Artisans are thriving again in post-quake Haiti
The money made at Haiti’s end can seem far removed from what the crafts bring at a U.S. retailer, where the final price is pushed up by shipping, stocking, marketing and other costs.
Craftsman Felix Calixte said he earns $6.50 for a metal picture frame in a style similar to one selling at Macy’s for about $40. Still, Calixte can make three in a day, and the total income of nearly $20 is five times Haiti’s daily minimum wage.
In the densely packed district of Carrefour, an entrepreneur curiously named Einstein Albert leans over workers as he walks through a courtyard and inspects the latest order of wooden bowls.
‘‘When we look at Cuba, they have their cigars. Colombia has coffee,’’ said Albert. ‘‘If Haiti has an image to sell and can compete in the Caribbean, offer something or create more jobs, it is through the handicraft sector.’’
His bowls are made from logs harvested from the forest of 25,000 trees he grows in southern Haiti — ochebe, a hardwood prized for its lack of splinters and resin.
Each bowl takes six weeks of carving, sanding and sealing with 13 coats of lead-free varnish. They've been sold at select Macy’s stores for $75 each and by U.S.-based crafts websites, along with Port-au-Prince’s few high-end hotels frequented by aid workers, diplomats and contractors.
The artisans themselves make significantly less. They’re paid by the piece or the hour, but prolific workers earn more than Haiti’s minimum wage — 200 gourdes a day, which is less than $5. Albert said some of his workers take home twice that amount.
Albert said the family business he inherited has benefited from the new demand for Haitian crafts. It now brings in $60,000 to $80,000 a year, twice the amount before the earthquake, and he invests part of the proceeds in a school he runs to train craft workers.
‘‘People say that my family was right to call me Einstein because we provide quality,’’ he said.
Associated Press writer Trenton Daniel reported this story in Port-au-Prince and Martha Mendoza reported from Santa Cruz, California.