Haitian crafts entrepreneur looking to spread success
By Maria Montecelos
Port-au-Prince, Feb 19 (efe-epa).- Haitian artisans produce handicrafts of remarkable quality and variety but struggle to make a living due to the lack of a domestic market for their creations.
But they now have a key ally and ambassador in Magalie Dresse, an entrepreneur and papier mache artist who is determined to promote this sector and showcase the wonders of this Caribbean nation to the rest of the world.
After 15 years as the leader of Caribbean Craft, an export-oriented company that directly employs 125 people and works with different local suppliers, Dresse said she felt an obligation to put her experience at the service of Haiti’s artisans and launched a platform for that purpose.
A woman of “many passions” who radiates positive energy, Dresse told Efe in an interview that she is submitting a business plan to international organizations that will entail a $7 million investment and the creation of a hub that involves her company, Haiti’s largest in that sector, and five or six others.
The objective is for the hub to be sustainable because “we can’t expect we’ll always have the world’s help,” the businesswoman said.
Each company must invest in the future of the project so that in 10 or 20 years its members can establish themselves as the owners and managers of this platform.
Her goal is to foster the growth of the handicrafts sector and maximize opportunities for artisans, giving them single-space access to a workshop, an exhibition area, supplies and various administrative, commercial and marketing services they may require.
“No one knows anything about Haiti” apart from its worst circumstances, Dresse said. “But there are wonders to discover like its handicrafts, and I’m fighting so this heritage isn’t lost just because artisans have no (domestic) market” for their metal, clay, painted or papier mache works.
While Dresse already knew that Haiti’s poverty meant income for this sector could only come from exports, the true spark for the initiative was a bout of misfortune.
During a trip to New York to present a collection, she received an early-morning call informing her about a fire at her company’s factory.
“I told myself (after receiving that unwanted news) that I’m going to do something more significant than producing and exporting. I have to have a more significant role” that benefits everyone,” Dresse said. “That Sept. 27 evening I remember thinking to myself, ‘Magalie, your future will be something bigger for the (crafts) sector.”
And her ambitions even extend beyond handicrafts, since the goal is for the hub to serve as a model of sustainable development for other sectors, including agriculture.
Dresse said she initially encountered numerous obstacles in positioning her company in the United States (now her main market) but has since branched out and is beginning to introduce European customers to her collections.
She said when she began attending international craft fairs in 2006 potential clients were wary about working with a Haitian company. But after four years of persistence, she signed a key contract that brought her the success she had long sought and now is eager to share.
Dresse’s positive attitude in the most adverse situations also has been evident during Haiti’s ongoing severe political crisis, in which President Jovenel Moise is locked in a power struggle with the Supreme Court and violent protests demanding his ouster are commonplace.
Despite the turmoil, her staunch commitment to fulfilling orders has earned her the respect and trust of her clientele.
Dresse also said she prudently avoids any discussion of politics with her friends in the international market because the world of crafts buyers is very small and there is a risk that the door for Haitian exports could close for years.
“My work gives me the opportunity to be an ambassador for my country,” Dresse said, adding that Haiti’s ongoing crisis should make the population realize the nation’s future is in their own hands. EFE-EPA