A Celeb-Backed Apparel Factory in Haiti Goes High-End
Monday, September 23, 2013
When apparel brand Boxercraft was searching for a new supplier for its T-shirts and tank tops earlier this year, it didn’t turn to factories that crank out millions on the cheap. Instead, the 120-employee business, based near Atlanta, chose Industrial Revolution II, a garment manufacturer in Haiti. What clinched the deal was more than IRII’s competitive prices and low importing costs: It was the venture’s promise to train unemployed Haitians, pay them more than the minimum wage, and donate half its profits to social programs. Shoppers are “feeling responsible for the actual employee that is making the products that everyone is wearing today,” says Boxercraft Chief Executive Officer Shelley Foland, noting that the garment complex collapse that killed 1,100 workers in Bangladesh this spring has brought renewed focus on the dismal conditions in some factories. Foland wants IRII eventually to produce about 40 percent of the millions of tops and bottoms Boxercraft sells annually through wholesalers and retailers in college bookstores and resorts.
Backed by designer Donna Karan, actor Matt Damon, and Joey Adler, CEO of Diesel Canada, IRII started production at its 35,000-square-foot facility in Port-au-Prince in early September. The ultimate goal is to land orders from Western brands for more upscale clothes—the sort that usually go to plants in New York, Los Angeles, or Milan—instead of the low-value work that is the mainstay of Haitian factories. IRII co-founder and CEO Rob Broggi says the venture was born out of frustration with the “outright failure” of global relief efforts after the 2010 earthquake. “The people in Haiti don’t want handouts,” says Broggi, a former U.S. hedge fund manager. “They want economic opportunity and good jobs.”