We had the good fortune of connecting with Kesi Gardner and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kesi, what do you attribute your success to?
My brand has always centered around my tenacity. A single mother at the young age of 24, starting in the visual communication arts, as a graphic designer, I worked twenty years building other brands, through the top advertising agencies in Jamaica juggling a million things and making millions more for my bosses. Then I looked up one day at forty and realized something. My daughter had left home for college. The brands I’d built weren’t mine, people younger than me with less credibility and experience were successful entrepreneurs and, that’s when I decided to start The Storyteller Agency. Co. based in Jamaica.
In Jamaica, they tell tales to children about a spider called Anansi, who would always be up to something, and in every story, there was a moral that made you remember.
We’re celebrating our first year in operation and my expertise has grown to cover lifestyle marketing. We are immersive, working with brands that fit our way of life, including our aesthetic, ideals, and aspirations. We go beyond the product being sold.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My mother was a diplomat, and so we lived in New York, Rome and traveled regularly. As a result, I was exposed to the “good life”–museums, jazz, and classical music, great food, and of course shopping!
Today, I work on helping create brand awareness within my niche, which is mainly luxury hospitality brands. This covers food, culture, and wellness. I also work with established influencers as their agent, brokering exclusive deals for them on the island.
I’m a travel advisor to celebrities and am often asked to create an itinerary and curate experiences for anyone who wants to enjoy Jamaica fabulously through my platform @luxuryja. Luxury to me is not just about expensive things, it’s a way of life. We could be in the mountains and have a spread of fabulous food and wine. It’s easy to create that simplicity on our beautiful island.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
First Stop: As soon as we get off the plane at Norman Manley Airport in Kingston, we’d head to The Grand Excelsior Hotel of Port Royal for a private yacht tour. Port Royal is located at the mouth of Kingston Harbour (the seventh-largest natural harbor in the world) and was named ‘the wickedest place on earth” as it was home to the real Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s what inspired the movie. We’d indulge in some fresh oysters, fried fish, and festival and Prosecco of course while we relax on a private cay soaking up the Caribbean sun.
Jamaica is a melting pot of cultures. Many people have come here to make it their home. One of those people are the Hados.They are originally from Lebanon and came here over 17 years ago, opened Chez Maria, and made Jamaica their home. So we’d book a sunset dinner reservation at the Lebanese and Italian restaurant Chez Maria. We’d experiment with the earthy flavours of the Chez Maria platter with kibbehs and grape leaves. Or if you’re feeling for Italian their seafood pasta is to die for with big portions of calamari and shrimp. Espresso is a must to end the meal–you must have their traditional Lebanese dessert, the date mamoul!
We’d then head to my favorite spot in Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth– a seven-bedroom villa named Seaside, where all our closest friends would hang out by the pool, listening to a Protoje playlist, drinking Red Stripe. The sunsets in every parish are different and Treasure Beach’s is just as special. Then we’d end the day with a bohemian-themed farm-to-table dinner on the semi-private Calabash Bay beach to watch the sunset. And maybe skinny dipping in the warm shallow water!
The next day we’d head to the Black River Safari and finish the day at a bar on stilts in the middle of the Caribbean sea, Pelican Bar. If we decide to stay on land we can do a bike tour of the sleepy town.
The great thing about Jamaica is the landscape, we have deserts, mountains, and of course the beach. So we’d head to a french style eatery called Eits Cafe (shortened from Europe in the Summer) in the Blue Mountains, then we’d drive for about half an hour and hike for another half an hour to Cascade Waterfall in the Blue Mountains. It’s over 100 feet tall!
We can also visit Rio Chico Estate where DJ Khaled stays when he’s in Jamaica and have a catered lunch in the river which runs through the 14-acre property.
Also, you must travel to Stush in the Bush–a farm-to-table experience in the cool hills of St. Ann.
No trip to Jamaica would be complete without a trip to Portland. Jamaica’s jewel. I’d opt to stay at either Geejam with five ultra-private villas and on-call service. Gwen Stefani, Drake, Sharon Stone, and Alicia Keys have all been guests.Or a villa on the Blue Lagoon, few feet from Monkey Island.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’ve always benefited from my parents’ love and dedication to my personal growth and education. My mother insisted on me attending a prestigious private school on Central Park West where Paris Hilton and The Strokes’ lead singer Julian Casablancas also attended as a way of exposing me to different cultures and networking with the upper echelon. When I decided I wanted to go to art school, my Dad being an architect, made sure I attended one of the best design schools in the United States, Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. They ranked #6 out of 25 by Business Insider in 2012. To walk the halls where celebrities like Robert Redford, Betsy Johnson, and Robert Mapplethorpe may have walked, was an honor.
My mother being a diplomat afforded me the gift of travel. I’ve lived in over five cities including Rome, Italy, and traveled to the USA, Canada, and Europe as well as Scandinavia. Whenever I traveled, learning about music, art and culture were always on the list of top things to do.
Another influence on my life is author and marketing guru Seth Godin. The name of my agency, The Storyteller Agency. Co has storytelling at its ethos was inspired by his books on marketing.
My colleagues in the Diaspora who respect and understand my vision have also helped me focus tremendously. Jamaican-American venture capitalist David Mullings and Canadian businessman, marketing practitioner, and former successful nightclub owner of over ten years, Robert Collins, have advised me on many business deals.
My business strategist advises me on all financial decisions and has helped me structure my business for optimal success.
Contributed Kesi Gardner