We believe in the power of human connections. In Haiti we spent a week with makers sewing for the biggest American brands. We understood the human effort behind our clothes and made friends for life.
It took 48 hours of high winds rattling our plane, a storm canceling one leg and a bumpy five hour drive in the rain before the Remake team arrived in Ounaminthe, Haiti. We were there to spend a week with workers who sew for some of the biggest American brands: American Eagle Outfitters, Calvin Klein, DKNY, Hanes, JC Penney, Levi Strauss and Company, Nordstrom and Ralph Lauren.
We had one week to immerse ourselves in the lives of four makers who volunteered to open up their lives to us. They took us from work at the factory, to lunch break, and even inside their homes.
We learned so much.
There is a stark difference between the pristine factories set among paved roads, mango groves, and lush green grass, and the rest of the community. A short walk on the bridge across the Massacre River and into the town led us to piles of rubbish, open sewers, animals, naked children and raw need everywhere. It is clear that this community needs these factory jobs.
Factory jobs are the only glimmer of hope and possibility. But the work is grueling.
We learned how hard it is to work an assembly line. We watched the people who make our stuff sitting for nine hours sewing pant pockets and inseams.
We were humbled by the warmth and openness of our new maker friends.
They were unafraid to share their lives with us. And we wanted to experience their reality. So much so that we ditched our burly, unsmiling armed guard and pick-up truck after the first day and spent the rest of our time on foot and on the backs of motorcycle taxis. We visited the town square and local church and watched children dancing for Carnival.
These workers opened up about their lives, hopes and dreams. They were very curious about you, the shopper, and what you think of them. They hope you’ll remember their faces, the next time you see a “made in Haiti” label.
This week changed us forever.
We felt guilt for tossing away t-shirts after a few wears, after seeing the human effort that goes into making them. Our daily worries back home seemed frivolous compared to the challenges they face every day.
We were touched by the resilience of the Haitian people who dream of a better tomorrow while working hard in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. In coming home, we looked through our closets to see what had been made in Haiti and sent pictures back on WhatsAp to our new friends. Now those clothes have us reconnected – to Maud’s warm smile and her dreams of studying computer science, and Guerrier’s gentle way of making us feel welcome in his home.
We came away convinced that if more designers, shoppers, policy-makers, and brand executives met and got to know the amazing people behind our stuff, we would all be richer from the experience.
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Beautiful idea and notes, but concluding that “Factory jobs are the only glimmer of hope and possibility” is overly simplistic.
This reduces people to being able to do nothing other than work in sweatshops. The situation is never that simple. For example, before the industrial parks were built, there were a lot more lands and agricultural production as you are describing. People could grow a variety of items and sell them to each other. They did not need to depend on American and European buyers paying pennies for a pair of jeans. The big benefactors of this situation are not Haitians. While it’s toog long to cover everything in a comment, I strongly recommend reading about how subsidies in the US were responsible for Haitian farmers losing the ability to produce and sell items like rice, and how they’ve been driven to having to rely on jobs like factory lines. Also, nobody asked the locals if they were interested, there’s a complaint brought to the IDB that tells you more about it