On The Map: Sharing My Story with Western Union
I am a creative director and founder of Fanm Djanm, a lifestyle brand dedicated to celebrate strong women everywhere. Western Union engaged me to participate in their “On the Map with Western Union” program where they are exploring the inspiration and innovation that different heritages inspire. I’m sharing how my culture inspires my work and creativity.
Up a steep hill in Petion-Ville, just a few minutes away from the Saint Jean Bosco church, stood a two-story house that came with a tropical almond tree leaning proudly on its side, and many, many colorful secrets. Number 10 was the address of that house. It was the home of many loud, sassy, and strong women.
A timid little girl was raised in that house. She would hang out on the second-floor balcony facing the street, and would immerse herself and her wild imagination in the lives of all the passersby that caught her eye.
“Men maaaaaaaabi! Mabi a jeleeeeeee! Mabi!” A street vendor would yell while balancing a heavy bucket of the cold, bitter beverage on her head with a train of metal cups hanging on the side. “Hey! Hey!” The sound would travel like a sharp knife through the air. A beautiful young woman would cover her mouth as soon as it came out. Her friend probably whispered something they shouldn’t have been sharing. Their smiles brighter than the full moon on a clear summer night.
The little girl would later attempt that noise, and her mother throw her a look that would send an icy chill down her back. She would then swallow the words and made sure they no longer escaped her mouth. “Educated little girls do not make these kinds of noises,” her mother would tell her with a stern face. That observant, timid little girl was me. I grew up in a colorful house up the hills in Petion-Ville, a small town in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. And my dream is to share my colors with the world.
Fanm Djanm’s main product is the headwrap, an accessory that symbolizes beauty, strength, and African culture. I’m inspired by hard-working women who work with their hands, like the street vendors in Haiti who can balance dozens of pounds on their heads while sashaying down the street in order to put food on the table and send their children to school. In my photographs, I show a lot of fruits, flowers, and books. These objects are very important in my daily life and I grew fonder of them when my family moved to a one-bedroom apartment in Newark, NJ. I noticed how the fresh fruits were replaced by fast food chain restaurants. How loving to read seemed like a strange hobby to my peers. How fresh flowers didn’t really exist anymore.
As I gained control of my adult life, my creativity, and my work, I am helping to normalize black girl joy, black women reading, and being soft and vulnerable. Everything that I choose to do and feature in my work is a reflection of my culture, my past, and my desire to live and explore. Black women are put in so many boxes, it’s almost exhausting to list them all.
My childhood in Haiti taught me more than I could ever imagine. It birthed my curiosity and desire to explore beyond my measures. When I finally moved to the states, revisiting that little girl who would dream of building tall ladders to look at the world, kept me grounded. Each time I visited her, I would get to a happy place, a peaceful place. A place that told me that once I could think it, I could achieve it. That little girl makes me see the potential in others. She allows me to think outside of the box, and not to focus on what I don’t have, but rather on what I can create with what I have.
Women around the world wear Fanm Djanm headwraps. And since I started, many headwrap companies launched right after. When I first started the business, I was terrified. I thought I would be made fun of because not many people around me were wearing headwraps. I did not invent headwraps, but I made it more accessible. Through my work, I’ve been able to prove that it’s not something women should only wear while running errands nor is it a costume. It is a beautiful accessory we should all be proud to wear. Even on the red carpet!
It all started when I realized that I felt the most beautiful when I embraced my natural features and wore my hair short. Then, I started playing around with different scarves I owned and began wrapping my hair. People would ask me why I did it, and others would ask me how I did it. I was managing two restaurants in Harlem when the idea to launch Fanm Djanm came to mind right after I went to buy some fabric at the African market. I went to all the African shops in Harlem, and none of them sold headwraps. They only had fabrics by the yards, so I bought a few yards and started playing in my studio apartment. Soon enough, I realized a yard of fabric was not enough. Women who have never wrapped their hair before, would not be interested in struggling to wrap a piece of unfinished product. I had to make it easier for them to want to buy it. I cut the fabric various sizes and shapes, and settled on one that made sense to me based on how much space and money I had. And that’s when it all began…how has your culture influenced you today? Share with me using #OnTheMapWU, can’t wait to hear your story.
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Western Union