The fashion world and jobs in Haiti aren’t two things you’d normally associate with each other. But an event last week — in Las Vegas of all places — made that connection.
The MAGIC fashion trade event featured a USAID-sponsored “Made in Haiti” exhibit aimed at showcasing Haitian garment manufacturers and creating new business opportunities.
“Our exhibit on Haiti certainly created a lot of buzz as demonstrated by the level of attention our visitors expressed,” said Gregor Avril, executive director of the non-profit Association of Industries of Haiti (ADIH), who was present at MAGIC.
Also on hand to discuss Haiti’s apparel industry were delegates from the country’s largest manufacturing companies, along with representatives from the USAID-supported Haiti Apparel Center, which trains thousands of professionals a year to help meet the need for skilled workers in Haiti’s garment industry. The Haiti booth showcased shirts, dresses, suits, winter coats, work uniforms, printed T-shirts, blue jeans and even tote bags. The exhibit was part of MAGIC’s AmericasPavilion, hosted by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
As the largest trade event for the textiles and apparel industry in the United States, MAGIC attracted attendees from well-known companies such as Columbia Sportswear, LL Bean, Jockey, Dickies and Harley-Davidson.
“Many of these firms were very interested to learn about the capabilities of the Haitian manufacturers, especially the preferential trade access offered by U.S. legislation,” Avril said.
Gina Coles, president of Phenix2, a Haitian apparel company represented at MAGIC, said she’s confident that concrete business will come from the event.
“We received clear indications that companies are looking to move back to this hemisphere and develop relationships with Haitian manufacturers,” she said.
Despite high unemployment levels in Haiti, a thriving apparel industry could help create an economic stepping stone. The U.S. government is using multiple tools to help the government of Haiti stimulate the apparel sector and create jobs.
The Haiti Economic Lift Program (HELP) Act, passed by Congress a few months after the devastating January 2010 earthquake, offers duty-free access to the United States.
Apparel companies are also interested in Haiti’s garment sector for its proximity to the U.S. and its growing textile workforce of 30,000 employees. Thousands of jobs will be created at an apparel-manufacturing industrial park, which is being built in northern Haiti as a joint effort between the U.S. and Haitian governments and the Inter-American Development Bank.
Check out photos from the “Made in Haiti” exhibit on Flickr.