As both an artist and a consumer with a passion for all manner of textiles, the details of a product’s creation are always on my mind. Objects can so often exude simplicity and effortless design, but conceal a manufacturing process that’s detrimental to the people and the environment in which the item is made.
Armed with this same holistic concern and the desire “to make things the right way,” designer Emma Allen launched Fait La Force. The home and accessories brand collaborates closely with a workshop of 60 artisans in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, who work with natural materials, such as native clay and horn. The name Fait La Force is inspired by the Haitian flag’s inscription “L’Union Fait La Force”—meaning “Strength in Unity.” The concept is manifest in their line of quilts, which bring together the effort and skill of many hands.
Composed of denim and linen scraps sourced from the nearby Dominican Republic, the fabric is indigo dyed, cut and pieced together in the workshop, then hand-stitched by local women in their own homes. The collaged patterning of the quilts evokes a cool modernism but also draws on Emma’s fascination with vintage American quilts, particularly the famous pieces made by the women of Gee’s Bend.
I recently discussed the evolution of Fait La Force with her.
Your project is based in Haiti. When did you first visit and what made you return?
I first visited Haiti as a teenager and became fascinated with the country and its culture. Later on, while working as a vintage buyer and accessories designer, I wanted to work with artisans who were using traditional techniques. Haiti was a natural place to start, since I had travelled there over the years and always wanted to do a project.
What inspired you to begin Fait La Force, and what kind of impact do you want to leave?
By working with artisans and marginalized makers, I hope to strengthen their skills and improve their access to outside markets. My hope is that our work and the relationships we build will be strong and long lasting.
Your products have a rare production process that embraces the limitations of handmade craft. Can you talk about the materials, design and collaborations with Haitian artisans?
Our quilts are made with cotton and linen. We indigo dye them at our workshop in Port-Au-Prince. The patches are sewn together and they are hand-embroidered by women in the local community using the Japanese running stitch, which Bekah Stewart of A Well Traveled Woman taught our workshop during a trip here. We work in a variety of different mediums, but one process I find fascinating in Haiti is the work that is done with goat horn and bone. There is a lack of access to materials in Haiti, and bone and horn are available as a by-product of the meat industry. The artisans get these raw materials from the local meat market. Their tools are a simple press, a sander, a fire and shards of glass—and what they are able to create with those limited resources is exquisite.
Well-crafted, handmade objects exude a unique beauty and permeate the spaces where they live. Do you find your products retain qualities of their maker and the environment in which they’re made?
I love that sentence—well-said. I think that certainly right now more than ever we are surrounded by objects that have no soul. So many of our things are mass-produced using plastic in some form. When we come across an object that is truly handmade—that is made using a natural material, made with time and attention and within a maker’s own space—I think there is something intangible but very real about the way it makes us feel. I think that’s why we see such a shift among our generation toward hand-building in ceramics, organic forms in art and a huge interest in craft and making things. People want to have an authentic connection to the things in their life, and part of that is feeling connected to the people and processes behind these products. The more one is connected to that process, the more the object is powerful. It gives us a sense of being grounded in our world in a way that increasingly we are not.