Chandler Busby | Haiti Design Co.

July 7, 2017

What is the Haiti Design Co. story? Can you tell us what inspired the creation of Haiti Design Co.?

It began as a pursuit of a more intentional, purposeful life. I was tired of purchasing products where I had no connection to their source and no clue about the person behind them. As a designer myself, I know the heart and soul that goes into producing well-made clothing and accessories. I wanted to create an opportunity for customers to connect directly with the makers of their products as well. 

I first came to Haiti in college and was immediately hooked. I quickly saw that Haiti did not need any more aid or pity, it needed job skill training and reliable work. I was heartbroken at learning about the all-too-common “economic orphan” that filled the orphanages on so many corners in Haiti. I wanted to focus on creating jobs for mothers and fathers where they made products they were proud of, products that represented their country in a positive light, and most importantly, products that allowed them to raise their children. 

What led you to Haiti?

My husband, Josh, and I graduated from school, got married, and moved to Haiti 3 weeks later. From there our passion grew and evolved into a focus on artisan leadership training. An old Haitian man taught Josh leatherwork and then Josh started teaching men in our community. Next thing we knew the program took off. Josh and I run the business together—I can’t imagine trying to do it all alone. We are planting seeds for generations to come, and making things we love (and hope you love!) along the way.

Can you tell us a story about some of the people behind HDC? 

Jerry joined our team about 3 years ago with no prior experience. He is the oldest of 5 children and his entire family depends on him for support. His family lives in harsh conditions and day-to-day necessities do not come easily, let alone tuition for school. Jerry learned leatherwork and truly lit up. He became a talented designer and used his income to not only provide for his family and send his siblings to school, but also put himself through English school on nights and weekends. He now leads tours around our workshop and shares our vision in Haiti with visitors. He also fell in love with our head jewelry manager, Guerdy, and they got married last October! They had a beautiful wedding and basically all of our team was there. His wife Guerdy is also the president of our in-house community development committee called “HDC in Action”

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Can you walk us through the production process? 

The leather first comes from a local family owned tannery here in Haiti. It is full-grain, vegetable tanned cowhide, which means it will age naturally and last a lifetime. We use the larger pieces of the hides on our bags, such as the Classic Tote or Juliette Tote, then we save our remnant pieces to create accessories such as the tassel keychain. We use the phrase “waste not, want not” a lot and try to make the most of everything we have. The pieces are cut, sanded, and beveled by hand. They are then stamped with our logo, the hardware is added, and a final touch of leather conditioner is applied. The fabric bags that enclose the keychains are sewn in-house by our team of seamstresses.

Tell us about the impact you witness in your community. 

This is the most exciting part of what we do! In 2016 over 138 people were employed through Haiti Design Co, and those 138 people used their income to support 189 more people in their families or communities. 18 of our employees used their income to start new businesses. And we currently have 5 teams that are a part of our Artisan Incubator Program, which exist to support business training, design support, and access to market for emerging artisan leaders.

What excites you the most about Haiti Design Co.? 

Haiti Design Co is a story of redemption. We do not believe in focusing on the negative, but on creating the good we want to see in the world. HDC represents the power of fashion for good, putting people above profit, transforming people’s perspectives of Haiti, and creating opportunities of hope for families and generations to come. We need everyone—our customers, our partners, our staff, our community. We all have a role to play. This is why our workshop motto is an old Haitian proverb, “Men Anpil Chay Pa Lou”, which means, “Many Hands Make the Load Light.” 

John is the managing editor at CAUSEBOX and a traveling writer who lives on the road with his dog, Hank.