When, in 1804, Haiti acquired its independence, its newly adopted flag’s blue and red bands were sewn together by a woman. This gesture was the harbinger of the critical role women were to assume throughout Haiti’s bumpy road toward prosperity. Haitian women are known throughout the world as the backbone of the economy, the cornerstone of their households, the unfailing providers for their children, while, all along, dealing with systemic discrimination and marginalization. This contribution did not escape Francoise Elizée’s artistic sensitivity, despite her having left the country at the tender age of 13. She felt compelled to take a hiatus from a successful designing career, one which has earned her feature articles in magazines such as In Style, Elle and Glamour, to fly back home with photographer Pipe Yanguas in tow, and document the path, challenges and ultimate odd-defying success of twelve women who are representative of the proverbial Fanm peyi dayiti. Françoise Elizée had a talk with our Miami Bureau Chief, Frandley Denis Julien as she prepares for a book signing event of her book, Haiti Rediscovered, in Miami on March 4.
LN: Please introduce yourself to our readers?
FE: My name is Françoise Elizée. I am a Haitian born currently residing in South Florida. I relocated to Miami at the age of 13 with my family. I attended the University of Miami and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing and a Master’s degree in International Business. Straight out of university I began working as a product research and development specialist at the family business “RIKA” – a food commodities brand on the Haitian market. Despite my new job, I always had a creative side that needed to be developed. In 2009, I launched my fashion label “Françoise Elizée.” A brand that focuses on exotic skin handbags and accessories. For the past two years, I have been working on my latest creative project “Haiti Rediscovered.” My first published book. In light of what was reported in the news a few weeks ago, its release date could not have been at a better time.
LN: What prompted you to write this book?
FE: While having an afternoon of cocktails amongst friends, I was congratulating Pipe on his photography work which I was closely following on social media; and I told him he should have a book with his name on it. At that moment, Pipe turned to me and said the magical words “Why don’t we do a book on Haiti?”
My creative side was tempted of course. We met many times afterwards to research topics that were yet to be explored about Haiti; hence came about manufacturing, Haitian made products, export, and women.
LN: Tell us about your collaboration with photographer Pipe Yanguas on the project.
FE: Our friendship goes back over 15 years. I have always been fascinated by Pipe’s work. He focuses on documenting the “passions” of people through his photography. Pipe travels the world to photograph his clients and documents their life over a period of years. The topic of this book was perfectly aligned with this style and Pipe did an amazing job at bringing out these women’s passion, work and the fruit of their labor.
LN: Who are the selected women, and what were the criteria leading up to their choice?
FE: We selected women from different walks of life who had an amazing story to be told. They are involved in a variety of industries; may it be craftsmanship, home accessories, fashion and even food. As an entrepreneur myself, I understand the need to promote export and to create jobs. We focused on businesses that are ready to export and be exposed to the international marketplace. Most importantly, they qualified by producing great products ready for international buyers.
LN: Why 12 women?
FE: I believe women are the matriarch of their families and focus on the betterment of their children. We wanted to feature more “Haitian Made” products but unfortunately, we were limited. A hardcover coffee table book of this quality and refined presentation not counting the 260 pages is very expensive to make. However, I am sure there will be future editions.
LN: Did you start the project with a clear idea of what you would be discovering, or did you let the project lead you to uncharted territories?
FE: I learned a lot about these women and what it takes to run a business in Haiti. They face challenges every day and have a lot of responsibilities. They developed personal relationships with some of their employees, providing them with healthcare and helping with their children’s education. Working on “Haiti Rediscovered” I find that Haiti has a lot of potential to manufacture more and it is up to us to promote our resources.
LN: Will you be signing the book in Haiti?
FE: The Haiti book signing will be on Friday, May 25, in celebration of mothers’ day weekend.
More details will be announced soon.
LN: Tell us about the March 4 event in Miami.
FE: The institute of Contemporary Art will host the official book signing in Miami on May 4th. The evening will begin at 6:30 PM with a panel discussion and Q&A session along with Anna Dolce the moderator, Pipe and myself. Four of the women featured in the book will also be present; A cocktail reception and book signing will immediately follow.
LN: What do you want to accomplish with this book?
FE: The message it to spread awareness about manufacturing in Haiti; amazing products are in fact Haitian made. The book was only published on March 8th of this year and the feedback I received mostly is that people were not aware and sometimes even shocked that the products were made in Haiti. We need to start somewhere and there is a lot more to be shared about Haiti. If I can start with this message, I feel I am doing my part. Just by improving the economy helps bring positive change to other areas of simply living in Haiti.