Poverty is complex. Making a difference isn’t.
In a time when the fashion industry is in dire need of change, it takes individuals and brands to make the first steps towards grassroots support and consumer transparency. Accessories brand Deux Mains are the type of business the world wants (and needs) to see, providing a meaningful choice from start to finish through the purchasing journey. Choosing fashion that’s designed to do good is truly making its mark, offering liveable wages an inclusive seat at the table and environmental circularity that’s often felt like an urban myth on the global stage. We spoke to President Julie Colombino to find out her inspiration and journey to pioneer the future of fashion.
Starting at the beginning: what drew you to fashion, and how was Deux Mains born?
I actually started this journey with a passion to open a factory in Haiti to create jobs — my love for fashion came after. I started to realise what a powerful industry fashion was and how important fashion affects all lives, no matter what the culture or state of the economy. Fashion matters to everyone. As I became more enlightened about the history of Haiti and the talent of her artisans, I wanted to be a part of sharing that with the rest of the world.
What initially drew you to Haiti?
I originally was dispatched to Haiti as a volunteer disaster responder after the horrific earthquake that paralyzed the country on January 12, 2010. I lived in a tent for months working to coordinate logistics for the response efforts. While I was working in camps to distribute water and tarps, women asked me for jobs. They knew the only lasting solution to their plight was going to be a good job, as all buildings, infrastructures and everything in the city were completely flattened and destroyed.
Did Haiti feel like the natural place to base Deux Mains (given your volunteer work)?
Absolutely. The Deux Mains brand is completely inspired by the ancestral wisdom of Haiti. I actually co-own the factory with my Haitian colleagues as building this business was a dream we all shared.
For fashion to change, there are so many social issues to tackle within it (working conditions, ethically sourcing etc). When many ‘activists’ talk about making change, they often say to focus on one specific point (‘we can’t do it all’). Did your natural instinct of ‘doing less and listening more’ help to create change in multiple areas?
It’s true, it’s so hard to do many things well in this industry as we have to compete with these huge companies that make it difficult for us to compete for market share. The way we work is more expensive, more time consuming and just more difficult. However, for us, there would be no point in owning our own business if we couldn’t make good decisions in every choice we have to make. So yes, by listening more, I learned what was important to my Haitian colleagues and I listened to what was important to our customers.
For instance, when we built our own factory several years after we started, it was a no brainer that it would be completely solar powered. Yes, it was a huge investment up front, but I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way. By sourcing dead stock leather, it’s harder because we have to constantly source new materials — but these are excellent, perfect leathers that are considered overrun by other companies who will burn or throw them away. By investing in these leathers, we can offer our customers newness with an exclusive, beautifully made product that has the highest quality leather. So even though it’s a lot more work for us, it’s a win-win.
How important has it been to your brand mission to create a business structure that’s making change from the ground level up? Deux Mains seems to do so effortlessly.
To be honest with you, it’s our lifeblood. It’s the reason we exist. By creating this business in Haiti, an extremely difficult place to operate, we have proven that for the past 12 years, if you stay true and transparent to your core values, bringing Haitian beauty to the global community is possible.
Both the brands and you personally feel extremely authentic and transparent. How essential is it for brands to have that same approach to engagement?
Oh, wow, thank you so much. That’s really kind of you to say! I believe we have no other choice. Our work is really hard. There is a lot of competition, lots of rejection and lots of people in this industry who are happy to take your ideas, your stories, your hard work and just rip you off. I remember about 9 years ago I was having the worst month of my life. I was living in Haiti and we were robbed (at the time in our first factory we worked off of a generator as we only got power about 2-3 hours a day), then I got malaria and was really sick, then the country suffered a hurricane and our factory flooded terribly. We lost all our raw materials. I was just down — really, really down. I came into work and I just sat on the lap of my co-worker Jolina and I started to cry. She let me cry for about 1 minute, then she took her thumbs and wiped away my tears and said: “ok, an ale… travay”. It means “ok, enough let’s go to work.” And that is the spirit of Haiti. We always just keep going.
How important is it for the industry to be collaborative?
Oh, it’s so important! It’s hard to do well for sure, but finding like-minded people, partners and brands can make or break you!
In your opinion, can wide scale fashion change in the ways we really need it to?
I really hope so. It’s going to be one hell of a fight. But Deux Mains will always be ready for battle.
What’s next for Deux Mains?
Our short term goal is to scale the brand, which is why we are so excited to partner with Anton Dell and meet these incredible reps and companies that can take us into all sorts of new stores. By getting in front of new eyes, Deux Mains can continue to grow, create, produce and create more jobs in Haiti. But ultimately we would like to open more factories and spread our model across the globe.
Image source: https://deuxmains.com/