Designer Nasrin Jean-Baptiste On Supporting Juneteenth In A Real Way

“Take audit of the contributions African Americans have made.”

Originally Published: 
Petit Kouraj designer Nasrin Jean-Baptiste opens up about drawing inspiration from Haiti and support...
Courtesy Petit Kouraj
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Nasrin Jean-Baptiste had a hunch she’d end up becoming a designer one day — she just didn’t quite know what that would look like.

“I always had this idea in my head for a fashion brand,” Jean-Baptiste tells Bustle. “It took me a long time to get it started.”

Born in London, Jean-Baptiste moved to New York in 2012, where she worked with Alicia Keys as a stylist for several years. All the while, she kept thinking through potential business ideas.

During a part-birthday, part-research trip to Haiti in 2018, she found a workshop in her parents’ hometown of Port-Au-Prince. She met with the owners, who walked her through the facility and introduced her to the artisans.

“I had this idea about this bag and I was like, ‘I don’t know how to get it made,’” she says. “And everything synergistically came together. I went back, showed them the bags, and how I made them. We worked together to create a pattern that could be reproduced.”

Petit Kouraj was born. The name means “little courage” in Haitian Creole, and Jean-Baptiste sees it as a constant reminder to keep going.

“I called it Petit Kouraj to give myself that encouragement — to make a start and not to feel overwhelmed by an overarching dream,” says Jean-Baptiste. “Just do a little something every day, just find a little bit of courage every day to see your dream through and really make a start.”

The brand partners with local artisans as part of a collaboration with DOT Haiti to produce the fringe macramé bags, which are available in mini and large sizes. Although the brand is rooted primarily in neutral earth tones, the designs also come in vibrant shades like lime green and fuchsia.

Courtesy Petit Kouraj

Here, Jean-Baptiste opens up about creating a brand, knowing when to make a career transition, and supporting Black-owned businesses.

What have been the most valuable lessons you’ve learned in launching your own brand?

I am capable of more than I think I am. The launching of something is proof enough. Often, we get in our own way. We prevent ourselves from having a learning experience because we don’t want to make a mistake. My most valuable lesson is how much I’ve achieved because I started and didn’t let fear get in the way. I wish I could have had that foresight when I first came up with this idea.

How did you know you wanted to transition out of styling?

So much of [styling] is about pleasing other people and helping other people’s dreams and ideas come to life. I always wanted to create stuff — I would try and design for my clients. Try and get my own designs in there. It was a natural transition from that, where I wanted to build something long-term rather than just switch from client to client. I got a little bit under-stimulated by styling and needed a new challenge — something to wake me up again.

What upcoming collections are you working on that you can share with us?

I am doing an exclusive launch with Browns in the UK, which should be out any minute now. When I lived in London — and still to this day — it was the store to shop in. It had every cool designer brand. I’m really excited to be launching with them in the UK.

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What’s been your biggest hurdle, especially as a Black woman in fashion and being an entrepreneur?

Believing in myself and knowing I’m only limited by myself, so I should be more confident to dream bigger. What’s difficult, especially as a Black female designer, is there’s not that much representation. That has an effect on how you approach things. [If] you see other people showing you a pathway, then it becomes easier to see your own.

Last summer, many industries, including fashion, were getting behind Black-owned businesses and posting black squares and doing all of that. Do you feel like the support has lasted or not?

Brands are starting to get called out [when] the support isn’t quite genuine. It definitely helped in terms of getting seen and boosting sales. There was a spike in my sales for sure, but it definitely isn’t lasting. I feel like for a lot of Black designers, it’s been such a mixed bag.

It’s grown my business because I had such a busy year. But it’s been difficult even with the effects of Covid. [My] retail partners are more aware of supporting Black-owned businesses. They are more mindful and thoughtful [about] that moving forward.

How can brands authentically support and commemorate Juneteenth? How can consumers do the same?

Juneteenth is a perfect opportunity for brands to take audit of the contributions that African Americans have made to American culture, the economy, and society as a whole. It’s a chance to take stock of how that contribution is, or isn’t, reflected in their company structure and culture. Consumers can also do the same by making intentional and informed decisions about the brands they choose to invest their purchasing power in.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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