Growing an Employee-Owned Brand in Haiti | Business with Purpose Podcast EP 254: Julie Colombino-Billingham, Deux Mains
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My guest today is Julie Colombino-Billingham, founder of Deux Mains, which means “two hands,” a Haitian-owned and operated business that handcrafts high-quality footwear, handbags and accessories. 97% of all raw materials are repurposed or sourced locally on the island and manufactured in their 100% solar-powered factory. Use code MOLLY to get 15% off from DeuxMains at Deuxmains.com!
5:28 – Julie 101
- She was a professional ballet dancer and worked for Cirque USA. She is also a trained disaster responder. She got a full-time job at the United Way and wanted to respond to the Haiti earthquake.
9:10 – Going to Haiti
- Julie landed in Haiti 10 days after the earthquake and said the destruction was like nothing she had ever seen before.
- She remembers more of what she smelled and heard versus what she saw.
- Julie met a woman at a tent camp, and the woman said she didn’t want bottles of water – she wanted a job.
10:46 – The beginning of Deux Mains
- After a month in Haiti, Julie came back to Florida, sold her house, quit her job at the United Way and went back to Haiti two weeks later with $7,000.
- They raised money and started an education and job training program.
21:49 – New jobs
- They have a beautiful factory that is all solar powered. Their goal is to create 300 new jobs in the next three years.
- People wanted recycled fashion, but they didn’t want it to look recycled.
33:34 – The business today
- The business has 40 employees and was able to continue during Covid. They got some government contracts.
- They had to change their business model and now do more direct to consumer sales.
35:30 – Expanding product line
- They didn’t want to waste anything, so they started making earrings out of leather scraps.
- Customers started asking for specific products, including a laptop sleeve.
- They are working on a woman’s wallet.
“A woman I met in a tent camp said she didn’t want any bottles of water – she wanted a job.”
“I get to be the proud voice of many people who have made us what we are today.”
“It’s a gift anytime we get feedback – good or bad – because we’re still learning.”
To sustainably fight poverty in Haiti, Julie Colombino-Billingham created a business that provides great, dignified jobs. Deux Mains is a Haitian owned and operated business that handcrafts high-quality, footwear, handbags and accessories. 97% of all raw materials are repurposed or sourced locally on the island, and manufactured in our solar powered factory.
In a country where 85% of the population does not have access to the formal jobs and only 1% of the population is University educated, Colombino designed a model using the best practices of the nonprofit and for profit sectors. She incubated a nonprofit arm of the business called REBUILD globally that provides revolutionary education and paid job training programs to the most vulnerable. Every program graduate is then guaranteed a dignified, living wage job at Deux Mains.
Under Colombino’s leadership, the past 10 years has been a dramatic evolution from earthquake recovery to a sustainable and eco-friendly business that was quickly propelled into the world of ethical fashion. Just a few of the partnerships deux mains has created include: United Nations, Kenneth Cole, Eileen Fisher, USAID and the Clinton Foundation to fight poverty and strengthen families in Haiti and provide customers a fashion accessory brand they can be proud to wear.
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