This post is part of a series on my recent trip to Haiti as part of Heart of Haiti’s #Bloggers4Haiti trip. To read more in this series, click here. 

On January 12, 2010 the earth rumbled and shook. Although it only 30 seconds, the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti, devastated Port-au-Prince and killed an estimated 220,000 people. Already reeling from a series of natural, economic and political disasters, the earthquake was nearly catastrophic to the people, infrastructure and economy of Haiti. Although thousands of lives were lost, more were forever changed on that fateful day.

Pétionville Haiti

The “Gingerbread” homes and slums that raise up the mountains behind luxurious Pétionville.

As news poured into the United States and around the world, governments, aid organizations and humanitarians across the globe came together to help. One woman, American Willa Shalit, an artist, producer, writer and social conscious entrepreneur, came to the rescue. A pioneer in a growing social-entrepreneurial movement, Shalit’s company Fairwinds Trading joined forces with the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund and retailer, Macy’s. Together, they developed the mission of providing unique Haitian products to U.S. consumers while at the same time, creating sustainable wages for the Haitian artisans who make them.


Photo of Willa Shalit, courtesy of Heart of Haiti.

Heart of Haiti – a “trade not aid program” – was developed by the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund and Willa Shalit in partnership with Macy’s to promote sustainable income in the arts for Haitians and was launched on October 7, 2010 with the first collection of Heart of Haiti products at Macy’s Dadeland store.

Working in record speed, Fairwinds Trading, their partners and the extraordinary Haitian artisans designed, developed, produced and brought to market over 20,000 hand-crafted Haitian products within 100 days. This project provided immediate employment for 235 artisans and has generated income for packers, suppliers, and shippers, significantly improving the lives of 2,100 individuals. What Macy’s Heart of Haiti did was provide hope and a meaningful way for American consumers to shop an extraordinary collection of handicraft art while helping make change and hope possible in Haiti.

Heart of Haiti follows the Fairwinds model of connecting cultures through business, art, and understanding. Americans can now have a piece of the brilliant culture of Haiti in their own homes, and the Haitian artist are connecting to the marketplace, resulting in prosperity and hope.

-Willa Shalit, founder of Fairwinds Trading

The first Macy’s Heart of Haiti collection featured more than 40 home decor items including metalwork, quilts, jewelry and paintings, all made almost entirely from recycled and sustainable items such as old cement bags, cardboard, oil drums and local gamma wood.

Five years later, the product line has expanded to include bone and horn art, papier-mâché, metal art, soap stone products, and sewn handicrafts such as napkins and pillows, and the impact has been significant. The Heart of Haiti initiative has been quite a success, providing some of the first sustainable work since the January 2010 earthquake, enabling Haitians make a living and support their families with dignity and purpose. Today, there are over 550 artisans employed with over 4,500 family members secondarily supported through the income the artists receive.  With the help of Artisan Business Network (ABN), Heart of Haiti hopes to expand their business even more.

Below is a short video (3 minute) I wanted to share on Heart of Haiti. I was fortunate to visit these artisans in February and look forward to sharing all their amazing art on my blog.

To view Macy’s Collection of Heart of Haiti products click here. 

Further Background on Heart of Haiti:

Haiti and Art

Haiti is a nation of artisans. It is estimated that there are approximately 400,000 artisans (out of 10 million people population of Haiti) that rely on the sale of handicrafts as either a primary or secondary source of income. It is the highest sector of employment in Haiti’s economy. The 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti’s handicraft market due to  limited access of raw materials and markets, and the destruction of infrastructure.

Steady Income and Improvements

Artisans receive half the wholesale price for each item in the collection, a steady income that allows them to repair homes, pay school fees and feed and clothe their children. In communities lacking secure, sanitary conditions and funding to support economic relief, it means better access to healthcare and nutrition, plus improved education.

“Trade not Aid” Model

Macy’s Heart of Haiti upholds the belief that “trade not aid” is a powerful way to create sustainable work and much needed financial opportunity. The initiative offers new opportunities for artists to collaborate with U.S. designers, strengthening artisan associations and inspiring and energizing their communities. Men and women are working together, gaining confidence and hope for the future. Master artisans who planned to leave the country now stay behind to train the next generation. The rich tradition of Haitian art lives on because of this committed partnership.


Earthquake in Haiti: Gone in 30 seconds via The Independent

The Woman Who Makes Shopping Meaningful via O Magazine



  1. We need to start understanding and implementing the idea that just throwing money or other things at a problem isn’t the way to fix it, even though well-intentioned. Helping/empowering people through this type of program can create lasting change and provide a way to live when we’re no longer there and money is no longer available. Thanks for sharing this, Nicole.

    Just one small thing I noticed: “that relay on the sale of handicrafts” should be “rely.” 🙂


    1. Thanks Janet! I agree. I have read some excellent books on foreign aid and although of course it is absolutely necessary many times money is wasted and the model isn’t right. I love the trade not aid model and creating sustainability in income. Thanks for the tip too on relay versus rely. I wish I had a proofreader besides myself who is all clogged up with a cold right now! 🙂

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