Nasrin Jean-Baptiste de Petit Kouraj designs bags inspired by Haiti
Nasrin Jean-Baptiste had a hunch that she would eventually become a designer one day – she just didn’t know what it would look like.
“I’ve always had this idea in mind for a fashion brand,” Jean-Baptiste tells Bustle. “It took me a long time to start it.
Born in London, Jean-Baptiste moved to New York in 2012, where she worked with Alicia Keys as a stylist for several years. All the while, she kept thinking about potential business ideas.
During a half-birthday and a research trip to Haiti in 2018, she found a workshop in her parents’ hometown of Port-au-Prince. She met the owners, who accompanied her to the establishment and introduced her to the artisans.
“I had this idea about this bag and I was like, ‘I don’t know how to make it,’” she says. “And everything came together in synergy. I went back, showed them the bags and how I made them. We worked together to create a pattern that could be reproduced.
Petit Kouraj was born. The name means “little courage” in Haitian Creole, and Jean-Baptiste sees it as a constant reminder to keep going.
“I called him Petit Kouraj to give me this encouragement – to start and not to feel overwhelmed by a global dream”, explains Jean-Baptiste. “Just do a little something each day, just find a little courage each day to make your dream come true and really get started.”
The brand is partnering with local artisans in a collaboration with DOT Haiti to produce the fringed macrame bags, available in mini and large sizes. While the brand is mostly anchored in neutral earth tones, the designs also come in bold hues like lime green and fuchsia.
Here, Jean-Baptiste talks about building a brand, knowing when to make a career transition, and supporting black-owned businesses.
What were the most valuable lessons you learned from launching your own brand?
I am capable of more than I realize. The launch of something is proof enough of that. Often, we train in our own way. We prevent ourselves from having a learning experience because we don’t want to make mistakes. My most valuable lesson is all that I have accomplished because I started and didn’t let fear get in my way. I wish I had this foresight when I first had this idea.
How did you know you wanted to quit the style?
So many [styling] It’s about pleasing others and helping other people’s dreams and ideas come to life. I always wanted to create stuff – I tried to design for my clients. Try to put my own designs there. It was a natural transition from there where I wanted to build something long term rather than just going from client to client. I was a little under-stimulated by the style and needed a new challenge – something to wake me up again.
What upcoming collections are you working on that you can share with us?
I’m doing an exclusive launch with Browns in the UK, which should be out any minute. When I lived in London – and still to this day – it was the store for shopping. There were all the cool designer brands. I am really excited to be starting with them in the UK.
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What has been your biggest obstacle, especially as a black woman in fashion and as an entrepreneur?
Believe in myself and know that I am only limited by myself, so I should be more confident to dream bigger. What’s difficult, especially as a black designer, is that there isn’t a lot of representation. It has an effect on the way you approach things. [If] you see other people showing you a way, then it becomes easier to see yours.
Last summer a lot of industries including fashion were supporting black owned businesses and showing black squares and doing all that. Do you feel like the support lasted or not?
Brands are starting to get noticed [when] the medium is not entirely genuine. It definitely helped to get noticed and increase sales. There has been a spike in my sales for sure, but it’s definitely not sustainable. I feel like for a lot of black designers this has been such a mixed bag.
It has made my business grow because I have had a very busy year. But it was difficult even with the effects of the Covid. [My] retail partners are more aware of supporting black-owned businesses. They are more attentive and thoughtful [about] than to move forward.
How can brands authentically support and commemorate Juneteenth? How can consumers do the same?
Juneteenth is a perfect opportunity for brands to check out the contributions African Americans have made to American culture, the economy, and society as a whole. This is an opportunity to take stock of how this contribution is or is not reflected in the structure and culture of their company. Consumers can also do the same by making intentional and informed decisions about which brands they choose to invest their purchasing power in.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.