I had the pleasure of meeting recently with Ton Vriens, a Dutch documentary filmmaker and journalist who, through his foundation Turtle Tree, is working with women in Haiti to develop a felt-making co-operative, with the goal of achieving economic and social independence for the members of the self-governed group.
Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere, and many women there are the sole providers for extended families. This highly motivated group, which calls itself Fanm Veret, Wi Nou Kapab! (The Women of Verrettes, Yes We Can Do It), has earned a grant from the Spanish regional government of Andalusia to assist with the legal process of becoming a co-operative, and to provide business training. Turtle Tree is assisting with product development by inviting American designers and felt makers to lead workshops in the crafts of felting and needlework. While there is no felting tradition in the region, it has the advantage of not requiring expensive specialized equipment. (Turtle Tree has started a second, more long-range project, of re-introducing the organic cotton cultivation which used to be a major part of Haiti’s economy). Fanm Veret imports 100% organic wool from Thirteen Mile Lamb & Wool Co. in Montana. Because the wool is very soft, and the hand-dyed colors are subtle, the finished products have a higher level of refinement than products coming out of Central Asia, where the wool tends to be quite coarse. The women are currently producing simple and beautiful covers for iPhone and iPod, 13” MacBook and MacBook Air