Rachel MacHenry and the Brand Aid Project

Over the past 6 months, CTS member Rachel MacHenry has made several trips to Haiti to work with textile artisans as part of the Brand Aid Project.  Brand Aid (www.brandaidproject.com) is a Canadian social enterprise that works with artisans in the world’s poorest countries to bring marketing, branding and design support so producers can access global markets.  For this project, they have also had extensive support from the Canadian government and have worked with a number of Canadian designers, including product designer Patty Johnson http://pattyjohnson.ca/.
Peace Quilts - quilt-makers on treadle sewing machines photo credit: Patrick Jeff Poteau

Peace Quilts – quilt-makers on treadle sewing machines
photo credit: Patrick Jeff Poteau

Rachel has been working with a group of quilt makers, Peace Quilts (http://www.haitipeacequilts.org/)  in the Port au Prince area to assist the women in developing some quilt collections for production.  The group already has had significant success with their “story quilts”, selling these through galleries in the United States, as well as with small quilted accessories that have been available through Macy’s.  For the Brand Aid Project, we were looking for a way to create less costly and time consuming collections while still retaining a feeling of Haitian culture in the designs.  One of the new collections is shown below. Inspired by the old clothes or “pepe”  markets in Port au Prince where second hand men’s suits, among other garments, hang along the roadside for sale, these sombre woollen suitings are contrasted with rich, traditional beading to create a contemporary craft object. For more information on this group, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjRMTCXYP78&feature=player_embedded
Cropped bag sample Photo credit: Rachel MacHenry

Cropped bag sample
Photo credit: Rachel MacHenry

 Amazing craft skills are everywhere in Haiti.  Another group that has been part of the project is “Les Dix Doigts de la Vallee”. Located in a remote valley where most farmers are engaged in subsistence agriculture, this group maintains a centuries-old tradition of cut-work lacemaking in a style called “Richelieu”, first introduced to the region by French nuns.  Between their work in the fields, raising children and caring for their families, this group of women produce intricate lacework that looks as if it were intended for Marie Antoinette.  With the income generated from their work, they are able to pay their children’s school fees.  Education is not universal in Haiti and many of the women are illiterate themselves; they are anxious to provide a better future for their own children.
Les Dix Doigts de la Vallee de Jacmel  - Lacemakers photo credit: Patrick Jeff Poteau

Les Dix Doigts de la Vallee de Jacmel – Lacemakers
photo credit: Patrick Jeff Poteau

Much of the lacework currently being produced is geared towards local usage for the church and celebrations such as baptisms and communions.  In order to access a larger market, new products were needed that would have broader appeal.  Making use of the women’s high level of skill, we developed a children’s wear line that incorporates lace and embroidery details as well as traditional smocking, pleating and tucks.  In addition to this, embroidered cushion designs are under development.
quilt-maker using charcoal powered iron photo credit: Patrick Jeff Poteau

quilt-maker using charcoal powered iron
photo credit: Patrick Jeff Poteau

For all of these skilled artisans, the income generated from craft production is crucial in maintaining their livelihoods, providing support to their families and especially in accessing food, education and healthcare.    Since the devastation caused by the catastrophic earthquake in 2010, the need for accessible employment has been even greater as families struggle to re-build their lives.
These collections, as well as many other craft products, have been launched at Selfridges in London, UK.  They will be on view as part of Toronto’s Design Week festival at the Brand Aid Studio, 317 Adelaide St. West, Suite 303 (near the corner of Peter and Adelaide Streets) on Friday, January 25th from 9 am – 5 pm.   http://todesignoffsite.com/events-2/vodu-nuvo-the-birth-of-a-brand/
Brand Aid Exhibition  Photo Credit: Rachel MacHenry

Brand Aid Exhibition
Photo Credit: Rachel MacHenry

Brand Aid Exhibition Photo Credit: Rachel MacHenry

Vodu Nuvo: The Birth of a Brand is an example of design in the service of cultural truth. Traditional Haitian artisans collaborate with Canadian design to create a new image for one of the world’s oldest and most misunderstood religions. Designers across several disciplines, from textiles to merchandising, combine to build a collection of products and a brand platform to launch them into global markets. Inspired by the ancient aesthetics of Vodou design, the Vodu Nuvo Collection launched at the famed Selfridge’s & Company in London, UK on September 24, 2012.
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3 thoughts on “Rachel MacHenry and the Brand Aid Project

  1. Rachel,
    As a Haitian-American residing in the US, I thank you and the Brand Aid project team for this initiative. It is quite refreshing to see that Haitian Artisans are getting some recognition.

  2. Pingback: Why We Knit (#4 an interview with Rachel MacHenry) | the knit cafe

  3. Pingback: Rachel MacHenry and BRANDAID Project | BRAND[TRADE]

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