Catherine Edouard Charlot: A Conversation with the Eco-Sustainable Creator of Himane
Have you ever heard of a nocturnal designer? No? Well, meet your first one Catherine Edouard Charlot of the accessories and apparel line Himane.
Edouard Charlot, who is based in New York, admits to getting most of her ideas for her sustainable line in the dead of night. “It is my best moment and ideas pour in my head like water in a beautiful fountain,” she says. This inspirational spurt is usually followed by a 10-minute stretch session, a shower around midnight, a bit of reading while listening to some relaxing music and bedtime, usually by 1:00 A.M. And the next day the grind begins all over again for the environment-friendly designer. Would you believe that Edouard Charlot made her first design from an umbrella? The European Union Women Inventors and Innovators Network recently gave her a special award in recognition for her “Innovative and Exceptional Creativity”. And “creative” is an understated adjective to describe the designer’s work. Himane’s Ayity Tote bags, for example, are made from recycled disaster tarp tent. Her Femi consists of material from discarded old man’s shirts.
The uniqueness of her designs began to garner the attention of everyone from the editorial staff of Oprah magazine, to CNN, and NBC New York. At one point, even Rio de Janeiro’s TV Brasil came calling. For Edouard Charlot—who has been adhering to a self-directed program of Recycle, Repurpose, Reuse, Reduce, Upcycle from the first time she made her first designs—all this attention must have been pleasing.
But long before the whole green trend, long before sustainable design became a phrase du jour, and eco-consciousness became popular among the masses, Eduoard Charlot was a little girl on the island of Haiti, dreaming and creating from discarded scraps. What’s more a considerable percentage of Himane’s profits go towards helping teens in Haiti. Shall we discuss her work and her journey together?
You created your first piece when you were 13? Yes, I did. It was after our regular seamstress did not give me the actual design I chose. Upset and all, I told my mother that from now on I will be making my own clothes and will never go to a seamstress.
So you attended Verona Alta Costura School of Fashion, a design institute in Haiti. Since I did not have any training prior and felt that it was the career I wanted to get into, I forced my dad to get me into going to Verona which was a new international school of design in Haiti. But it was after many years of making clothes for friends, wedding gowns for people and all. I wanted to learn more to be a professional and get all the training pertaining to fashion.
Himane is quite an interesting name for a fashion line. Is the story behind its origin equally interesting? Himane was my mother’s first name. In 1998, when I was looking for a name to register my business out of a joke my mom suggested that I used her name. Since she was my best friend, my mother, my companion, my confident and the person who always pushed me to move forward, it was an honor to chose to use her beautiful name and also I wanted something original and dear to my heart. After she suddenly passed away in 2006, I vowed to never change the name.
How do you manage the pressures of life as a designer with other responsibilities? It is hard in this day of age. But what keeps me going is my focus on helping others creating a better place in the environment by recycling what they use to see as trash.
You were doing eco-conscious designs long before it caught the mainstream. Honestly, I have been recycling since I was 13, practically 30 something years ago. Remember, my first dress and the way I taught myself how to sew was by recycling an old shirt from my dad and turn it into a dress. I also had an export business many years ago when I was still leaving in Haiti, at that time I was collecting old glass bottles—wine and others—to paint them, old drums was turning into beautiful piece of arts and so forth. So it was no surprise when I started making bags and clothes in 2002 from recycled umbrellas. People see the glitz, the glamour, the fancy threads. Are there rough moments in the life of a designer? Rough moments are not even the right word [laughter]. That’s the problem on this business. It is not green everyday, it is not glamorous all the time. It is a tough business, very challenging and a business that can be very draining. So, yes, it is a tough business to be in and I wish other designers can come up and say more because all that glamour, the glitz and the fancy thread can be just a façade.
Can clothes make a woman beautiful, and can they make a man debonair? For me a woman, a person is always beautiful because it is all depends [on] the state of mind of that human being. Clothes can, yes, make you feel beautiful, but it is all depends on your state of mind and unfortunately I don’t think that clothes can make a man debonair. It can maybe make him feel that way. Is the fashion world as cut-throat as it has been portrayed at times? Yes and much more than that unfortunately.
The life of a successful designer has many rewards. Do you have a special moment in your career thus far, where you said to yourself, “Catherine girl, you have arrived.” No, not yet. Since my focus is a little more different that others, I don’t think I will be able to say that so soon. But I am very happy to what I had achieved so far.
Do you happen to have a favorite piece in your collection? I love them all, because they are all created out of love. But I love my compact travel bags the most—Erisna and Corai.
What’s the best thing about being Haitian? All and everything that make me, my beautiful country and culture. I am in love with this place because it has so much to offer if we can take time to really see it.
What inspires most of your work? Nature, people.
You moved to Haiti from New York in the mid 1990s. How was that experience? I guess I did it in the right time and the right frame of mind.
You are obviously very attached to Haiti. Do you envision starting a fashion school there eventually? Or starting some initiative, perhaps a designer’s contest to help launch the careers of up-and-comers? Yes, I am very much so. My roots are planted here, my family, my friends are here and there is nothing like home. My plan is to have a sustainable school for the youth where they will come and learn about sustainability, the environment, recycling and become an entrepreneur and a voice for their community.
While we’re on this subject, do you have any lessons that you’d like to share with those who are thinking about a career in fashion? It is a great field, but you need to have a strong backbone and please try not to get into it for the fame and money. It will eat you alive. Have a focus, a plan and stick to it.