Emma Allen’s ties to Haiti go back to when she was a teenager and first visited the island with her father and Haitian adopted sister and volunteered at the orphanage where her sister had lived until she was two and one-half years old. For several years, she continued to visit Haiti her father who was part of the organization Consider Haiti that promotes medical care and wellness for children.
Haiti got under Allen’s skin; she became interested in the global economic policies and how they affected the Caribbean island. Taking her interest in economics and production, plus combining her skills as an accessories designer, Allen wanted to be part of an equations that would provide jobs to Haitians, using traditional processes and local resources.
In September 2014, Allen launched Fait La Force. She started the project in collaboration with the workshop that produces everything in Haiti run by Chandler Hamilton. She met Hamilton in 2012 who at the time ran a small workshop in Port-au-Prince with her husband. “Together we worked on starting Fait La Force. I did the design and pattern-making and began training a small group from the community on leather working and hand-stitching skills, pattern-making and new handbag designs. Chandler managed the workshop and production and formed relationships with artisans in the community, seeking out talented artisans and sampling new designs with them. Now Chandler continues to run the workshop in Haiti and I run the brand. Our companies partner to create everything for Fait La Force in Haiti and to provide consistent work for the people we work with there.”
Fait la Force currently works with more than 35 artisans who create handwoven baskets, leather bags, bone and horn accessories. The items are all designed in-house by Allen but the process varies she notes. “For the leather bags we create, we have trained a group of leather workers from square one. We sought out people in the community who were interested in doing this type of work and have spent 15 months working closely to create the type of leather bags that they are now doing. I do the design and pattern-making for our leather and accessories, and travel to Haiti often to continue to train on new designs and best techniques. Some of our artisans are specialists at their craft - for instance, our handwoven baskets and bone and horn products are made by artisans who are very knowledgeable and skilled at what they do, and we work together on design. They teach me about their processes instead of the other way around.”
The company is run on a shoe-string budget. During its first season it was part of the Incubator Program run by ByHand Consulting, a private consultancy that provides a range of market expertise, and aligns buyers sourcing new artisan products with the artisan enterprises seeking those buyers. “Otherwise we have relied entirely on word of mouth and the help of many wonderful people who have identified with what we are doing and lent a hand in one way or another.”
Fait La Forces products can be found in a number of stores including Urban Zen, Craft + Folk Art Museum, Upstairs at Pierre LaFond and directly from the website.
For more information, please visit www.faitlaforce.com.