For the next month, we will have the pleasure of hosting a shoemaker from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti at our offices in Austin. Makendy Smith earned a fellowship through the Young Leaders of America Initiative (YLAI) - a program launched by President Obama - which aims to build linkages between young leaders and entrepreneurs across the western hemisphere. Makendy has agreed to share his experiences here on our blog while he's here with us. If you'd like to learn more about his business, you can check out his Facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/smithmakendysandales/.
Today's post gives you his background and how he came to be here with us.Makendy's Story
My name is Makendy Smith and I am a 33-year-old entrepreneur from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. I am the oldest of five children and support my family financially whenever necessary. I have been making sandals since I was 17 years old. As a child, I’d always get into trouble with my mother for breaking my sandals while playing soccer. One day, I found a way to fix the sandals by weaving a wristband and sewing it on the old soles, which kept me out of trouble with my mother. I was so excited about what I was able to do with my own sandals and sought help from a friend who knew how to make the soles. Eventually, I was able to produce sandals from raw materials. My first product debuted at a school fair where I gained a lot recognition from the local media and my school director. After I finished high school I went on the Ecole Nationale des Arts and studied Plastic Arts. In terms of footwear, the Haitian market is dominated by imports and I wanted to change that.
In 2003, I started operations in a small workshop under the name Makendy’s Production. Later that year, my shop was destroyed by a major fire and I had to build my facilities up again from scratch. Disaster struck again in 2005 when my business was ruined by another fire. However, the fires did not discourage me, nor weaken the love I had for my craft. During the World Cup in 2006, I saw an opportunity in the market that reenergized my business. Haitians are big fans of soccer, so I brought out a new line of sandals with the flags and colors of national teams that Haitians are passionate about. (Brasil and Argentina are the two most popular teams). In 2010, tragedy struck a third time when Haiti was devastated by a magnitude seven earthquake. My facility did not suffer physical damage but it was heavily looted after the earthquake. After the earthquake, I found assistance through a support program for young entrepreneurs and began rebuilding my business once again. With the support of this program, and with the help of two partners, I formed MAK PA NOU CREATION as an official business once again.
I am very passionate about my art and I truly love what I do. I don’t have any business or entrepreneurship background but I am currently working to change that. I am very eager to learn new skills to improve my business. In 2012 I attended workshop classes at the Universite Quiskeya in entrepreneurship. I am also a recipient of many prestigious awards and have been recognized in Haiti for my craftsmanship. One of my greatest accomplishments was receiving the title of “Artisan of the Year” in 2011 and I was also a regional finalist for “entrepreneur of the year” in 2012.
In the long run, I want to expand my business internationally, preferably to the United States. One of my many missions is to project a different image of Haiti outside of the country through my sandals and to give pride to Haiti. I also want to change lives and improve the Haitian community through my business.
I was so fortunate this year to be selected for President’s Obama Program - (YLAI) Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative - a program of the U.S. Department Of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and implemented by the Meridian International Center. This was for amazing news for me. My small company in Haiti, specializing in the manufacturing of handcrafted sandals, is now in the United States to continue to learn and gain experience at an fellowship. Beginning today, I will work with Fortress of Inca, a company that makes shoes, boots and accessories with artisans from Peru. I will work directly with the CEO to learn more about making, selling, marketing, management and so much more, and will be able to apply these lessons to my business, MAK PA NOU CREATION, and when I go back home to Haiti I can share my experiences and knowledge with those around me.