Time flies when you’re dealing with work, snow days and wifi outages. I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I traveled to Haiti with #bloggers4haiti to visit the artisans involved in the Macy’s Heart of Haiti initiative. There’s just so much to share that it’s hard to decide where to start, so I thought I’d begin with some of the lessons in entrepreneurship that stood out to me during my time there. What I love about blogging is that each of us can enjoy the same experience, but because we filter everything through our own lenses, the takeaways will be vastly different. For example, Leticia of TechSavvyMama and her daughter, Emily, were my travel companions and their experience centered around global citizenship; Nicole of ThirdEyeMom joined us as well and recognized the important role of women in Haitian society, and the country’s future. And I, with my entrepreneur hat always perched on my head, couldn’t help but notice the work ethic, passion and craft mastery that was present at every turn.
Here are some of my takeaways:
1. Be Resourceful.
Art is everywhere in Haiti. And I mean everywhere. What stood out to me right away was the Tap-Tap buses that were colorfully painted and decorated with flashing lights and blasting festive music. What a better way to add a spot of cheer to the streets than to make public transportation works of art? Such a small thing, but it spoke magnitudes to me. And the art of the Tap-Taps isn’t garden variety artwork – it’s vibrant and funny and creative; we saw everything from portraits of Justin Bieber to Jesus…and everything in between!
Image Credit: ThirdEyeMom.com
The very first day of our trip, we visited the town of Croix-des-Bouquets, a community famous for its metalwork. The pieces are stunning. Everything from wall hangings to masks to storefront signage and lampposts and jewelry are hand crafted from discarded oil barrels that have been sanitized by controlled burning and then hammered flat. The artisans – almost exclusively men for this kind of artwork – then craft the pieces using a hammer and chisel on a metal work area while sitting on the dirt floor and turn out gorgeous pieces like you wouldn’t believe.
Image Credit: TechSavvyMama.com
So the next time someone tells you they have writer’s block or have run out of ideas or can’t move forward in their business without this or that, you remind them of the metalwork artisans in Cros-des-Bouquets. Because #noexcuses. Be resourceful.
2. Master Your Craft.
Haiti is a country of artists. I’ve never been anywhere like it. The people take such pride in their craft and are either naturally gifted or are exceptional apprentices – or both! In Croix-des-Bouquets (above) the skill is metalwork; in the beach town of Jacmel, the skill is papier-mâché; in yet another area, the skill is horn and bone; and then there’s soapstone, beading, soap making, card making, and painting on canvas, and on and on. It was so lovely to see the pride in ownership in a particular craft in each area; it’s clear that the art forms are cherished and taught and passed down to generations. Focusing on one specialty allows the artisans to master their craft – and it shows.
Image Credit: TechSavvyMama.com
It can be so tempting to position yourself as an expert in multiple areas – we all think that more is better; but consider owning your niche. Being a Jack of All Trades and master of none is success suicide for a business owner. If you’re great at graphic design, be GREAT at that – don’t try to also be a life coach and a beauty vlogger, as tempting as it all may be. And this is not to say that you can’t be multipassionate, because I’m THE proponent of that mindset – what I’m saying is that you should achieve a certain level of mastery of each before piling on another. Master your craft.
3. Honor Yourself.
Each piece of Haitian artwork reflects the culture of the island. From the colors to the symbols, you can see and feel the spirit of Haiti in each vase, wall hanging and mask. The lesson in this for me is to honor yourself in all that you do. Whether you’re a baker who makes cakes and uses a family recipe or if you’re a software developer who sees the world in black and white and is able to problem solve easily because of it, you can and should honor yourself and your heritage in your work. Not only will your pride in your work shine through, you’ll also be sharing a little bit of your gift with all those who cross paths with it.
No one personified this concept for me more than Pascale Théard, a Haitian-born artisan who honed her leatherwork and beading craftsmanship abroad in Paris. Her pieces are to-die-for! I drooled over the fun and fashionable sandals that were creatively displayed in picture frames in her workshop, and equally at the buttery leather totebags that were calling my name. I brought home a braided leather cuff to take piece of the luxury with me, but my heart is back at her studio. Her time spent in Paris learning from the greats is apparent in her work, however she is decidedly committed to showcasing Haitian culture in each piece. I asked her what made her return to Haiti after spending so much time in Paris, which I imagine to be a mecca for anyone in fashion, and she said: “Because it’s home.” Her mission is to show the world that Haitian art can be stylish and upscale and wearable.
Image Credit: ThirdEyeMom.com
Honor yourself in your work, friends. It is your gift to the world.
“Each one, teach one.” Right? The culture of apprenticeships in the U.S. has dwindled significantly – at least until the recent growth of the Maker Movement. I’m here to say that apprenticeships are alive and well in Haiti! The more experienced artisans in the community make it their mission to teach the younger generations about the craft; and the students are willing and more than able. I found this to be particularly meaningful given the state of the education system in Haiti. The schools are privately owned and run and therefore costs to attend – even basic costs like uniforms and books – place education far out of reach for most. That the youth have art to pursue as a potential means of survival is crucial. At each workshop we visited, we saw the students working under the direction of the master artisans and I was reminded that we all have the responsibility to mentor and reach back in our entrepreneurial endeavors. In fact, this year I made a personal commitment to be more intentional about providing value to my mentees, so I whittled down my group to 2 and came up with a solid plan. Mattie and Nikki are fireworks in their own right, but if I can support their journeys in any way and share my learnings in the blogger media space, I’m more than happy to do so.
Image Credit: ThirdEyeMom
Disclosure: The lovelies at Everywhere helped to cover much of my trip expenses to Haiti to visit Artisan Business Network artists who create products for the Macy’s Heart of Haiti line. All opinions are my own!