A conversation with founder, Elvita Dominique
Port Prince has been in business for a just over a year. The name of the organization comes from the capital city of Haiti, Port-au-Prince. We sell unique high quality handmade goods from Haiti. The focus is on products that are useful objects (home goods/decor) and durable (not disposable goods). Port Prince’s goods are made with sustainable materials using environmentally sound processes.
We currently sells goods in three categories:
Recycled cardboard – using recycled cardboard to create décor and storage items such as bottle holders.
Recycled steel – creating beautiful decorative bowls and trays by hand hammering and molding steel from used oil drums.
Wooden bowls – bowls made out of the gum/gommier tree. They are very light weight but very durable. They are also food safe. The wood is harvested sustainably.
All of our artisans are Haitian. The primary selection criteria for our artisans are quality, creativity and environmental friendliness. First, we assess if have a track record of producing high quality products consistently. Port Prince wants to develop a reputation for producing goods that consumers want to keep and use for many years. Second, look for artisans producing something innovative or are using an innovative product or material. While honoring tradition, Port Prince would like to push the boundaries of what products are typically considered “Haitian.” Finally, is the maker creating products that limit negative impact on the environment? Haiti has many severe environmental challenges – Port Prince wants to promote those makers who are participating in addressing those challenges.
What drove you to start Port Prince Imports – what was the need that you saw (either in the marketplace or in the community, the artisan producers)?
The driving desire behind Port Prince is to expand opportunities for talented Haitians. As Nicholas Kristof says, talent is universal but opportunity is not. This is very true when it comes to artists and artisans in Haiti. The depth of creativity is profound. However, the opportunity to pursue their craft is limited. The more exposure Port Prince products get and the more people buy them the more opportunity is created for talent to grow and thrive in Haiti.
Francoise Hazel came across recycled cardboard furniture in Guadeloupe one day and decided to learn the technique and move back to Haiti. Her concern for the environment motivated her to launch Ça Cartoone in Haiti which is facing critical environmental issues. Hazel creates eco-friendly home furnishings and decor out of recycled corrugated cardboard. Her mission is to positively impact the Haitian community by inspiring individuals to put their communities and environmental health first.
Prince works with multiple metal artisan from the village of Noailles (which is located in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Croix-des-Bouquets). Concentrated in Noailles are generations of skilled craftspeople who make a variety of art, home décor and useful objects out of recycled steel oil drums. Pictured on the right is one of Port Prince’s suppliers.
Port Prince sources its decorative wooden bowls and trays from a skilled wood carver. The carver has his own tree plantations from which he harvests the wood for his bowls. The type of gum or gommier tree he uses was specifically selected because it is fast growing soft wood and that is not used for making charcoal (deforestation, some of it for producing charcoal, is a major problem in Haiti).
Supporting sustainable and fair trade values
Port Prince seeks to be a good steward of the environment, so all its products are either upcycled or made from low impact or renewable resources as described above.
While we’ve sold our products at small markets in New York city, we would like to focus on the wholesale market moving forward. We think that would be the best strategy to get the products to a variety of markets across the United States.
We do try to educate consumers about sustainable products. There is a perception particularly that if a product is made from recycled materials it means it is not quality or well made, when in actuality our products are highly crafted. So we try to explain the skills that goes into creating the products.
We have gotten a lot of positive reaction to our products so far. There are many people who have never seen crafts from Haiti, who are interested to see the work as something brand new. Those who are familiar with Haiti are interested in some of the new designs that we have.
Challenges and success
I think participating in New York Now was a big success for us. It was our first trade show and we felt lucky that there was a positive reaction to the products that we brought to the show.
The biggest challenge, as I am sure many new companies face, is connecting with potential buyers and getting the word out about the company. We are still in the process of navigating this challenge. New York Now was a big help. And we are very excited to be featured on your website and thank you for helping us get the word out about our company.
Our goal is to build on the success of New York Now by getting re-orders from our new clients and developing potential new clients from the contacts we made. We are hoping that by doing so we will expand business significantly for the craftspeople we are working with.
For more information about Port Prince, visit: https://www.portprince.com/