Tribe Stories: Françoise Elizée

Elevation Tribe

Haitian-born Françoise Elizée holds dear the women of her native country. So when Elizee, a fashion designer and entrepreneur, and her photographer friend (Pipe Yanguas) thought about producing a book together, it didn’t take long to hone in on the subject. “Haiti Rediscovered” profiles a dozen female entrepreneurs from the country who are redefining the image of the working class of the often maligned republic. Elizee tells Elevation Tribe what inspired the project:

Tell us a bit about your background.

I relocated to Miami with my family at the age of 13.  I then went on to study at the University of Miami and earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing and a master’s degree in international business. Straight out of college I began working in my family’s business, RIKA, which focuses on food commodities’ trade.  While still working with my family, in 2009 I launched my first collection of exotic skins handbags. I plan to launch my first jewelry collection towards the end of 2019.

Pipe Yanguas (the photographer of “Haiti Rediscovered”) is a very close friend of mine for over 15 years. I always encouraged him to publish a book that would show his amazing photography. While catching up after one of his whirlwind trips, he suggested working together on a book on Haiti, and I thought “Why not?”

How did you get the idea for the book?

Following that conversation, Pipe and I took the idea seriously. We wanted to make sure to choose a topic that’s never been talked about in Haiti.

Why do you think this book needed to be written now?

Unfortunately, Haiti is constantly being portrayed in the media by its misfortunes and constant “bad luck.”  There is a beautiful side to the country that the world does not know and has yet to discover. There are many topics Pipe and I could have chosen being that the Haitian culture is so rich, however, as a strong woman myself, I feel that women, in general, are often forgotten.  Haitian women are known as the “potomitan” in a family. “Potomitan” is the center pole of a tent that holds it up and keeps it together. I feel it’s time Haitian women get the recognition they deserve.

How did you find your subjects, and what, besides their ties to Haiti, makes them so special?

The book features 12 entrepreneurial women from Haiti.  They come from different walks of life, and what ties them together is their determination, their hard work and most importantly their contribution to the country’s economy. We selected each woman based on their industry, and their products had to be of exceptional quality and ready for export.

Why do you think your subjects make great entrepreneurs?

These women work under the most rigorous conditions yet they make it happen every single day.  They are growing their business in the local market and providing jobs.

What do you want people to know about Haiti?

Our people are kind, hard-working and ready to work.  One of the country’s most valuable asset are its people, their work ethics, skills and craftsmanship.

How did working for the family business teach you about entrepreneurship?

My parents founded our family business in Haiti.  The brand has been one of the leaders in the market for the past 25 years.  Having worked under my parents’ guidance has not only instilled the entrepreneur spirit within me but it has also taught me the most important skills needed to own your business.  

Some people have said entrepreneurship is in your blood. Do you think that’s true?

That is very true.  I see the same traits in my brother and sister.

What’s the best piece of business advice you ever received ?

Love what you do 🙂