Barbados has past business and cultural ties with the Lowcountry going back to colonial times | Credit:

Charleston immigration attorney Toni Gilliard resisted a push for 20 years from family and friends to turn her homemade rum punch into a business. She relented in late 2019 as she inhaled the strong aroma of rum during a tour of the Mount Gay distillery in Bridgetown, Barbados.

The goosebumps rising on her arms during the tour seemed to be proof the spirits wanted her to venture into the alcohol business. Early this year, she launched Tipsy Lady Cocktails at Kiawah Spirits on Kiawah Island and liquor stores statewide, including Total Wines & More. The product also is sold online to consumers in 38 markets.

“It was clear as day to me this is what I am supposed to do to honor the spirits,” said Gilliard, a 2001 graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law. “For me, this is an assignment from my ancestors and a way to inspire other people, women of color in particular, to take leadership roles” in the alcohol business, said the Bronx, New York-born Gilliard, who has family roots in Barbados and Mount Pleasant.

She said she wants to take Tipsy Lady Cocktails internationally so she can place her brightly colored four-pack 6.8-ounce cans of rum cocktails on shelves in Barbados. She will be among a group of about 50 South Carolinians who will leave Wednesday for a seven-day trip to Barbados organized by the Barbados and the Carolinas Legacy Foundation, which promotes the country’s historical ties with Charleston.

Toni Gilliard, the CEO of Tipsy Lady Cocktails based in Charleston, hopes her new rum-based beverage can find a spot on store shelves in Barbados

Mount Pleasant businesswoman Pearl Ascue is also planning to join the group to see if there are lessons the settlement communities East of the Cooper can learn from Barbados.
“We need to get a bite of the tourism pie,” said Ascue, who envisions home-based restaurants like the one she saw in 2015 in Cuba. She wants tourists to come “in our homes and taste our local Gullah cuisine” that is more authentic than the foods served in downtown restaurants, she said.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg will lead the group for talks on business, cultural exchanges and climate change. The trip comes on the 25th anniversary of a twin-city agreement between Charleston and Speightstown, a small community on Barbados’ west coast. The mayor said he wants to strengthen that relationship.

Charleston attorney Dwayne Green, a member of the foundation’s board, said a majority of the group is interested in business relationships in Barbados.

“I would like for this to be the beginning of an ongoing relationship and for this to become an annual conference for people who want to learn more about the Barbados-Carolina connection.”

Settlers from Barbados established the Carolina Colony in 1670. They launched that expedition from Speightstown.

Other areas of interest are the development of a medical cannabis industry in Barbados and improving the country’s treatment and rehabilitation of sea turtles through a collaboration with the Barbados Sea Turtle Project and the South Carolina Aquarium. Green said state lawmakers Rep. J.A. Moore, D-Berkeley, and Rep. Marvin Pendarvis, D-Charleston, both of whom are interested in cannabis for medical purposes in South Carolina, may join the group.

This meeting also could lead to a collaboration between the Barbados Museum and Historical Society and the International African American Museum (IAAM) in Charleston, which is scheduled to open in January 2023. Barbados is developing a Heritage District next to the Newton Enslaved Burial Ground Memorial, which is the largest and earliest known burial ground in Barbados with the remains of hundreds of enslaved African men, women and children.

Rhoda Green, the foundation’s president and CEO and Barbados’ honorary consul to South Carolina, said if this renewed relationship between Charleston and Barbados matures, it could become an opportunity to have a group from Barbados visit Charleston one year and a Charleston group visit the island the following year.

“Clearly there is an interest,” she said. “But we will have to make that case going forward as to why this is important and what are the benefits that flow both ways.”

This trip, she added, also might help to inject new energy into the foundation’s board of directors.

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