Figue x Clinton Foundation: Artisans in Haiti Explored

One of the reasons we love and have partnered with gyp-set fashion and lifestyle brand Figue, is the ethos and dedication to working with artisans fostered by its founder Stephanie von Watzdorf. And so, we were particularly interested when she took part in a three-day Artisan, Fashion, and Manufacturing Trip to Haiti in May organized by the Clinton Foundation.

The Foundation had been following the growth of Figue, and had contacted Stephanie directly to see if she was interested in exploring sourcing opportunities and business partnerships with artisans in Haiti.

The textile and apparel industry is Haiti’s largest manufacturing sector and plays a critical role in the country’s economy, and as part of the Foundation’s local initiative it helps established artisans and creators connect with fashion companies who are either working with, or are interested and open to working with, skilled artisans and developing countries.

The trip centered around the unique arts, fashions and traditions that are part of Haiti’s rich culture, and the activities organized by the Foundation were focused on meeting as many active groups and artisans as possible. Touring the different workshops and listening to the leaders of the artisan organizations talk about how they have empowered local people were among the highlights of Stephanie’s visit. “The skills of the artisans from painting on fabric, to papier mâché, to metal work, bead work, to organization were exceptional”, she said.

“The skills of the artisans from painting on fabric, to papier mâché, to metal work, bead work, to organization were exceptional.”

Particularly memorable was the time she spent at Papillon Enterprise, which employs nearly 300 artisans who work with a wide range of mostly locally sourced raw materials, at Pascale Théard Atelier, where sequins, beadwork and embroidery are combined on various types of leather, and at the D.O.T. Created by Donna Karan, Urban Zen, the Parsons School of Design and Haitian artisan and businesswoman Paula Coles, The Design, Organization, and Training Center helps to bridge Haiti’s traditional artisan techniques with modern design and innovation.

Let’s not forget sustainability. Stephanie was impressed to learn about how important the local recycling initiative is. The work of many artisans in Haiti involves transforming refuse into functional items, and Haitian metal art, which is fashioned from recycled oil drums, is unique to the country and prized by collectors.

It wasn’t all business – the group frequented restaurant Papaya for Haitian food (a hybrid of French and Caribbean cuisines), and hit up Hotel Oloffson for drinks.

Stephanie plans to return to Haiti in the near future, to catch up with new friends and reconnect with business contacts. “It was a fantastic experience on so many levels,” she said. “I felt so much creative energy all over the island…in the streets, and behind closed doors when we where invited in”. And the designer has already purchased some small accessories to sell at Figue, a taste of things to come.