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Sunroom Q+A: Nasrin Jean-Baptiste of Petit Kouraj

We couldn't be more excited to warmly welcome Petit Kouraj, the creation of stylist and designer, Nasrin Jean-Baptiste and our newest product line at Sunroom. Based in Brooklyn but handmade in Haiti, Petit Kouraj showcases a line of handmade fridge bags, each so intricate, unique and lively — the type of piece that honors every aspect of great craftsmanship and artistry. 

Can you share more about your background — how your journey as a stylist led you to beginning your line?

I’ve worked as a stylist for over 15 years in London and now in New York. As a stylist, I would often design stage costumes for my clients or have pieces custom made when I couldn’t find what I was looking for in showrooms or stores. So for me, design has always been part of my styling process. I look at styling as form of design – putting looks together, editing, developing concepts, finding the right combination of elements that best convey a story.

I first had the idea and designs for Petit Kouraj years before I had the courage to start it. And I knew I wanted it to be a Haitian-made brand. But there were two main things that really propelled me to start the brand. Having my daughter Daye helped me to see myself differently and encouraged me to realize that we are inherently designed to do more than we think we are capable of. In fact, that’s where the name comes from. I realized that with just a “little courage”, you can do anything. And then in 2018, on research trip to Haiti, I found the perfect workshop and artisans to help bring my dream to fruition and my path to market became clear.

The story of how your bags are made is so inspiring: can you share more about your process of collaboration with the Haitian makers? How does one of your bags go from creative idea to reality?

Working with D.O.T. Haiti (the workshop) became integral to my approach and tracking them down was quite an adventure. A sequence of happenstance, lead me to Paula Coles the founding partner and I was luckily able to go and visit the workshop on my last day in Port-Au-Prince. I was in awe when I arrived at the workshop, it’s a beautiful inspiring industrial building in seemingly the middle of nowhere yet right in the heart of the city. It was a perfect fit, a women-owned and operated organization designed to work with, train and empower local artisans. I returned in 2019 and spent a week with the artisan design team walking them through how I made the bags and overseeing the initial samples. They took my idea and helped me perfect the construction into something scalable. I continue to design and work this way and often make the first sample myself before sending it to Haiti for production.

What is your favorite part about what you do?

I absolutely love the creative process, from sketching to sampling to shooting and seeing how it all intertwines and comes together. The feedback I get from happy customers inspires me to preserve.

I love all the ways that the process has challenged me and pushed beyond my comfort zone. Though it can be challenging, even frustrating at times, the name of the brand is a constant reminder to believe in myself and to just keep going! 

What is the most challenging part?

Being a mom and managing a small business can sometimes be overwhelming and isolating. Time management is one of my biggest challenges and the magnitude of decision making can be difficult. Producing in Haiti also comes with it’s own share of unique obstacles. For example, production came to a complete halt last year when political unrest in Haiti forced the workshop to temporally close. But Haitians have a long history of resilience and the workshop reopened soon after. I will always be committed to making meaningful accessories in Haiti.

What are some of your biggest inspirations, either in travel / art / film / music?  

Craftsmanship in general is a huge inspiration. The accumulation of skills, patience, precision and dedication it takes to become masterful in a chosen area is so special and essential for creating luxury pieces. It’s so interesting how this can be examined culturally and its nuances experienced through travel – how traditional techniques can be transformed into a modern aesthetics is something I continue to explore.

What is next for you — any current/future projects you can share more about?

This year I will be expanding the collection and exploring new mediums in fringe.

My design ethos in 3 words:

Is it necessary?

My favorite song right now: 

Earfquake by Tyler, The Creator

Five things I never travel without: 

A Notebook for sketching and ideas.

My little leather backpack so I can travel unencumbered.

At least one of each of the Petit Kouraj styles. They are so versatile and pack up really small in their dust bags.

A good book.

Lip balm and an eyebrow pencil.

My wardrobe “workhorse” (what I wear on repeat, season after season):

My entire wardrobe is pretty much a “workhorse”. Over the years, I whittled it down to only my favorite pieces and nowadays, I only want to buy things I truly fall in love with. So, I tend to buy less and splurge on special pieces that will stand the test of time.

My mantra or favorite quotation:

What you seek is seeking you.

My favorite place to travel — where I have returned to multiple times or a go-to city/hotel/etc?

Other than Haiti, I don’t have a favorite place to travel. There are so many places I want to go and I want to see them all! For me, traveling is about new adventures so I’d rather explore somewhere I haven’t been before then return to a place I have already experienced.

A place I am want to travel in 2020:

Ghana, Peru, Mexico City, Japan – can’t name just one!

One goal for 2020 I have is...

Continue to grow Petit Kouraj and to be kind to myself in the process!