Dire economic conditions, a UN embargo, gang-related crime, political turmoils, kidnappings and extreme poverty have been the many obstacles that the majority of Haitians have faced. In spite of these challenges, as well as the 2010 earthquake, Haiti’s artisan community has looked towards the future with hope and elbow grease.
In 1991, Caribbean Craft was founded by Joel and Magalie Dresse to address Haiti’s high unemployment issues. “Since the 2010 earthquake, most of us understand that the best way to address our problems is through hard work. We are ready. The artisans we employ in our atelier and across Haiti are ready. We are making progress, albeit slowly,” says Joel.
The role of Caribbean Craft is to create jobs. The organization works with established groups like the Croix-des-Bouquets steel sculptors, as well as new artisan groups that are employed in the organization’s atelier. In addition to providing employment opportunities, Caribbean Craft also connects Haiti’s cultural and artistic wealth to customers in the United States and Europe.
Among the artisan success stories that Caribbean Craft brings to market is Gros Morne, which consisted of group four to six young men who came to the workshop to learn how to make keychains and magnets from plywood. The group has grown to 50 artisans who paint on wood and metal and make paper mache sculptures.
Because of their hard work in connecting artisans to outside markets, Caribbean Craft attracts some of the best US companies as customers, including Anthropologie, West Elm, and Pottery Barn. Caribbean Craft deals with a variety of raw materials, either made directly in their atelier or by independent groups in the countryside. “Going out into the countryside is one of the best things about the job: without the distractions of email and cell phones, we get back in touch with the generosity and simplicity of Haitian life. We remember very clearly why we started our business as a tool for growth in Haiti,” Joel says.
As part of their mission Caribbean Crafts fight every day to make sure that the handicraft sector gets the recognition it deserves. Joel adds, “The reputation of our artisans does not have to be invented: once visitors to Haiti see the beauty and skill of what we do, they are anxious to bring a piece of our Haitian creativity home with them. But as a country, we don’t promote our cultural wealth sufficiently. Caribbean Craft would like to change that over the next decade.”
Joel’s plan is that in ten years’ time, he would like to see artisans of Haiti achieve international recognition both for their handskills and for their unique creativity. Meanwhile, Caribbean Craft will continue to train and promote from within. “And we will continue to have a direct dialogue with everyone we work with, from customer to artisan, not just so that we can continue to have a great product, but also so that we can better help each other in times of need.”
In achieving international recognition, Caribbean Crafts will be attending Artisan Resource™ from August 18-20 at the NEW YORK NOW® at the Jacob Javits Center and Pier 94. Artisan Resource centers on artisan enterprises worldwide as a source for designers and retailers who are looking for unique items, as well as partnerships to keep artisan craftsmanship, traditional methods, techniques and cultural heritage thriving. The section will also offer programming on such topics as importing basics and customs.
At the show, Caribbean Crafts will be highlighting a number of new items, including a new paper mache product line and vine baskets. “We hope that this line will add to the very successful collection we already have,” says Joel.
Caribbean Craft was recognized at the November 2010 Aid to Artisans Awards for its contribution to Haitian craft development. Joel and Magalie Dresse are also active with the Haiti Action Network, and the Clinton-Bush Fund for Haiti.