Your Haitian Checklist

Aside

We have landed once more in Port-au-Prince. As this is our 8th time visiting Haiti, we have developed a sort of routine. It mostly involves a few runs up the EPIC  drive way passing the UN apartments, a few lunges back at the bottom to make the fruit and coffee that follows extra tasty, and us in high spirits as we are driven to the factory to work on our garments!

We were going to take a moment to write about the importance of building relationships with those you work with in order to create an efficient and pleasant work space. However, we have decided to create a sort of Haitian checklist. A list of things you can check off while you’re spending SO MUCH TIME in Port-au-Prince traffic. It’s CLEARLY a game you can’t miss out on, so come visit us on this beautiful, magnificent and crazy island.

1) Seen the most beautifully decorated Tap Taps (public transport) rolling through the streets: The artwork painted on the sides are beautiful vignettes of daily life, they look the kind of party bus you want to take despite the fact that they are often overcrowded.

IMG_0854

2) The most colourful artwork lining the streets

3) Full pharmacies wrapped around a basket and resting atop someone’s head

4) An entire family on a motorcycle expertly making their way through crazy traffic

5) Spent 2 hours in traffic to get somewhere that should only take 10 minutes

6) Everything you could imagine (and even what you cannot imagine) piled in the back of pick up truck.

7) Goats and pigs roaming freely between people and traffic

8) Scoured the pepe markets for hidden gems

IMG_3548

9) Sampled delicious lambi (conch) with breadfruit and twice fried plantains (it’s worth taking a rest break from traffic!)

10) Gun-laden security guards standing guard in front of every grocery store (even the corner stores)

11) A marching street band winding their way through the streets on sunny afternoons

12) Tasted the sweetest coffee from a street vendor. It tastes more like coffee flavoured sugar

13) A procession of school children in their perfectly pressed uniforms making their way down the street to school

IMG_0649

14) Potholes so large you fear the car might tumble down and never get out

15) Entire home furnishings crafted from wood made on the side of the streets

16) Mountainous hills which ascend right to the picture perfect beaches

IMG_0427

Advertisements

Landed and Planted

We are back in Port-au-Prince for our fourth visit. There is something so wonderful about coming back to visit the same place.  We have learned so much each time and continue to meet amazing people.

Many LB plans are in the works this trip including a photo shoot here in P-A-P, new fall designs and re-branding/re-imaging the LB. We are so excited to be working on all of it and cannot wait to reveal them all come the fall!

In the meantime, we will share photos of Furcy, where we visited for the weekend. Just an hour outside of Port-au-Prince, up the mountain, Furcy is a breathtaking weekend getaway. The colours are unbelievable. While much of Haiti has been deforested for the purpose of coal making and agriculture, we were happy to see reforestation projects in place.

The pictures below don’t serve it justice-you will have to come here and experience it first hand!

Potholes and More

The beautiful Sway rocking the Moto and Pepe purchases

Port-au-Prince is a constantly moving, intriguing and mysterious place. The moment you think you have something figured out you hit a pot hole (literally) and are bounced along into a new site or experience you would have never seen coming. I am currently suffering a little Haitian malaise so bear with  me as I attempt to elaborate on my experiences through my delirium.

Our vests have been cut, sewn, labeled and pressed with care. We have bore witness to their growth as we purchased them, alongside our trusty friend Perez, at the Pepe markets, helped rip apart the old clothing-very satisfying I might add-and been part of the process of matching jackets with shirts. We have sorted buttons, made cookies for the factory and stood in awe of the beautiful songs the men and women sing in the afternoon. I would love to know that part of my workday included harmonious vibes shared. We have also taken steps back and watched with wonder and amazement how quickly the tailors have adhered to our aesthetic. There is not one vest that has been created either with or without our input that we do not absolutely adore.

I think we may both go withdrawal and anxiety when we begin to let our vests go. They are our heartland. With them they hold our ties to Haiti, the wonderful people we have met, the conversations had, and the ridiculous personal and professional growth we have both gone through. It is such an overwhelmingly positive feeling to know that the tailors working with us want this project to succeed, that they take joy in making the vests and problem shooting with us when it looks like that one jacket may just not work, we always find an extra piece snuggled away somewhere to finish the garment.  I honestly cannot do justice to the experience. I cannot begin to tell the stories of all those we have worked with. From ‘mademoiselle’ who brings us the best coffee each morning with a smile on her face that could melt your heart. We speak no Kreyol and she no French so our communication is mostly through hand motions, giggles and MERCI MERCI MERCIS. I would have it no other way.

Hans is working with us to make sure that we can pay the wages we believe should be paid to those working on our

Sorting buttons

project. We know that this alone does not solve the problem of inequality in the fashion factory industry but is a start. And it speaks volumes that Hans will have these conversations with us. He is working tirelessly with INDEPCO to achieve better training programs, and more contracts for all 600 micro-sewing companies through out Haiti that are part of the INDEPCO team. It is no easy task.

It’s just funny where life will take you. If you had of asked me as a little girl, or even 2 years ago, if I would ever picture myself sitting in the dark in P-a-P with a fan blowing to cool my feverish skin writing about my experiences-both the UPS and the downs-I would have never believed it. I wouldn’t change a moment of this crazy ride for anything. My heart is sad to leave, but I know Sway and I will return. Haiti has done more for us than we could ever hope to return in favour.

The sun sets early…

Market in P-au-P next to the solar powered artisan marktet

There is so much beauty and confusion in this country I can barely keep my mind in one place throughout the day. Literally it reels. There are at times road blocks as we move forward to fill our first order-from pay scale, to logistics of importing to the practical aspect of finding the right pieces to work with. But there is so much beauty in the contacts we are making, relationships we are building and through watching and helping our clothing come to life. Of course ‘progress’ is never a linear line, but wow is it ever noticeable as we take this slow fashion journey with the men and women we are working with at INDEPCO. So much has happened this past week-from our work, to travel to going out and experiencing nightlife inPort-au-Prince. Allow me to elaborate a wee bit….

The sun sets early here, at 6pm, a much different vibe from ourTorontolate sunsets and later nights out. At the beginning of our trip we found ourselves falling into bed early each night as each day continues to bring with it a great range of emotions; from extreme highs and laughter to low lows of anger and sadness. Last Wednesday we hit the streets for Pepe. We started the morning off by mindfully meandering the streets with Perez in search of a pair of sunglasses that I broke the night before as I sat on them…Perez proved to be a great help throughout the day. After purchasing my new stylish glasses to repel the sun we hoped in a taxi. The day was supposed to be seen via motorcycle but alas safety was deemed more important than our yearn for adventure.

We visited a different market this time around-one that had everything from food, to Pepe, to new clothing and toys. The smell at times was a little less than pleasant, but our feet clad in our beat up Tom’s shoes we were ready for it all. Perez, a master negotiator, was incremental in getting us the best price possible for our purchases. As we walked through the stalls we were met with much laughter and bewilderment. We were on the search for GIANT pairs of jeans, men’s jackets and plaid dress shirts. Not exactly what you picture two young girls searching for. It was so hot I actually think I sweat more there than I do in my Bikram Yoga classes.

We loaded ourselves down with all our ‘new’ purchases and headed to the artisan market. There, we were taken up a tower to see the solar panels and batteries that are used to power the market. It was a welcome climb up the tower as just the previous night we had been wondering about the uses of alternative forms of energy and innovation inHaiti. How fitting that we be exposed to an example the next day.

We then found ourselves en route to an orphanage our host, Vincent, is working with. As we walked in the kids were in a semi circle singing, playing drums and calling each other out to dance. The joy in the place was palpable, as was the sadness. We spoke with the men and women who dedicate their days and nights to the children who stay there. Being with the kids made me realize that I may one day find myself working at an orphanage-I didn’t want to leave. I took to little Sony, the sweetest young boy with a gentle demeanor and ever present smile. It was while he was on my lap that I was informed that not only was he with out parents but he had a hernia-which caused major swelling and discomfort in his stomach and genital area and needed to go to the doctor. No child so young should ever feel such emotional and physical pain.

Yet he sat with me as if he were happy as could be. Not to sound like a bleeding heart, but it actually pulled at my heart strings. I found myself so upset. Yet what does my sorrow do for the situation? Nothing. I felt helpless, only imagining how he, Sony, must feel in the situation. Perhaps he knows no different, but is that not just as tragic? He has been on mind ever since, and we plan to go back to the orphanage, where I hope to find him peacefully recovering from surgery.

Of course there are many adventures to be had no matter where you are and we have experienced many. From dancing

Sony

the nights away throughout thePort-au-Princebar scene, to a lovely weekend getaway in Port Salut where we soared amid a cascading waterfall into fresh, cool water. The experiences both invigorating and heart wrenching for sure will continue.

Second First Impressions

The plane landed with a gentle thud followed by a thunderous applause and murmurs of ‘thank you Jesus’’. We were back inHaiti. In case we weren’t quite sure the blast of humid heat that welcomed us as we boarded the 30 second bus ride to the chaos of immigration sure let us know we were here. As we drove through the downtown streets I found myself recognizing land marks, already more spatially aware of our surroundings. It has been 8 months since our last visit (how time flies) and the streets seem much cleaner, as more rubble has been removed. The city is both marginally different in its aesthetic and feeling. Reminds me that nothing is stagnant, but rather, constantly evolving.

It’s funny how different each visit to a similar place can be. We feel so much more sure of our business this time, yet I find my nerves buzzing, slightly on edge. This ‘workation’, as Sway termed it, is the real deal. We have worked with talented interns and designers and made some serious contacts back inTorontoprior to this trip. There is more to prove, especially as we have already made pre orders. This needs to WORK. Of course, I know it will, but there remain those ever present nerves, which perhaps serve well to push us further in our work.

This time aroundPort-au-Princewill present itself in a much different light. Already we have met new people and experienced new delights. We are staying with a gentleman by the name of Vincent and his 5 year old son, Steffan Xavier, and their home-keeper,Alliance. Vincent hails fromFrancebut has been living inHaitifor over 12 years now. 4 years ago he adopted Steffan, a vibrant young boy who has taken to placing a tennis racket on our backs to transform us into Cinderella or monsters. Vincent started his own organization, privately funded, that works with young Haitians incorporating the arts and music.

Already it has been an engaging and language challenging experience. We are determined to improve our French and learn a few basics in Creole. Petit Steffan is a good teacher as he speaks quickly and constantly expects us to understand. Needless to say our tired brains crashed early last night as we fell into our bed by 9pm. We expect to find ourselves experiencing some night life at a later point J.

I am currently sitting amongst our designs and work plans at the INDEPCO office in downtownPort-au-Prince. We have reunited with Hans, the director of INDEPCO, his driver, Joclene, and Sael andBaselwho both work at INDEPCO. Seeing familiar faces eager to start working on our designs once more is invigorating. Plans to hit the Pepe markets with our newest friend-and Creole teacher-Perez are in the works for tomorrow. If all goes well not only will we unearth all the materials needed for the orders we are filling this time around but also we will stock pile for future orders.

In moments where we stand at the back of the factory, with machines buzzing, talking with Hans about the work plan to fill our orders I have to pinch myself in disbelief. Who would have thought these two ‘femmes blanches’ (as Steffan calls us) would be creating their own designs? I could not imagine embarking on this crazy and exciting ethical business adventure with anyone other than Conseulo. With a laugh always ready to bubble over, we are excited to take on anything that comes our way.