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Joelle Fontaine’s Kréyol collection celebrates diverse female artisans

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Joelle Fontaine’s Kréyol collection celebrates diverse female artisans
Selections from I Am Kréyol: 2020 Artisan Collection. PHOTO: DANIEL IRVIN/D.IRVIN PHOTOGRAPHY, MAKE-UP: CHRISTINA PARIS/THE CHRISTINA EXPERIENCE, MODELS: OMPHILE KGOLENG AND DORIS KAKULU

Joelle Fontaine has been working in the fashion industry for years, but in 2020 she’s really hit her stride. Fontaine’s brand, Kréyol, launched the Artisan Collection this year, featuring both garments designed by Fontaine and accessories and home goods by female artisans from around the world. In this way, the brand has become what Fontaine always wanted: a celebration of diverse female artists.

Joelle Fontaine PHOTO: FENA FENELON/SOFENOMENAL AGENCY GROUP

Joelle Fontaine PHOTO: FENA FENELON/SOFENOMENAL AGENCY GROUP

“The whole idea behind Kréyol was for me to be able to provide a platform for artisans, specifically women of color, to be able to highlight the wonderful work that they do,” says Fontaine. This year the collection features Haiti Design Co., a group that creates opportunities for artisans through job creation and skill training while producing leather goods and other products, and Beyond Borders Collective, an organization that facilitates sales of handmade blankets by Indigenous makers in Ecuador.

The collection also features garments designed by Fontaine that are made-to-measure, meaning buyers provide their measurements and the garment is specifically sewn for each person. “It’s like luxury at a budgeted price. Usually it costs a lot of money to have something made to your exact size,” says Fontaine. This also cuts down on material waste. In many cases it’s Fontaine and her mother who are sewing the garments, though they work with a local seamstress as well. Every garment is created right here in the Boston area.

The plaid, retro designs of the collection are inspired by Fontaine’s childhood in Haiti and the school uniforms she used to wear. In the collection, the print has been upgraded to adorn curve-hugging mermaid skirts and peplum tops. For the first two weeks of November, the Artisan Collection was featured at Bloomingdale’s in Chestnut Hill. The Red Sox Foundation highlighted Kréyol in its “From Fenway to Runway” event and Bloomingdales caught wind of Fontaine’s talents through that exposure.

I Am Kréyol: 2020 Artisan Collection. PHOTO: DANIEL IRVIN/D.IRVIN PHOTOGRAPHY

I Am Kréyol: 2020 Artisan Collection. PHOTO: DANIEL IRVIN/D.IRVIN PHOTOGRAPHY

At the end of the day, Fontaine wants to put money in the pockets of female artisans and to make the wearers of her garments feel powerful. That’s what Kréyol is all about. “It’s inspired by my Haitian culture, but the Kréyol woman is in all of us,” says Fontaine. “She’s a woman who is bold, she’s tenacious, she’s an overcomer.”

Now that Fontaine has achieved the purpose of her brand, she’s churning ahead at full speed. “My hope is that by this time next year we’ll have 10 artisans from all over the world,” she says. Fontaine would also like to open a brick-and-mortar shop in the next three to five years. The products in the Artisan Collection range from $18-$420, providing a selection of merchandise that Fontaine believes has something for everyone. Because of this accessibility, Fontaine hopes that a larger chain store like Target can pick up the collection.

“Fashion is not my driver. My driver is to be able to help women become their best selves,” says Fontaine. “This feels like a new beginning for Kréyol.”

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