Published: 22 Aug, '22

ATELIER CALLA: Timeless and Beyond Borders

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When a passion becomes a profession and materials combine to support creativity and quality… Atelier Calla strives most earnestly to attract markets, with the Caribbean in mind! Caribbean Export intends to support the company’s approach and help Atelier Calla to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the region.

When Christelle Chignard Paul started to imagine jewelry and accessories out of horn or wood, it was more a hobby than a profession. Raised in Belgium, each stay in Haiti was an opportunity for her to find the beads and materials t traditional craftsmen used to produce all kinds of souvenirs. that inhabited her childhood memory.

In 1998, when she returned to her country, she realized the immense possibilities these materials offered. In 2007 she started a small production workshop, making pieces mainly from ox horn, which she assembled herself. After the earthquake, solicited by distressed artisans, she decided to formally establish Atelier Calla in 2011.

Paradoxically, the disaster marked a turning point in Christelle’s career and in the future of Atelier Calla. Donna Karan came to visit Haiti, which was under rubbles at the time and was captivated by Calla’s approach and products. She discovered the burnt appearance of the horns that the artisans removed through polishing that Christelle keeps in her creations. The American designer added her personal touch to this technique by working with the Calla workshop on original collections. This gave new visibility to Haiti and its artistic potential.

A showcase…that is exactly what Haiti’s creative craftsmanship needs, and even more so that of Atelier Calla, whose refined, contemporary and indeed timeless productions appeals to an international audience. Atelier Calla has already evolved from jewelry to tables setting accessories, which tastefully combines the noble pieces it transforms. And it is a success! In the workshop on Rue du Centre street, in the heart of downtown Port-au-Prince, twelve people, including five artisans, work with Christelle. Three young women work on assembling and finishing the products before they are shipped. She teaches them about quality control and the importance of being consistent in putting the final touches to the products and in their packaging.

Atelier Calla grows through innovation, focusing on research and quality. “Horn is a living material, which evolves according to the amount of humidity. You have to find the right glue and the right materials”, explains the entrepreneur, who continuously invests in creativity, quality and sustainability. Her designs are often copied, which is one of the challenges she faces in Haiti, however her strategy is to move on to another product when the market is flooded with copies, often of lower quality.

Following Donna Karan’s visit, it was Macy’s, the famous American retailer, who took an interest in Atelier Calla’s products. At that time, around 2015, the country’s leitmotif was “Open for Business” and Haiti was buzzing with activities and NGOs. It was then that Atelier Calla became acquainted with Artisan Business Network (ABN), an NGO that took her to a fair in New York and introduced her to the U.S. market. “Participating in a fair gives you a certain credibility. You have to have the means to participate and have inventory. This reflects on the seriousness of the company. It is an industry where you have to see, touch, meet and make sure that the person you are talking to is there for the long haul”, explains the entrepreneur.

Atelier CALLA was exporting its products while still satisfying the local market that appreciated its creativity, when COVID came along and put an obstacle in the way of its expansion…

At that time, Atelier Calla was working on a bi-national collection, within the framework of the Symbiose project, initiated by Caribbean Export. The initiative brings together students and designers around jewelry.

Caribbean Export is also supporting another project that will allow Christelle to get a foothold in the Dominican market, through a programme financed by the trade and private sector support component of the bi-national HT-RD programme within the framework of the 11th European Development Fund (EDF) of the European Union.

Invited to a training in digital graphics design for jewelry, Atelier CALLA met with representatives of Jenny Polanco. Something clicked! The Dominican brand was captivated by the contemporary aspect of Calla’s creations, which were different from the often very ethnic or folkloric connotation of local craftsmanship. The combination of traditional materials such as horn and wood with modern lines and trendy designs, appealing to a wide range of cultures, hit the mark. Atelier Calla received an order for samples and then a test order for table setting accessories: napkin rings, knives and cheese boards. “It’s a great opportunity to be able to work with Jenny Polanco’s team. Their open-mindedness, their encouragement in providing a sophisticated and luxurious touch to the collection…. They trusted me and I think I convinced them of our ability to create and produce accessories under the Polanco brand name.”

Atelier Calla has seized the opportunity given this first commission and will continue the artistic collaboration by proposing its own creations, and making products which reflect the style and specific esthetics of the Dominican brand’s collections. The small Haitian company is familiar with manufacturing for foreign designers. Approximately 30% of its production is destined for these brands in the U.S. market, the most buoyant export market for Atelier Calla. To meet this demand and these orders, “the biggest challenge today is the supply of raw materials and the rising costs of energy and transportation, which affects everything. Every time we get back up after an obstacle, we are presented with another imponderable one”, says Christelle Chignard Paul. But the small workshop has managed to build an image and a reputation that allow it to envisage real regional and international expansion. The important thing is to be known and represented, to find opportunities and to attend trade fairs abroad. In our very promising Caribbean region, the first country we have conquered is the Dominican Republic!

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