I recently spent five days in Port-au-Prince, Haiti initiating the first production run of a line of ethically manufactured backpacks and tote bags for my company, Edike Ayiti.
We arrived in Port-au-Prince shortly after 9:30am on a Thursday morning and subsequently made our way towards the Hotel Oloffson (which is quickly becoming our home away from home in Haiti) to drop off our bags and regroup after our flight. After composing ourselves, we climbed into our trusty Nissan pick-up truck and set off into the endless barrage of pedestrian and vehicular traffic that lay between the hotel and our destination in Cite Soleil.
After battling our way through morning traffic, we arrived at INDEPCO. INDEPCO is “a Haitian non-profit organization that has successfully trained its members to execute contracts for over one million uniforms, service aprons, and school bags for customers such as the Ministry of Education, DIGICEL (mobile phone provider), SogeXpress (a banking institution), the UN Mission in Haiti, and others. INDEPCO’s headquarters in Port-au-Prince secures bulk sewing orders and distributes pre-cut fabric to network of over 600 small scale ateliers. INDEPCO is the largest network of micro-entrepreneurs in Haiti’s garment sector, with 600 workshops and nearly 7,000 workers in 32 cities throughout Haiti.” INDEPCO is able to produce extremely high quality dry goods while immensely benefiting thousands of Haitians and a multitude of communities throughout the nation.
Once inside the facility, we were met by our good friends Hans Garoute, Director of INDEPCO and Mathieu, the leather-smith responsible for overseeing the production of our bags. Mathieu is a shoemaker and leather craftsman by trade and is responsible for the high quality and finite attention to detail of our bags. Along with his son and five other employees, they have worked to perfect the design and construction of our backpack and tote bag. Prior to working with Mathieu, he was without steady, high volume, and well paying work for 5. Every bag they produce is equivalent to just over 3 days wages at Caracol or Sonapi, the nations leading industrial parks.
We sat down with Mathieu and his son Samuel to go over the final changes to our prototype bags and finalize our patterns for production. We covered stitching styles, zipper and snap placement, dimensions, and seemingly every minute aspect to ensure the bags meet our specifications. Because raw materials are hard to come by in Haiti, we packed light and filled our carry-on luggage with forty yards of our cotton duck canvas (enough for 40 bags), a herds-worth of tanned cow hides, and enough buckles, zippers, and anorak snaps to last a lifetime. After finalizing all of the details, we placed our order with Hans and set off for our “home” in Bizoton, a shantytown on the outskirt of downtown Port-au-Prince.
In addition to our production efforts, we began much needed improvements and upgrades to our partner school, Pitye Pou Timoun Yo. Pitye is a non-profit primary school located in the Bizoton neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The school provides free basic education to over 300 impoverished children from the area. Pitye also teaches karate, dance, and music lessons. The school was founded in 2001 and prior to the earthquake relied on a single fundraiser living in the United States. Unfortunately, since the 2010 earthquake, funding for the school has ceased. During our previous visit in November of 2012, we began to compile and itemized list detailing the needed repairs and upgrades, prioritized by both scale of undertaking and capital needed. On this trip, thanks to the generosity of our Indiegogo funders, we were able to hook our school up to a supply of clean water, something they have been without since the earthquake. This tap will provide the 303 school kids who attend our school with fresh, clean water ever day.
Additionally, we are providing micro-loans and grants to local entrepreneurs to help promote business creation and self-sustainability. Erick Frazier, our self-titled “Haiti Bossman” and translator, along with a group of neighborhood boys has started a movie theater. This movie theater provides 5 of our neighborhood boys with a steady and growing income while providing entertainment to the community. The building housing the “movie theater” is a cinder block and corrugated steel building, 20 feet deep and 12 feet across. There are bench seats lining the floor, leading to an older Sony 20inch TV. The equipment is powered by a car battery and power inverter, which is charged using a communal gas powered generator. Prior to our upgrades, the corrugated steel roof only covered half of the building, leaving those sitting in the back exposed to the elements. We provided Erick and his employees with funding to renovate the structure and extend the roof. This will enable them to seat more patrons and increase the profit potential.