PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti has long been renowned for its brightly colored paintings, metalwork handicrafts and wide-ranging styles of music while its fashion industry has lagged behind.
This is in large part because Haitian fashion consists mainly of clothing exported from Florida, otherwise known as "pepe," an industry that began in the 1960s and left many tailors unemployed.
But a number of local designers, and a handful of foreigners, are hoping to revive the Caribbean nation's fashion industry as they organized "Haiti Fashion Week," a three-day emporium for showing off its latest styles. The European Union donated 100,000 euros to sponsor the event, said Barbara Prezeau Stephenson, a Haitian artist and EU representative.
It was the second fashion show in Haiti since last November. Foreign designers came from the neighboring Dominican Republic, France and Trinidad and Tobago.
Beginning Thursday, models took to the runway at a hotel above Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. They sported suitcase-sized handbags, linen dresses, horn necklaces and other accessories that displayed voodoo symbols. The shows, which cost $25 per night, featured beach attire, casual and cocktail clothes, and evening wear.
The works of designer Harry Lafond, for example, drew inspiration from the karabela, a traditional Haitian dress made of light blue denim. Another designer, Gregory Vorbe, made silkscreen T-shirts that bore Creole messages.
Like the artists and artisans, Haiti's designers are mostly self-taught, largely because there are no official schools. Many struggle with the day-to-day hardships of Haiti to do their jobs, including sporadic electricity, broken roads and harsh weather.
Said Vorbe: "The amount of stuff we have to overcome to be able to do this is crazy."