposure to Bahamian entrepreneurs and allow the community to have access to them. The vendors will range from fashion, handmade goods, food, accessories and beauty products.”
Knowles never intended for “iisabahamianbey” to be her career or business. She obviously had other plans but said she strongly believes that God handed her purpose through the work she does with “iisabahamianbey.”
“iisabahamianbey” merchandise can be purchased on iisabahamianbey.com/shop.