Fashion Travels

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Next week represents a milestone for Local Buttons. When we originally envisioned Local Buttons we had the grandiose idea to bring a group of students to Haiti to explore fashion and sustainability. We dreamed up ideas for internships and a way to connect emerging designers to producers in Haiti. We marched into Ryerson with a proposal in hand, only to realize we didn’t understand the first thing about curating a trip, nor did we have a strong enough grasp on the manufacturing industry.

We are so thrilled to say that we have come full circle and next week we take off for Haiti with an amazing group of students from the Ryerson Fashion department. We look forward to showing the students sustainable and ethical fashion in practice. We have a packed itinerary involving visiting factories, artisans networks, a bottle recycling plant & a training centre. Beyond all this the 4 students are working on both creative and academic projects focusing on fashion and sustainability.

We had each students write us a little note on why they are interested in coming to Haiti. Below you will find their personal accounts.

Shelley:

Like most 17-year-olds thrust into independence, I entered university with little direction. I developed a four-year bond with psychology, but I knew it wasn’t my passion. After some intense introspection, I realized that my interests in psychology could be reconciled with my true calling: fashion. Environmental and positive psychology taught me that connecting with nature increases happiness, health, and overall wellbeing. We are meant to be natural beings. But how could I relate this to fashion? The ideals of a “hippie” lifestyle are almost considered taboo to a culture rooted in consumerism.

My original idea was to create clothing that increased the wearer’s connection to nature solely through the properties of the garment. Through careful research, however, I realized that the benefits of nature-friendly clothing are far more reaching. In addition to connecting people with nature, sustainable fashion can include fair trade wages for workers, water reduction, and less waste during production. The key to unlocking all of these benefits is getting the consumer on board.  For long-lasting effects, consumers need to adopt sustainable fashion for internal reasons. Otherwise, sustainably becomes a trend that can’t even sustain itself. This grassroots movement starts with a small amount of eco-minded individuals and eventually spreads until the consumer-base as a whole internalizes sustainable fashion and garment producers are forced to react to consumer demands.

While this movement is driven by individuals and the extent to which they adopt sustainable fashion, it starts with a product. Haiti will provide me with the opportunity to experience sustainable production firsthand, absorb its benefits and relay them to consumers. Consumers need to buy into sustainable products and production. To convince them, I will collect video footage from the Local Buttons factory that clearly documents the production process and arrange this information as an attention grabbing, call to action video to foster a positive perspective towards sustainable fashion – the first of many steps towards an internalized preference for sustainable fashion, and eventually, a sustainable lifestyle.

 Alec:

What I expect to gain from this trip to Haiti, is a solution to a problem I’ve been having since starting my education in fashion design. I understand the creative and technical creation of designs, as well as the business side, but the manufacturing segment is some unknown world. By seeing first hand what the factories are like and what the ethical occupational standards are in a developing country, I will hopefully be able to design garments that not only fit my aesthetic and functionality, but also are able to be manufactured at a relative cost with upheld fair trade and proper safety. Being within an actual factory will ground my ideals and forward my perspective from just being based on theory.

Danielle:

I’m unbelievably excited to travel to Haiti and to get the chance to be on the ground! It’s one thing to purchase a product that supports development from friends or even just a company, but its completely another to actually walk through the process with those facilitating it! I know this is going to be a very eye-opening experience for me & I’m really happy to be travelling with Local Buttons for this journey. I’m also happy to be travelling with 3 other students in my program who I can share the experience with when we are back. I think the ethical & sustainability issues we face in the fashion industry today can be tackled by us together – it’s really great to have a team of such like-minded and passionate people!

 Stephanie:

As a student going into fourth year at Ryerson University for Fashion Design, this will be my second time travelling to Haiti. In February of 2014 I completed a mission trip to help in orphanages and schools. This is when I fell in love with Haiti. I experienced a great deal of love and kindness on my travels which will forever touch my heart. Since then my goal has been to help Haitian people. Local Buttons has opened a door to helping Haiti establish fair trade jobs with a sustainable and ethical business model. I am so excited to be a part of this amazing group and contribute in anyway I can!

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Your Haitian Checklist

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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The stars aligned for our travels home

Our host Lionel (left) and Business Partner, Hans

Tuesday we had the most incredible traveling experience either one of us has ever experienced. It was if all the travel GODS came together and sprinkled their sparkly travel dust down upon us.

For starters we had a lovely last lunch with Hans and his daughter, Aida right before we left. A buffet of perfectly spiced Creole-Canadian inspired food filled our stomachs as we basked in the heat and breathed in our last few gulps of humid salty air.

At the airport last hugs were given and final farewells said. We boarded the plane dragging our feet with reluctance only to be greeted by two of the fabulous Air Canada flight attendants who brought us to Port-au-Prince the week prior. Air Canada only flies to Port-au-Prince on Tuesdays and on our way down we chatted up a few of the flight attendants who to our delightful surprise remembered us, and our business project.

To help us celebrate our excellent and prosperous week our lovely crew, Claudette and Bill, generously supplied us with complimentary wine, snacks and conversation for our flight. Right across the aisle from us sat Danny, a Haitian born, Montreal based musician returning to Montreal after a two month stay in Haiti. Danny has expressed interest in collaborating with us in regards to an event where we launch the Pep clothing line. We want a Haitian/Canadian blend of music and he seems like the perfect fit!! He even gave us some fresh, unroasted coffee beans to take home with us as we did not have the time to get our own coffee before we left.

After arriving in Montreal, we were wandering aimlessly killing time before our next flight.  A lovely man, Carlos, approached us and took us up to the VIP room. I am not sure if you have ever visited one of these great rooms but they are pretty fantastic. A food buffet is laid out and you are free to pour yourself a drink (or two). Newspapers, magazines and wi-fi are at your disposal.

After Carlos let us in, a man sitting near us struck up conversation. We thought he looked familiar, and as I explored the room freely, Sway stayed and chatted. The man in question was Bob Rae. We sat down and had a chat with him where he told us of his new book he wrote and is promoting and we informed him of the going-ons of  Local Buttons and dropped him a business card.

As we left to board the plane, Mr Rae informed us he was proud of what we were doing and looked forwarded to talking to us again. We came home to an email waiting from him!!

To top off our magical travel experience, Sway’s roommate picked us up from the airport! We could not have asked for a better greeter than she!

We are still marveling at this magical travel experience, and I am pretty confident I will be traveling with Sway from now on!

Graffiti in Port-au-Prince 'Haiti Will Not Perish'