My name is Manoucheka van der Pol. I was born in Haiti and adopted with my older sister by my Dutch family when I was three years old.
Growing up in a big family in the countryside in the Netherlands has really shaped my personality. As I grew older I felt a connection to Haiti grow stronger and I wanted to find out more about it and uncover the Haitian woman inside of me that had been hidden for so long.
I graduated as a major in fashion design at the Willem de Kooning Art Academy in Rotterdam and then worked in different fields in fashion as a fashion designer, visual merchandiser, as well as a freelance stylist for different commercial brands. Working for big commercial companies gave me a firsthand look at how fast fashion develops and the effect was that I found myself becoming more interested in sustainable, ethical craftsmanship.
An aspiration of mine has always been to work in Haiti and to make a contribution to the development of Haitian society. Seeing the ongoing struggles of the Haitian people in the news always had an effect on me. In 2017 I really felt that it was the right time for me to go back to Haiti. I wanted to combine my two passions: to volunteer for a sustainable creative organization and to learn about my country of birth. I wanted to stay in Haiti for a couple of months to really experience life there. An extended stay there also meant more time to get work done. My journey began by researching platforms for emerging Haitian craftsmanship and that's how I found Haiti Design Co.
I worked as a designer for the Haiti Design Co design fellowship for 5 months. For the new collection I tried to stay true to the craftsmanship and style of Haiti Design Co. My inspiration came from the beauty and fibered look of the island in combination with minimalistic and timeless shapes and forms. Using neutral colors and mixing leather and canvas was a key point in the collection. I loved working in the studio where I had the freedom to play around, work on designs and make patterns. The sewing team worked downstairs where the leatherwork and fabrics were back-stocked. As a designer, having all this at my fingertips was really great.
The sewing ladies were very driven and picked up different techniques quite fast. Everyone was so enthusiastic and eager to learn new technique. I was so amazed at how talented and skilled the sewing team was. I wanted to create a collaborative atmosphere where I received as well as offered feedback. The end result was that we all learned from one another.
Working for Haiti Design Co was a life changing experience, it was love at first sight. It was an amazing and natural collaboration. No lengthy meetings were needed to finalize this collection. The designs came together naturally. I learned that overcoming your fears brings you closer to yourself and leads you to places and experiences that your life wouldn't have taken you otherwise.
Moving to Haiti was a big step for me. Returning to the place I was born was deep fear within myself that I never even realized I had. I was preventing myself from realizing the whole of my identity, which finally came into view during the time I spent there. I couldn't have done it without Haiti Design Co, who became my Haitian family. I was back in Haiti for the first time after many years and Haiti Design Co was the family that I returned to. I could never have imagined how important this journey ended up being for me and I will keep this amazing memory in my heart forever.
During her Design Fellowship, Manoucheka designed our holiday line, released last October, as well as our new Summer bag line, released in May. You can shop some of these new designs below, and if interested in applying for a Design Fellowship with our team, you can apply here.