Product Development: Designing Change

IMG_9028What if America’s passion for fashion trends and latest styles could perpetuate a revival of transforming lives and ending poverty? Sound too dramatic and romantic? Believe it or not, it’s already happening.This integration of fair trade products into the lines of big name designers like Dana Karen and Chan Luu is weaving together our country’s materialistic world and our heart for people in the impoverished third world. Though the development of fair trade products is different than that of American “mainstream” products because of limited resources and first-time designers, fair trade is definitely and wonderfully influenced by our beloved and European and American trends!

IMG_9001Chandler Busby lives in Haiti to work with women at Haitian Creations who are designing and creating these fair trade products. “I do design and development for Haitian Creations, but really direct all the operations for Haitian Creations in Haiti,” says Busby. She earned her degree in Retail Design and is using it to bring hope back to the eyes of the people of Haiti. However, she knows the difference between designing for fair trade and for the mainstream.

When I was studying design in the states the process was very different because I essentially could get anything I wanted or needed for a design with a quick drive or an online order,” Busby remembers. Resources in Haiti, however, are very limited. A designer can’t send her assistant out to fetch fabric. Chandler has spent time in busy, crowded market streets where fabric lays among newly slain cattle for sale.

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Unpredictable resources make it difficult for businesses like Haitian Creations to fulfill wholesale orders to America, but they manage. Busby explains, “for our wholesale orders we can strictly work with the materials we know we have in abundance or can get consistently.” A lot of Haitian artisans make products out of tin from oil barrels, recycled cereal boxes, and fabric that they can get continually.

Another big factor in the design process is the artisans who create fair trade pieces. “Many of them [the artisans] have varying skill levels and limited to no experience. Many came to our program without knowing how to read, write, measure, or use scissors,” says Busby, “so some days I am training our office managers on how to work excel, do product costing, how to do product mark up; and other days I am training in how to do visual displays in our stores.” By “training” she empowers the Haitian women to run Haitian Creations; for by training and teaching those who are willing to work for a steady income, we create a sustainable cycle and solution to their circumstance, eventually making poverty a thing of the past for them.

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Busby explains that their designs are very much influenced by the trends from Europe and America, which is exciting for the fashionistas of the American culture who want to keep up with the latest trends and change lives. Because of their unique product development process however, she adds, “we try to create products that are distinctively ours. Many of our products were the fruits of creative challenges that were then refined to work in the American market… I love spending time with our jewelry and handbag designers, showing them trends happening in the States or new fun styles and ideas; it inspires them. But at the end of the day, we just do the best we can with what we have, and have fun while we are at it.”

Enjoyment of and gratefulness for their job overflows from the artisans. Busby reflects, “I remember many of them on their first day; maybe slightly nervous, thin, no sparkle in their eyes, that dull glazed-over look that happIMG_9012ens when a person sees no light at the end of the tunnel… There is something magical that happens when this person is given a purpose to get up in the morning, to get dressed, a reason to leave their house. When this happens I see that person gain confidence, receive encouragement, make friends and relationships, have a safe place where they know people actually care about them. This is amazing to see.”

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