when she was sixteen years old, my mother, Yolette Fontaine (left pic) - the eldest girl of five children of Emmanuel and Christiane Fontaine, was given a passport and $500 as a gift from her older brother, Michelet. she turned that passport and funding into a business and began traveling to the United States and Panama, purchasing goods to re-sell in Haiti. this endeavor afforded her the opportunity and the means to thrive successfully in a space where poverty was the norm. by the time I was born in 1980, my mother had put herself through engineering school, was a teacher and a seamstress (a skill she had acquired from her mother and aunt, Uranie, who made women's clothing and her father who fabricated leather goods).
in December of 1987, my mother and i, Joelle Wendy Fontaine (right pic) migrated (or rather fled) to the United States from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, due to political unrest. in the midst of the turmoil of the Duvalier regime and Jean-Claude's (Haitian President at the time) exile, my mother lost everything. her prominent boutique in Delma was burned to the ground by militia (Ton Ton Macoutes) and safety was a major concern. every night we would fall asleep to a symphony of gun shots. i refused to sleep on the bed in fear of being hit by a stray bullet. i had seen humans set a blaze, adorned with tires around their necks, and heard my neighbors raped in the middle of the night. i found solace underneath the mattress, close to the cool, fresh ceramic earth- where i could lay silently until morning. my mom was sure i would have a heart attack. in her efforts to protect me, we left home to find solace in America.
as an immigrant in the United States, my mother has endured... prejudice and racism as it pertains to the color of her skin and her thick accent, classism, sexism and disrespect as a woman standing on her own two feet, the perception of her seeming uneducated because she is not a native speaker, disappointments from life partners who promised forever. she has raised three children as a single mother on minimum wage, overcoming the odds- reinventing herself time and time again. she is the hero we all aspire to and the inspiration behind the I Am Kreyol fashion brand.
as a young woman, i aspired to be an architect. in my second year of college, i became pregnant, got married and left school to take care of my family. i was a stay-at-home mom for three years, during which i started to experiment through a variety of creative outlets to maintain a sense of self. i began taking clothing apart and putting them back together, teaching myself how to sew and design items i had only previously seen in my subconscious. at 23, i was invited by a friend to a fashion conference at New York Fashion Week and decided to submit the only three garments i had created to date to be considered as a potential designer for their runway presentation. i was an artist at that point- not a designer. i had absolutely no idea what i was doing, but i had passion, grit, talent and the audacity to believe i belonged there. i learned a valuable lesson in that trajectory in life- if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, everyone will believe it's a duck. i was immediately accepted, and with only seven days to showtime (and maybe 15 hours of sleep in total that week) i created my first collection of 12 full looks, entitled "Kaleidoscope". the rest is history.
I Am Kreyol.
as i started to expand, doing more shows, more editorials, i could no longer handle it on my own. my mother came on as my right (and left) hand- my seamstress. with her superior expertise in garment construction and free style (the woman barely works off of patterns) and my visual compass for vibrant colors, eccentric complimentary/contradicting fabrics, and bold design- it was the perfect marriage for the I Am Kreyol brand.
we create high fashion quality garments that make women feel like powerful pieces of art. we want you to feel beautiful, but more importantly- strong enough to be your best self. through this venture, our goal is to utilize fashion as a catalyst for change and empowerment, working with disenfranchised, Haitian immigrant women in the United States (and eventually in Haiti) on training for production, thus contributing to their overall success and sustainability. we believe that we are our sister's keeper and aim to utilize fashion to inspire and make a difference in the world.
Joelle Wendy Fontaine-- I Am Kreyol designer