DMTV Milkshake: How Haiti Continues Its Artisanal Traditions Despite Difficult Times

2022 was not kind to ordinary Haitians. This Caribbean nation was the second in the Western Hemisphere to shake off the yolk of its European colonizer, when it won its battle for independence from France on January 1, 1804. More recently, Haitians have contended with the lingering effects of a calamitous earthquake (in 2010, killing more than 200,000 people), spiraling levels of street crime, and a cholera outbreak. The consequences of these multiple disasters have shaken many Haitian enterprises – including Caribbean Craft, which trades on Haiti’s long tradition of papier-maché crafting to create beautiful, handmade objects, like spiral-pattern rainbow bowls and handcrafted Op Art-style wall pieces – perfect for a stylish nursery or cheerful office.

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Magalie Noel Dresse is the CEO and founder of Caribbean Craft, and as its leader, has already faced multiple catastrophes: Their facility was destroyed in the 2010 earthquake, and then burned to the ground in 2019. Now, her artisans must contend with the real prospect of gun violence or kidnapping on their way to work. “As probably a lot of you know, this country has been going through a very, very difficult time linked to political chaos and the president’s assassination [in July 2021], that has led to a complete collapse of our economy,” Dresse says. “For three or four months, we were unable to go back to our production activities, which means that none of our items were able to be produced or shipped out of Port-au-Prince, leaving the artisans in a very, very fragile mode, not knowing if we would be able to continue working or if we would shut down, adding stress to their everyday burden.”

colorful Haitian bowls in living room

Magalie Noel Dresse with Caribbean Craft artisan

Magalie Noel Dresse with Caribbean Craft artisan

Dresse, though, is determined to keep her company on a firm footing – and hopes that anyone who appreciates her brand’s work will buy their work and help spread the word. What she doesn’t want is grant money or donations. We asked her how ordinary people could help, nonetheless: “What I think could be concretely done is follow us on Instagram, check out our website, and above everything else, purchase an item that really means something to you – not because you’re supporting us as a charity, because that’s not what we are, but because you really like it, because this is an item that speaks to you, that connects you to the artisan that created it.”

We couldn’t agree more. For more from Magalie of Caribbean Craft – including a look at her favorite pieces – tune in!

paper mâché pig on shelf

rainbow giraffe sculpture

white owl next to white bowl

paper mâché wall decor

paper mâché dog sculpture

Diana Ostrom, who has written for Wallpaper, Interior Design, ID, The Wall Street Journal, and other outlets, is also the author of Faraway Places, a newsletter about travel.

Milkshake, DMTV (Design Milk TV)’s first regular series, shakes up the traditional interview format by asking designers, creatives, educators and industry professionals to select interview questions at random from their favorite bowl or vessel. During their candid discussions, you’ll not only gain a peek into their personal homeware collections, but also valuable insights into their work, life and passions.

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