By Jacqueline Charles for Miami Herald
Haitian-American fashion designer Dayanne Danier was at the end of a 10-day trip to rural Central Haiti in late January checking on the production of her latest creations when one of the seamstresses turned to her as she prepared to leave.
“Don’t forget to send the fabric,” Danier, 43, recalled the woman saying. “Don’t take too long.”
Danier had been going back and forth between New York and Haiti since the country’s monstrous 2010 earthquake. She had watched as interest in Haiti’s handmade arts and crafts piqued soon after the disaster with well-known American designers buying and selling Haiti-made designs, only to quickly wane. She understood the meaning behind the woman’s plea.
“She was basically saying, ‘If you don’t send the fabric, we are going to have to go home,’” she recounted. “’Do whatever you’ve got to do for us to be consistently working.’“
Now as Haiti struggles to rectify a crippled economy, political turmoil and civil unrest during the pandemic, the artisans Danier collaborated with have emerged with a collection of colorful silk printed face masks, headbands and scrunchies that are being sold at select Nordstrom stores across the U.S.
Last month, the high-end retailer began featuring Danier’s Bien Abyé, Haitian Creole for Well Dressed, a line of handmade products by two artisan groups she has spent the past six years training and mentoring. The items retail between $39 and $57, and one in particular, a butterfly print face mask, is so popular that it has been selling out.
“The idea of having Haiti-made products be the basis of the Bien Abyé brand is something I had been working on for years,” said Danier, a former Miami resident who designed for Perry Ellis while living in the city and also used to design for Phillips-Van Heusen. “When I kept meeting with people they just kept saying to me, ‘No, it’s impossible. Your quality level doesn’t exist here.’ They just made it seem like so much of a pipe dream.”
To prove the naysayers wrong, she made designs the women could make and then flew to Haiti and trained them on the artistry. That in itself was no easy task. She recalled leaving one appointment at a Port-au-Prince factory as demonstrators filled the streets.
The day she received her first shipment of the finished accessories, she cried tears of joy.
“I couldn’t work with them long. I wanted to have three days with each but my schedule had to change because of the protests that were going on,” Danier said.
John Bailey, a spokesperson for Nordstrom, said the retailer is proud to feature the product line in 10 of its stores and could potentially expand to more based on customer response. The products are currently available in South Florida at the Village of Merrick Park location, at 4310 Ponce de Leon, in Coral Gables, and on Nordstrom.com in the Black-owned and Black-founded brand hub.
“We are always looking for new fashion-forward items to create a sense of discovery and newness for our customers. This collection is focused on beautiful silk masks and hair goods, including their signature printed headbands,” he said. “Hair accessories have been a strong category for us during the pandemic and Bien Abyé is a great addition to our assortment.”
Born in Boston, Danier visited Haiti often as a child with her family. But as the country became increasingly unstable, the trips stopped. After a 25-year hiatus, she returned in 2009 and immediately “fell in love” with the idea of channeling the country’s colorful imagery through her creative pieces. Continue reading