LSV Blog by Le Savoir Vivre

There's a little FRENCH in all of us...

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Haitian Savoir-Faire

Lucie is everything but an ordinary girl. Born and raised in Brussels, an athlete and a Columbia University graduate, she decided to follow her dreams after many unhappy professional experiences and founded Jacmel & Co, a social enterprise empowering local artisans in Haiti. Rencontre.

Why Haiti?

I first came to Haiti through a fellowship programme with the American Joint, working with a local foundation that provides quality education to children living in the slums of Haiti. I helped the foundation on the administrative side, taught English and organised arts and crafts programmes at the schools. Although I learned tremendously, I felt increasingly discouraged by the international development/NGO world, and looked for additional ways to help out the people of Haiti. While I decided I did not want to keep working for a charity organisation, I knew however, that I wanted to have some type of impact on Haiti. When I started looking around me, I realised that what Haitians needed the most were jobs, as 75% of people are currently unemployed. I decided that I was going to start a small business and improve lives through work and dignity.

Tell us more about your project.

The idea behind Jacmel & Co started to develop in December 2013, after a short trip to the Southern town of Jacmel, where I became captivated by the local artisan craftwork, the charm of the old colonial town, and saw an opportunity to help local talents bring their work to bigger markets. I realised that there were a lot of skilled artisans but that they were all copying one another. Most of them had never travelled outside the US, and had no understanding of what type of products could be marketed abroad.

So with Jacmel & Co, I decided that I would take the best of those Haitian artisans, their talent, their skills and their ability to learn very fast, and add my own input. Through an exciting collaboration, I have helped the artisans design new products and guide them through a different creative process. I’m also very focused on quality control which I found to be the most challenging part of the production process.

With Jacmel & Co, I am aiming to create jobs, empower local artisans and foster sustainable living. Simultaneously, my goal is to promote the beauty of Haiti, its culture and most importantly, its unrecognized and uniquely talented artist population. We have all heard that Haiti is the "poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere". Well, I believe that Haiti is too rich to be poor. By purchasing one of our handmade products, our customers are helping us beautify and dignify Haiti.

Jacmel & Co's flagship product, the calabash bag, is becoming increasingly popular. What is it exactly?

The calabash bag is a handmade bag made of calabash and leather (goatskin). All the raw materials are sourced in Haiti as we are looking into various ways to help stimulate the local economy. I’d like to tell you a little more about the “calabash” as this fruit has a fascinating history. Calabash, or Kalbas in Haitian Creole, is a member of the gourd family. It is a small evergreen tropical tree with simple leaves and a rough bark. Its fruits are green, with white flesh and smooth skin. The calabash was actually one of the first cultivated plants in the world, not grown primarily for food, but for use as a water container. The bottle gourd may have been carried from Africa to Asia, Europe and the Americas in the course of human migration. I was personally very inspired by this old nomadic tradition and re-imagined a modern use for the calabash gourd: a well-designed and handcrafted calabash bag. In addition, calabash is though to be a “spiritual fruit” since it has incredible significance in a variety of world religions, including Voodoo. In Haiti, people believe that the Voodoo spirits carry themselves trough calabashes, and Kalbas bowls are often used during sacred rituals.

Jacmel & Co has recently launched its 2014 collection, 11 new gorgeous calabash bags all featured on Jacmel & Co's Facebook page and on Instagram (@jacmelandco).

So, ready to calabash?

* For inquiries, pricing and orders, please contact lucie@jacmelandco.com. Please note that the production is limited and that Jacmel & Co is working directly with customers interested in the products. Bags can also be customised with initials and other symbols. Shipping is available worldwide.

by Sophie Baron

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