Haitians In America

New York Fashion Designer, Dayanne Danier, maintains Haiti links

Established in 2009, Bien Abyé is a chic fashion brand with Krèyol touches that is inspired by the people, color and vibrancy of Haiti.  It is therefore not surprising that its creator, Dayanne Danier has chosen to work with women artisans and create some of collections out of the country.  She has been and continues to be dedicated to uplifting and inspiring women, so that they too can follow their creative passions.  Danier discusses with the Haitian Times a bit about what’s inspired her career path, recent events and the fashion industry and Cornavirus.

HT:  Did you know from an early age you wanted to get into the fashion industry, become a designer?

DD:  Oddly enough, yes, I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer at the age of 9.  I was a very focused kid.  At one point I questioned it for a short time, when it came to selecting a college.  I stopped for one moment and thought of computer engineering, to the point where I applied to a college for computer engineering as well as fashion.  But then my creative side won. I wanted to do something with no formula.

HT: What inspired this career path?

DD:  I would have to say my parents.  Growing up my mom loved to sew and embroider.  She had several sewing machines at home.  But that’s the typical designer reply.  What was different for me was having my dad constantly say “Timoun make sure nou bien abiye, nou pa vle moun pale mal sou nou” lol!  It was a statement we always heard when we were dressing up.

HT:  How have you remained connected to Haiti, and your Haitian roots?

Dayanne Danier, showcasing some of the Bien Abyé line

DD:  Where should I begin…The name of my brand is a reflection of my Haitian roots and the majority of the Bien Abyé collection is made in Haiti by women artisans.  I strongly believe in the craft of Haitian artisans and I want to share that with the world.  I am also the founder of a nonprofit called Fleur De Vie which promotes youth education throughout Haiti.  My days start with a conversation with Haiti, so yeah I would say I remain very connected.

HT: What challenges if any did you face trying to break into the fashion industry as a Haitian American woman?  Do you still face disparity?

DD: In general when I first started, I went the conventional way to appeal to my Haitian family.  I got a job designing for some of the largest fashion companies in the US; Perry Ellis and Phillips-Van Heusen.

When I decided to leave a comfortable paying job to take a risk on my own creativity that is when I realized the challenges of this industry. Being an entrepreneur, one always faces disparities.  I didn’t start Bien Abyé with a silver spoon, I started it working hard on my own.  Now, I welcome any challenges. They help me grow.

HT:  With the COVID-19 pandemic affecting almost every aspect of our everyday lives for the past few months especially the economy, how do you believe it’s affected the fashion industry?

DD:  COVID-19 has extremely affected the fashion industry.  A pandemic shifts the mind frame of the average shopper rapidly.  One goes from “wants” to “needs” overnight.  Or as I like to say, it goes from fashion to function.  They might not need those new pair of shoes right now, but they definitely need a mask.  The whole industry globally has been affected.  From high-end to mass manufacturing, from sales reps, designers, to the person stitching the actual clothes…It all came to a stop and we need to reevaluate.

HT:  What was the impetus to your designing masks? Are the mask you’ve been designing for sale, and if so how can people purchase?

DD:  The impetus came from the need.  The need for fashion to shift to function.  I had clients asking me if I was making masks.  Originally my answer was no, because designing protective gear was my past life actually.  It was my first job in the textile industry and designing something that saves lives needs to be taken seriously.  So when I felt comfortable with the materials I had access to, then I said ok to clients.

So the ones I have designed are a spin-off from my silk scarves actually.  They are light for summer months and lined and they come in fun prints so it’s kind of like a smile on your face.  People can go to Bien Abyé Instagram and Facebook page to see them because I always post a new picture of a client wearing them.  A simple DM and voila purchase done and shipped.

Variety of mask from the Bien Abyé line

HT:  What is your perspective as a Haitian American woman on the BLM movement?

DD:  I am very happy to see the movement.  As a Haitian American, I still have deep pride to 1804. So to see Black people in America still treated like 2/3 human makes my blood boil.  I despise oppression of all types.  And that is where the woman side of me comes in. I do think there needs to be more of a spotlight of all the lives that fall under “BLM”, women, men, LGBTQ, kids…the whole race.  Who has time to be oppressing people these days?! Do away with those methods of life, PLEASE!

HT:  Have you ever personally experienced racism? If so please explain.

DD:  One can’t be black in America and not face racism.  Where do you want me to start?  That’s a book your followers will have to read some day.

HT:  Do you believe that this is the turning point in history?

DD:  I do believe this is a turning point in history.  I hope.  The youth are empowered and they are not taking the same things past generations had to deal with.  We have to realize though, this isn’t a race where it is won, finished, and over.  It’s more like a passing of the baton to bring society to the next point.  It’s been 50 plus years since last real movement of change, so the time has come for a new page, a new chapter.

HT:  How have you quarantined?  During this time how have you stayed motivated?

DD:  I’ve quarantined listening to the authorities.  I only go out for client orders and the grocery store.  I referred to this time as a moment to be innovative and to self-reflect and I have done exactly that.  I’ve been really busy setting Bien Abyé up for this new decade.  I refuse to let 2020 go down as a bad year. I still have goals.

I was also managing a mask distribution throughout Haiti for Fleur De Vie.  So I’ve been keeping busy.

HT:  If you could dress/style anyone living or deceased who would it be and why?

DD:  Honestly, things of that nature don’t drive me anymore. If it happens great, but I don’t have my mind set on it.  I’ve done some great things in fashion, like have orders equaling a million units made in seven different countries and still have a sales rep come back asking for more.  But that was my past life working for someone.

Now, I want to make more of a social impact.  So if a celebrity dresses or is styled with Bien Abyé merchandise which then turns into a major order and creating jobs in Haiti, then I will be happy.  Dressing someone for a onetime event isn’t enough for me at this stage in my life.

Rachele Viard

Rachele Viard

Managing Editor at Haitian Times
Born into a Haitian family in Stone Mountain GA. , Rachele visited Haiti several times in her youth and connected to the country and the culture. She moved to Haiti in 2009, where she put her English degree to use as a writer, using her voice and pen to promote tourism in the country and highlight the richness of the Haitian culture and people.
Rachele Viard
Jun. 25, 2020

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