I Am Kreyol is a woman’s high fashion brand, inspired by Haitian cultural ideals, that represent the Resilience, Style, Strength and Freedom in EVERY WOMAN. Our designs should remind you of your undeniable power and allow you to feel like a piece of art. No matter who you are or where you come from, socio-economic status, religious belief, etc. We are all capable of building the life we desire. We Are Powerful.
Name: Joelle Fontaine
Home location: Boston, MA
Occupation: CEO, Designer & Founder
- Tell us a little bit about yourself and your role as a fashion designer
I think before being a designer, I am an artist- a creator. I love all types of design and initially I was going to school for architecture. I thought I was going to be this amazing architect, but God obviously had a different plan. I now incorporate design elements such as exaggerated shapes and lines from architecture into fashion to create the look and feel of the collections I Am Kreyol presents, as well as the concepts and storyline. I work with my mother to bring them to light. She is my seamstress.
- Tell us about “I am Kreyol” and what got you started?
I started designing some years ago in my early 20s, when I was home with my newborn and just looking for any way to keep myself sane creatively. I literally used to take garments apart and put them back together. At the time, I had a friend who was into the fashion scene invite me to a conference during New York Fashion Week. When I looked up the information for them, I realized it was more than just a conference. They had a runway show for their featured designers as well. I reached out to them with pictures of the only 3 garments I had made to date and told them I was a designer and I wanted to be a part of their show. They loved it, and invited me on as a feature. I had a week (and zero sleep) to put together a collection of 12 looks. So, my first show was for NYFW. People started calling me a designer before I even believed it myself. I then started working with a close friend, Itaysha Jordan, who is a great photographer in NY now, on a consistent basis to grow our portfolios and the rest (as they say) is history. I moved to NY for a bit, received some great awards, was featured in AM New York and had our garments in a museum in Soho. We were even featured alongside Cedella Marley at Caribbean Fashion Week, which was such an honor.
I continued to freelance as a designer for many years, but it was in 2010- shortly after the earthquake devastated Haiti, that I Am Kreyol truly became a business. We put together a fundraiser and raised 10k for a school. It was at that point that I decided that fashion could be a catalyst for change and opportunity in Haiti. I didn’t need to be a doctor or an architect to make a difference. As an artist, I had everything I needed to be able to contribute and make an impact.
- Tell us about your Indiegogo campaign
Our Indiegogo Campaign launched on March 8th, on International Women’s Day, and is a pre-order campaign for the garments from our Lotus Collection, which will be produced in Haiti through women artisans. We are super excited about this.
I Am Kreyol is a woman’s high fashion brand that empowers women through bold, unique design, but also through job creation and opportunity for the women back home to have a sustainable lifestyle. There are so many talented artisans that just need a means for employment. I would like to be able to provide that. I left Haiti when I was just a little girl, but America has never been home for me. I have always been looking for an avenue to be able to go back home and contribute in some way. I Am Kreyol became that platform. I am very excited to be embarking on phase 1 of this initiative and hope that partners will join on to support the cause.
- What is the inspiration behind your brand and this campaign?
The inspiration behind my brand is my mother. She is the toughest woman I know- a person who will never allow setbacks to bring her down. I believe that’s who the I Am Kreyol woman is innately- bold, strong, audacious, free thinking, and very much an overcomer. This campaign features The Lotus Collection. If you think about the lotus flower, she is a delicate, beautiful creature that grows in unfavorable conditions- literally in the middle of a swamp. That is who the Kreyol woman is. She creates beauty wherever she grows and overcomes the odds.
- As a designer, who is your biggest inspiration?
As a designer, I am inspired by different mediums, not necessarily just fashion. I love the work of Jacob Lawrence and Basquiat of course. I love music and I am an old soul. So, I still love tunes by Ansy and Rose Derose, chansonnette francaise from Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel, Boukman Eksperyans and most recently I love me some Lakou Mizik and J. Perry. Everything inspires me from life, pain, love and all of the above. I don’t really have one major form of inspiration, other than my mom. As for designers, I love the work of Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood.
- What one or two things do you currently do to keep up with fashion trends?
Ha ha. I don’t keep up with the trends. Trends come and go, but style is everlasting and totally personal. I am stubborn to an extent in that I do not like to look like anyone else, and that is reflected in my designs.
- What a typical day looks like in the life of Joelle Fontaine?
That’s a hard question. My days vary. But, let’s take a random Tuesday. I typically wake up at at 5am, prayer, pilates, and then it’s a mad dash to get out of the house. I’m usually eating in the car. I have a 16 year old son. We drive into the city together and talk about (sometimes) really deep thought provoking topics or sometimes we’re exhausted and just listen to NPR on the ride silently. I drop him off and head to my office, answer emails and shoot some new product with my photographer, meet with a partner or a client, fabric store and phone calls to my mom for final decisions on yardage, meet my son, head home for dinner. Depending on the night- get back on the computer for some I Am Kreyol follow-up with my brother and partner Stanley, or meet with a girlfriend for drinks. Sleep and then do it all over again… I need more downtime 🙂 But for fun, I enjoy long walks in nature, hiking, museum trips and watching anime with my son.
- Do you feel that you are representing the Haitian Community? How does it feel?
I certainly hope that I am representing the Haitian Community in a positive light. That is always my aim. I remember coming here in the late 80s and how Haitians used to deny their identity. I have never been any less than proud to be Haitian. It feels amazing to be a descendant of warriors.
- What do you think about fashion in Haiti? Do you have any tips for fashion designers living in Haiti?
I think the fashion scene in Haiti is growing and that’s really exciting to see. We even have our own Fashion Week now, which I hope to be able to be part of next year. The talent that is coming out of Haiti is so diverse in the type of garments they create, but you can see the similarities in influence through the bold colors and patterns and sometimes the silhouettes as well. As far as tips, for the designers in Haiti, I would say do your best work and continue to expand internationally but keep your base in Haiti. I find that much of the older generation saw Haiti as a way of passage. Everybody was trying to get to the US or Paris or Canada, with no real focus on building sustainable businesses and growing the economy at home. I think there is a shift happening where more of the diaspora is returning home to build. I believe this is the wave of the future.
- Do you have any advice for Haitian kids or Haitian descendants that want to be part of the Fashion world?
Learn from your elders. As Haitians, many of our families had moms, aunts, uncles, cousins who were seamstresses and/or tailors. In kindergarten, I remember learning embroidery. We are known for our quality of work as it pertains to garment construction. Tap into that. Additionally, take in all of the inspiration that your culture can and does provide. There’s so much inspiration in the colors, the people, the music, the history of Haiti. The land alone and the beaches can bring you to a whole new level of design and artistic awareness.
- Is there something else you would like to share with us?
I would like to say Thank You for this opportunity. I appreciate your interest in I Am Kreyol and this platform to share our story.
Share Social Media IG: @iamkreyol
Indiegogo campaign link: iamkreyolcampaign.com