This is good news for Haiti’s burgeoning style industry. Local designers, retailers, and exporters are seizing on prospects at home and abroad to increase production and gather fashion capital. Last year, major Haitian apparel manufacturers attended SOURCING at MAGIC, the fashion industry’s annual trade forum and North America’s most comprehensive resource for opportunities in the international supply chain. This past August, Haiti’s delegation again was present to build relationships and make deals.
These inroads have not gone unnoticed. Back in Haiti, Sae-A Trading Co. Ltd., Korea’s leading garment manufacturer, is anchoring the biggest industrial park being built in the country. Sae-A will produce apparel with fabric made in Haiti, reducing dependence on imported raw materials and dramatically reducing the cost of producing garments, according to reports. Over 20,000 new jobs are expected to be created during the first phase, slated to launch in the coming months.
Supporters of this project point to the fact that Haiti will finally have a world-class textile mill, building on its large footprint in the sector going back decades. At its peak in the early 1980s, the Haitian apparel industry employed over 100,000 workers. But those numbers have decreased over the years. In 2009, just 23 manufacturers remained, employing approximately 25,000 workers.
There are high hopes for accelerating growth beyond these statistics with the development of the industrial park in the north corridor – especially in light of the fact that a majority of the existing apparel manufacturing factories are located in the west in Port-au-Prince. Still, some remain concerned about the local capacity to complete the fabrication of textiles, cutting, assembling, finishing and packaging of apparel products required for end-to-end service. If there is equal investment in training a skilled workforce of Haitians who can perform all production functions, the impact to the economy will be positive.
Will textiles, manufacturing and apparel design be catalysts that propel Haiti’s economy into the 21st century, becoming a major jobs creation engine for its people?
It is not clear. There are many vital issues that must be worked out, such as wage equity, workers’ rights, and much-needed training, to name a few. But it is hard to argue against the idea that strengthening the textile and apparel industry will go a long way towards attracting long-term investment, creating new jobs, and elevating Haiti’s presence in the global fashion and ready-to-wear arena.
What is certain, however, is that creativity abounds in Haiti. Proactive steps like seeking new revenue streams and showcasing homegrown talent during Haiti Fashion Week in November will help diversify the country’s economic portfolio and increase its competitiveness.