The Fashion Preacher (part one)
Local Buttons produces solely in Port-au-Prince, Haiti with the NGO INDEPCO taking care of our manufacturing needs. We chose, and continue to choose, to work with INDEPCO and it’s President, Hans Garoute, due to the quality of work, high labour standards and because Hans is a man of integrity with a wealth of knowledge. His warmth and charisma is splendidly contagious. We are fortunate enough to be able to spend early morning and early afternoon car rides with Hans as he takes us to and from the factory and they are some of our most treasured times while we visit Port-au-Prince.
Hans has been deeply embedded in the fashion industry for over 4 decades now, working in America, China, Brazil and of course, Haiti. With his breadth of knowledge and vast experience Hans could be the subject of an incredible novel! Earlier this week we sat down and took part in an interview with Hans where he shared his main insights on the fashion market and how Haiti can become a valuable economic player in the global market once more.
At one point, Haiti grew vast amounts of cotton and produced jeans for the likes of Levi Strauss. Next to agriculture, the apparel industry is the largest industry in Haiti. However, Haiti currently mainly produces utility garments for national use, with all large export operations of designer wear owned by foreign investment.
Let us take you on a three part journey of the life of Hans as it intertwines with the rise an fall of Haiti’s garment sector.
Hans was born and raised in Port-au-Prince, where he stayed until fleeing the country at the age of 16 after his father, a colonel in the Haitian army, was kidnapped and by the Duvalier regime. His father, wildly popular with the Haitian people, was never seen again. Hans moved to refuge in Miami where he went to school. In 1967, Hans took part in a thwarted effort to overthrow the Duvalier regime. Along with 120 other Cuban and Haitian exiles set to board the boat on route to Port-au-Prince, Hans was arrested in Miami. (read more about this story here).
Shortly here after, Hans began to work for May’s department store as a stock boy. Before long he was offered a scholarship (by May’s) to attend FIT where he became a merchandise buyer.
As a buyer Hans witnessed the movement of the industry from the Eastern US to the South. When he began buying, most manufacturing took place in the Eastern US in New York and Boston. As the East began to unionize, the industry moved to the Southern states; Mississippi and Georgia in the 1970s. Once these states too became unionized the garment industry moved once more, this time Puerto Rico and then eventually to Haiti.
Once in Haiti, the sub-assembly garment sector took off. During the 1980s (for roughly 15 years), over 150 factories assembled brassieres in Haiti. However, the move to Haiti was a financial one for companies as Haiti was not producing the entire garment but rather assembling the product allowing companies to save on production costs. Buying was done in China where the organized ‘cuttage’ took place before being sent to Haiti.
Here we see that the Haitian industry is being built solely on assembly, and the industry lacks sufficient training in its manufacturing and lack of training and development in project management at the local level. These issues continue to thwart the industry today. We will pick up next time with Hans and his plan to revolutionize and organize the small, local tailors as he works as the Fashion Preacher spreading his word throughout the country.