The first Fashion Week in Haiti will take place this November, and will hopefully lend a helping hand as the nation seeks to rebuild itself after a series of natural disasters. In New York City, this event has become one of the hottest activities in fashion globally. Now Haiti will leverage a similar forum to host runway shows produced by native designers. Haitian-born clothiers like Berny Martin for Catou, Hassan Pierre, Phelicia Dell for VèVè, David André, Clark Pauyo and countless others will likely be showcased on the runaway this fall.
Some may have a hard time associating haute couture with the small island, but fashion is not new to Haiti. Haitian-born designers already enjoy tremendous success in this international industry.
Bogosse is an acclaimed line by Haitian-born brothers Patrick and Fabrice Tardieu. Drawing inspiration from their homeland, they have become leaders in the world of luxurious men’s fashion according to outlets such as Neiman Marcus‘ style blog.
In addition, since the devastating earthquake, American designers are also tapping into Haiti’s creativity as they help revive the land.
When Donna Karan ventured to Haiti to support the artisan community while seeking inspiration for her collection, local fashion designers, like Michel Chataigne, were contracted to be part of her design team. But this is hardly his biggest fashion experience. Earlier this year, Chataigne’s designs where featured during the Caribbean exhibition of London’s Fashion Week as well.
Based in Haiti, Chataigne’s choice fabrics are cotton and linen. He draws from nature for his color palate, using tones reminiscent of roots, fruits, and flowers like hibiscus to ensure that his creations compliment the natural woman.
Designers like Chataigne, while known internationally, have not aggressively marketed their designs to the U.S., Haiti’s largest trade partner. The missed opportunity to integrate prêt-à-porter (or ready-to-wear) may soon be seized by Chataigne and others as the Haitian apparel industry seeks to grow its manufacturing base.
The fashion industry is a key component of America’s efforts to promote trade and manufacturing globally. Programs like the Haitian Hemispheric Opportunity for Partnership Encouragement Act (HOPE) and the Haitian Economic Lift Program (HELP) have significantly expanded duty-free access to Haitian manufacturers in the U.S. marketplace. Both could help more Haitian designers see their ideas on racks in American stores, while creating jobs, and rebranding Haiti as a land of glamour and style.
Just considering the production end, factories in Haiti have long had the capacity to manufacture designs in large quantities. Off-the-rack, factory-made clothing is a big part of the fashion business everywhere, in addition to the haute couture seen at Fashion Weeks around the globe. For designers and retailers looking to mass produce ready-to-wear lines overseas, Haiti could be an option. On top of this, local designers may also use the broad capacity of Haiti’s factories to produce home-grown brands that become world-renowned.
Already, apparel makes up more than 80 percent of Haitian exports to America. The garment construction industry, which employs more than 28,000 workers, is Haiti’s largest manufacturing sector. Wal-Mart, GAP, JCPenny, and other retailers that are increasingly adding ready-to-wear fashion line extensions by major designers to their merchandise are already among Haiti’s clients. Experts project tremendous growth over the coming years in this sector. Two years ago, imports of Haitian apparel into the United States valued at more than $500 million.
But there is still more readily achievable growth needed if the nation is to overcome its challenges. Currently, roughly 80 percent of Haitians currently live on less than two dollars a day. Revitalizing the textile and apparel sector will be key to transitioning Haiti from its rampant poverty and dependency on foreign aid through the development of a thriving private sector as it relates to fashion.