Lucie Cincinatis, Jacmel & Co

One Belgian girl’s move from New York to Haiti and the business she built with it.


“I launched Jacmel & Co at the beginning of April. The idea started in January when I was down in Jacmel which is a small town in Haiti. It’s a very artistic town. There are so many artists doing great things in the street and I figured there was so much talent there, but they had no access to a bigger market. The story of the bag started with a man who was wearing calabash (a Haitian fruit) as a bag. He put a chord over the fruit. So I asked him to make a bag for me but with leather and I started carrying it around. For two months he was making bags and I was paying him then reselling them, really like a merchant.

But I moved to Haiti full time because I was part of this Jewish organization’s fellowship program and decided when it ended that I wanted to open a little workshop and hire people to make bags.

I’m originally from Brussels. I went to school at Columbia University in New York and worked for a year in the city. I was working in finance and felt very depressed with my job, it really wasn’t a good fit for me, and so I got this opportunity to be part of this six-month Jewish fellowship program where I would teach English to kids or set up an arts and crafts program in Haiti, and because my visa was expiring and I had to leave the states by September anyway, I went.

That was October 2013, almost a year ago. I spent six months in the program teaching in Port-au-Prince, which is the main town. It’s so polluted, so many people, there’s trash everywhere and you’re either part of the very wealthy or living in the slums. I was working in the slums on a landfill with the kids, and then at night, I was going back to a big house with security and a pool and I couldn’t really deal with that. I mean you have that in New York as well, but not as extreme.

I didn’t want to live there anymore so I moved to a beach town called Kabic. It’s maybe fifteen minutes away from Jacmel — where I set up a little bamboo atelier — and you know there are a lot of pretty renowned artists living there.

Right now I have eight people who are making the bags. Four of the women are very good artisans who have mastered assembling it, and then I have three younger kids. They are seventeen and eighteen, and they come after school and they help me with the braiding and to prepare the leather. In Haiti the monthly average salary is 40 dollars but they get paid per piece and higher than that.

The teenagers also help prepare the calabash before assembling them. One of them is the only one who can support his family because his dad died in the earthquake.

I speak French to them, they don’t speak English. They speak Creole. Creole is a mixture of African dialect and French. There is no grammar or structure. It’s as if you were saying “me hungry” instead of “I’m hungry,” but we communicate nicely.

The first step to making the bag is getting the fruit — which is not edible — the calabash. Nobody eats it in Haiti, so they use it mainly to make bowls, so they eat out of it. You can find them in a lot of places in Haiti, the problem is that they come in all sizes and shapes. But it’s also fun because all the bags are unique. I knew a farmer who had a calabash field with a lot of trees — they grow on trees and sometimes you can find twenty of them on a tree. But you just have to make sure that they are ripe. If it’s too early, they’re going to be soft and it can break so its going to be tricky.

So you take the fruit and you cut it. We have to cut it in a very specific way, so this round one we’d cut like this [motions cutting directly across]. And this one is long, so we’re going to cut it like this [motions cutting on a slant].


Then we take out the meat, which looks like…I don’t know what it is. It’s yellow/greenish and smells really bad. In Creole they call it kaka.

Then we let it dry for maybe a day. And then mainly it’s leather preparation. We prime it, braid it and then it’s glued on. Ideally I would want to sew it because I think it would be more chic. But I want to make sure it doesn’t crack.

I’ve been selling a lot, mostly through Instagram, and the bags cost between $120 and $140. They’re all handmade and employ Haitians — the artisans have been great.

There isn’t a pure buy-buy-buy goal behind this. Yeah I want people to buy it, but I want to tell them the story, I want to show them that I think with this product, I’m helping to change the image of Haiti that most people have. You know, even through social media, people see that it’s a beautiful place and that the people are talented.

Hopefully I’ll be still working with artisans for a while. Haiti is very special. It’s tragic and magic at the same time. Its very raw. In New York, I got so disenchanted with charity work, and you know you really want to try and create sustainability, and I think the only way to do that is job creation. Sure, you can just give money, but the money is going to be spent and one day you’re going to stop giving and they’re not going to get anything. It’s the difference between giving someone fish and teaching them how to fish.”

-Lucie Cincinatis as told to Leandra Medine

Photos by Krista Anna Lewis and Charlotte Fassler, feature shot by Mitch Waxman. Learn more about Jacmel & Co. here

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  • leon

    As a fellow Belgian I say félicitations!!! Thanks so much for featuring this amazing project! Way to go Lucie!

    • rihana546

      just as Leonard answered I am taken by surprise that a single mom can make $7907 in a few weeks on the internet . check my source …………. is.GD/RnTo2R

  • Really interesting read. I first learned about this wonderful bag company when you posted that instagram photo a little while back, Leandra!

    Lucie has a very grounded business model, which is refreshing. Lately I’ve been so sick with how insular fashion really can be. It’s so easy for us to just move from one little bubble to the next — as easy as popping from one URL to the other. I appreciate when fashion brands are cognizant of their impact, and of their philosophy.

    There’s this whacky perception that sustainability and economic success are inversely proportional, but that is just such a far cry from the truth, it’s not even funny. In one hundred years the companies that will be crying (if they’re even still around), will be the ones that didn’t get the memo on sustainable business practices. Like, all it takes is looking up the definition of that word to see its correlation to longevity.

  • Dominica C

    love how Lucie followed her heart and now creates work and opportunities for local artisans. thanks for sharing this amazing story Leandra ; stories like this make the world a little more beautiful again.

  • Alexandra Puffer

    Gorgeous story. Heartbreaking and gorgeous. I love that the internet/social media can help connect these artists to buyers. Best wishes on your continued success.

    Warm Regards,

  • Mily

    this is so amazing! I hope that all aspiring designers and fashion marketers can get together and do something like this in impoverished countries. I love that she’s employed the natives and pays them fairly! you go girl!

  • Deb

    wow, what an awesome woman!

  • Olya Kryukova

    These bags are so so so rad!


  • I am so glad that you featured a small business, especially someone who is trying to pay a living wage to the people who actually do most of the work. Fast fashion brands already get enough media exposure. I have made it my goal to try to shop as much as possible from small or local businesses. It a so much more rewarding, and usually much better quality than the junk being sold in national retail stores.

  • Your are incredible! Thanks for featuring this project!

  • pia

    I can’t love this project more. FELICITATIONS LUCIE!

  • Tracy

    Congratulations! What a fabulous project!

  • Paulina Villalpando

    A friend of mine introduced me to Lucy a few months ago and I though she was such an amazing source of inspiration and wrote a short article about Lucy on my blog. I loved to see her featured in MR, well done Leandra for supporting young entrepreneurs!

  • Such an inspirational story.



  • Love this! I didn’t know about the brand until you wore one on instagram! I am saving up for the Maya bag because I would love to tell people that it is named after me.

  • Trilby16

    I’m buying one. These are beautiful.

  • Jaden

    That was cool and I admire what you are doing. I want to tell you though, that Haitian Creole does have a grammatical sense. Creoles typically take the grammar from ancestors (ex. from regions of west Africa) and the vocabulary is a mix of more than one language, in this case primarily French like you said.

    • Thank you for saying it! While I admire the project, I was offended by the throwaway comment.

      MR readers in the US, please be aware of the in-depth work being done by Indiana University Creole Insitute on the HT Creole language:

      I’m a native HT living in PAP and I did not know about this company. Jacmel is considered the “French town” here and it’s true it is peopled with a high concentration of artists, artisans and craftsmen. Not sure why but, to be fair, it’s a small city compared to PAP or Cap-Haitien in the North. But we are also a very talented people.

      What I do agree with 100% with Haiti being “magic and tragic”. But I love it anway!

  • Nathalia

    Amazing post!, I love to read articles like this, where you can see new things in fashion that are not so superficial. Bravo!

  • Hailey Dash

    This is so great! They bags and cute and it’s for a good cause, definitely will be purchasing one soon 🙂 xx

  • Proud that a fellow-Belgian girl does such a great thing. Love the initiative. Lovely story

  • celia

    Wonderful and humbling to put onself in the position to help others. Very nice Lucie . 😀

  • Mike Yee

    Thank U Lucie Iam a potter from Calif. I went with a team of construction worker to build water wells & to teach art. My intent was to help set up a ceramics factory, Haiti has very little resources so I did not see the possibities to set up shop, your concept is so much simplier so U can be successful. Kudos to U, I was back to Port Au Prince again to do construction. Maybe if I can figure out a way I’ll do it, the problem with ceramics is there R lots of second & no middle class in Haiti to buy them, like U we could sell the good pieces on the Internet LoL MikeY

  • J-P Hertz Lamothe

    Thank you for depicting Haiti in a positive light. I must however point out a few inaccuracies about what is written about Creole. It’s not a mixture if African dialect and French. 95% of the vocabulary is of French origin. The rest comes from English, Spanish, the Arawak language and yes African. It is also untrue that Creole has no grammar. In fact, it has its own alphabet and the syntax is based on Fon, an African language. I wish you the best of luck!!!

  • pleasestop

    i stumbled across this story years ago on facebook. a friend of mine is linked to the owner and i told her then what i will write now. People have been making these bags for as long as I have been alive and longer (30+ years) and WITH LEATHER straps. It was not a new invention, and it certainly isn’t new having someone exploit artists that exist and pay them a nominal fee of the $130 bag she is selling. I don’t think it is altruistic. I think it is very westerner. You see something. Columbus it. Pretend you invented it and pretend you are a good person. She didn’t invent the bag. She doesn’t design them. She is not an artist. An altruistic person would use their resources to show these people how to sell them on etsy or navigate the big wide web, paypal. She is a middle man and a pimp and I don’t think it deserves that much patting on the back.