June 14, 2024

Fashion Design

Fashion Designs that Enlighten the Soul.

Parsons Hosts Career Fair to Connect Haitian Workers with Fashion Industry Jobs

5 min read


The Parsons School of Design and the New York Fashion Workforce Development Coalition hosted a career fair for Haitian immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers to match them with fashion production houses and brands looking for people skilled in beading, stitching, and sewing. Naika Colas, an assistant professor of fashion design at the Parsons School of Design, organized the event to introduce Haitian arrivals to a sector that matches them with skills innate to Haitian culture.

For centuries, New York City has thrived because of immigrant workforces, with each group finding its niche in a particular sector. 

In recent history, Haitian immigrants arriving in the U.S. have gravitated to the transportation and healthcare industries, occupying roles like school bus drivers, cab drivers, and nurses. 

However, one professor is looking to introduce recent Haitian arrivals to a sector that was once a main draw for new Haitian immigrants in the 1960s and innate to Haitian culture.

“Everyone in my family knows how to sew,” said Naika Colas, an assistant professor of fashion design at the Parsons School of Design. “My mom knows how to sew. Her brothers know how to sew. Young girls in high school [know how to sew]. They learn to sew at an early age. It’s something that’s kind of ingrained in our culture.

Colas, who’s also the associate director of the MPS program for fashion management at Parsons and founder of the eco-friendly fashion brand Jacques Louis, believes the fashion industry could be the next sector to attract and employ thousands of Haitian immigrants. 

“Many of them are already trained and have experience working as garment workers,” she said in an interview with The Haitian Times.

On May 11, Colas hosted a career fair in partnership with Parsons to match Haitian immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers with fashion production houses and brands looking for seamstresses skilled in beading, stitching, and sewing. 

She worked with local partners to get a list of manufacturers in the city looking for garment and textiles workers and would be interested in interviewing attendees on the spot.

(T-B) Card in Haitian Creole showing various skills and Job seekers waiting to speak to employers at the career fair. Photo credit: Vania André

Job seekers at the fair were given cards in Haitian Creole, Spanish, and French to indicate whether they knew how to hand sew, embroider, bead, work a sewing machine, etc. From there, they were directed to employers looking for those specific skills and interviewed on the spot with the assistance of translators. 

However, the make-up of the fair attendees said a lot about the obstacles recent arrivals face, particularly those living in rural areas. 

Sandy Dor came to the United States from Haiti under the Biden Parole Program six months ago. Despite being a mathematics teacher back home in Haiti, he traveled from Pennsylvania to New York hoping one of them would strike luck and find employment. 

One issue recent arrivals face is that although they have working papers, there aren’t enough jobs available to accommodate them.

“We’ve been here for six months and haven’t worked,” he said in an interview with The Haitian Times. “There aren’t many Haitians where we are. There’s no public transportation either. It’s hard.

“We’d move to New York, but it’s expensive.”

Although the employers attending the fair were looking for garment workers, they were confronted with folks from various backgrounds, from computer science engineers to professional seamstresses. 

“Yes, they’re looking for people who know how to sew, bead, etc, but I don’t think it’s one person that’s going to do everything. The way I see it, they ask your skills. Me, I’m a mathematics professor, but there are other things I can do where my skills can be useful,” Dor said in Haitian Creole. “We have to see what we can do to make a way.”

Sally Ann Parsons founded Parsons-Meares, LTD in 1980 with her husband James Meares. Their company creates costumes for the theater industry and Las Vegas shows. She participated in the fair, hoping to find machine operators and hand finishers. 

Sandy Dor, who attended the Garment Workers Career Fair on May 11, 2024. Photo Credit: Vania André for The Haitian Times.

We’ve interviewed people who are able to operate machines and do hand finishing work, she said, but also encountered people who have skills that aren’t “connected to our business at all, like computer science.”

“Everyone here seems to need work of some kind.”

Building a sustainable workforce that’s not exploitative

On average, workers in Haiti’s apparel, garment, and textile industry earn 685 gourdes ($5 USD)—the minimum wage in Haiti. 

“The designers there now, like Donna Karran and Diesel, brands that are currently in Port au Prince and manufacturing, those communities are not [receiving] fair wages,” Colas said. “They’re working long hours without proper resources. So when you think about something being fair trade or sustainable, it’s only not sustainable because of the materials that they use. It’s not sustainable because it is not ethical.”

In 2023, hundreds of textile workers took to the streets of Delmas – a commune in Port-au-Prince –  to demand higher wages and better working conditions.

“The minimum wage should be set at 2,500 gourdes or $18 USD,” a protesting worker said in a May 2023 article from The Haitian Times. “The Haitian state must turn its gaze to the thousands of employees in the subcontracting sector who receive but a pittance.”

Colas, on her part, is encouraged by the support and outreach she’s received from designers, manufacturers, and brands. 

“’I’m getting emails randomly, like, I need to place three people. I have ten open positions,” said Colas. “And it wasn’t like they were interested in exploiting anyone. They’re like, we need people and we’re going to pay them $20 – $25 an hour. That’s more than what minimum wage is here in New York City.

“That just gets me so excited. They can come here and get paid just as much, if not more, because they have this skill.” 


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright © All rights reserved. | Newsphere by AF themes.