The 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti, but it opened the hearts of people around the world to help Haitians get back on their feet. Among the many professions hit in Haiti, artisans suffered greatly. Many ateliers were reduced to rubble, unique works of art were destroyed, and many had to start all over again with limited or no funds.
Yet there is hope for Haiti’s artisans. The Artisan Business Network was created jointly via the efforts of Fairwinds Trading, a for-profit company that uses business as a strategy for economic empowerment, and HAND/EYE Fund, which supports skilled artisans in their struggle to earn decent livelihoods through preservation of ancient traditions, innovation of new ones and exploring new markets. Combining the strengths of these two organizations with a generous grant from the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, ABN empowers Haitian artisans with entrepreneurial skills, design input and market access.
The organization’s network of three depots are located in Jacmel, Port-au-Prince and Croix-des-Bouquets, and offer a wide range of artisanal products from the independent ateliers of Haiti. The depots are owned and operated 100 percent by Haitian entrepreneurs, and are connected to customers in North America, Europe and Asia. In addition to the skills and the leadership of its founders, ABN draws upon the talents of advisors dedicated to the retail success of Haiti’s artisans, and helps consumers and vendors access the artisan products by providing logistics support, price negotiations, product development, and information on duties, tariffs and freight costs.
But like many enterprises, ABN faced some growing pains in the beginning, says, Nathalie Tancrede, co-founder of ABN, “We experienced some difficulties in finding the right approach translating our client's needs to the artisan groups. Many were not used to following specific production guidelines and had to be taught how to deliver quality products for the global markets. We also faced some challenges with our logistics, mainly finding affordable shipping options out of Port-au-Prince. We were fortunate to work with several local companies that were willing to offer competitive rates. We are working very hard to become the 'voice of the artisans' and to fully support their creativity while helping them meet international standards to increase their economic opportunities."
ABN is also a job creator. Recently, the enterprise began providing tagging and packing services, which had been done previously at a warehouse in the United States. “Now we have created around 20 new jobs within the network. These individuals are not artisans, but unemployed members of the communities we work in. These part-time jobs allow them to take care of their financial responsibilities,” says Tancrede.
The ABN network is growing as new artisans present themselves and get involved. One such artisan participant is Andre Lafond, the leader of the group GRAPAH, a horn atelier in Port-au-Prince. Says Tancrede, “Andre shared with us that the quality of life of his family and the families of the guys who worked under him has improved since they began working with ABN. We’ve been able to give Andre and his team of artisans constant work through the purchase orders received from big retailers like Macy's. His group can now make long term plans to handle personal and medical expenses, food, school, and home improvements.” Just prior to his involvement with ABN, HAND/EYE Fund assisted GRAPAH with the building of a new workshop with sanitary facilities and greater safety. Their workshop was one of the ones destroyed by the earthquake.
ABN also works with artists Pascale Faublas and Pierre Satyr who are partners in Jacmel Craft, one of local depots of ABN. Both artists design and paint papier-mache masks for Haiti’s celebrated Carnivale as well as trays and gift items. Another ABN member is PeaceQuilts, a cooperative comprised of 100 women quilters; wood worker Einstein Albert, who creates stunning tableware made from obeche wood. Rony Jacques works with metal in Croix-des-Bouquets.
Handwork of these artisans can be seen on February 2-6, 2014 at Artisan Resource™, a special section at NY NOW at the Manhattan's 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.
ABN will be showcasing at Artisan Resource a number of products made of soapstone and recycled steel, and recycled cement bag papier mache.
Consumers interested in purchasing products from ABN can find various items at Macy's and macys.com. ABN retail partners include West Elm, Viva Terra, MiOssa, Noonday Collection, Charity USA, and One World Buttons. To learn more about ABN and to view the member gallery , please visit www.artisanbusinessnetwork.com.