We recently caught up with Valorie Darling — one of our favorite photographers and go-to friends for travel advice. Read below to hear Val’s story about meeting with one of the artisan groups we work with in Haiti and falling in love with the country (and her boyfriend, Brian).
What brought you to Haiti?
One of my oldest friends growing up, Brian, founded a travel company called Kin, a company committed to sustainability and investing in communities. He was piloting a mobile safari-camp and sailing expedition off the North coast of Haiti, which he’d shown me gorgeous pictures of in New York, and asked if I’d come shoot the journey. It was 2016 and the peak of wedding season so I was slammed and it was the only week I had open in my calendar as far as I could see. I went back and forth in a tug-of-war between using the time to rest and the draw I always feel toward using my craft to serve humanity and the environment. Just before the trip, Hurricane Matthew hit the south of Haiti and the devastation only fueled both sides of the wrestle. Then a few close girlfriends over wine told me I should take the leap, so I did. I booked my flight two days before the trip and took a chance.
Well, it changed the course of my life. It all plays like a movie in my mind now. I met a small crew of amazing people at the airport, we landed on the single landing strip with palm trees dancing in the breeze, we piled into a Landcruiser, drove through the rough and vibrant Afro-Caribbean city of Cap-Haitien to a little house from an “Indiana Jones” movie, where a family, the sweetest little kids on Earth, the culture, the beauty of the landscape, the story, a candle lit tent, dancing on the bow of a sailboat with a Vodou priest and drummers, all of it just swept me. We woke up the next morning to set sail on the most beautiful sailboat I’d ever seen for an island 8 hours off the coast called Tortuga, a place few have been, famous for its beauty and pirate folklore. First thing in the morning Brian said, ‘Val! I just got a job offer in LA and I think I’m gonna take it.’ We hugged and danced, and two seconds later I was thinking, ‘OMG I think I have a crush on Brian!’
To make a long story short, we got out to Tortuga and it was one of the most spectacular place I’d ever seen. The water was a brilliant blue so clear you could see the bottom 60 feet below, we swam into a perfect beach, people from the village came to meet us, the sunset was flooring, we ate lobster around a fire, and when it went down the stars were like a planetarium. They reflected on the water to the point that it was hard to tell where the sky stopped and the water started. Most people went to sleep on the boat and I stayed back to shoot long-exposure photographs of the stars and tent. Brian went out night swimming and I follow him in. It felt like I was walking into a bath of stars. And as I walked in, Brian said “woah, you’re glowing!” and we noticed that the sea was sparkling with bright green bioluminescence. I’d dreamed of seeing them my whole life and my laughter became tears and then a long moment of silence, in awe of everything, and then we just shared our first kiss. And we’ve been making out ever since.
Whoa. Okay, so what was I supposed to ask you about? Haiti Design Co.
Through The Little Market, I knew of Haiti Design Co. and told Brian to check it out. Haiti Design Co. is a social enterprise founded to create sustainable development for local artisans through design, training, and job creation. They have developed, trained, and built an international market for a network of production teams with over 150 employees working and collaborating across multiple mediums, including artisan crafting, leatherwork, sewing, jewelry making, aluminum casting, metal work, weaving, beadwork, horn & bone, tailoring, and shoe making. They provide consistent employment in-house in order to give job training and stability to individuals in vulnerable situations, as well as raise up artisan leaders to succeed as independent entrepreneurs in the community.
By fate they had recently opened a workshop in the North of Haiti where Kin’s adventure takes place, so they formed a partnership, kitting their camp and guests with their beautiful craft, visiting the workshop and investing in their work. We met the amazing founders Chandler Busby, her husband Josh, and their incredible team, and we shopped hard (I’m a big fan of their beautiful pieces!), made bracelets with the artisans and learned more about their journeys and how the opportunity with Haiti Design Co. has changed their lives.
Support their work by shopping some of my favorite products (Denim Tote, Leather Portfolio, and my all-time favorite earrings are currently sold out and not listed, but they have lots of other great jewelry here too!), donating to their artisan entrepreneurship or education & wellness program, and share about their work on social!
What is your best travel advice?
Here are a few of my best travel tips!
- Search for flights in an incognito window! Booking companies track your behavior and manipulate pricing.
- Save the planet for $10. Of all the things you’ll do, the effect of jetful in the environment is the biggest. For $10 or so, you can offset your carbon footprint through a company called Terrapass and lay some good karma for yourself.
- Get TripIt. The app sifts through your inbox and organizes your travel plans in one place to make traveling easier to stay organized on the go. This has saved me so much time!
- Pack light. This has been a big (and gradual) change for me. Instead of packing a bunch of things I talk myself into thinking I might need, I pack a few outfits that I know are super versatile and can mix-match to change things up. As a total flip, I would now rather have too little and get something where I travel opposed to pack too much.
- Don’t overplan or overcommit yourself. Leave room for flexibility and spontaneity. I always lay a rough frame but intentionally error on the side of space in the schedule.
- Google Maps Star feature. I learned this from Brian. We love to lay little crumbs for ourselves on a map — crumbs we gather from magazines or websites we love — and on open days just dream of places to visit and things to experience.
- Make an impact — find a non-profit or social enterprise to support and make an experience. Whether it’s wildlife conservation, artisan craft, children. Ask if you might be able to make a contribution, pay a visit to their work and learn more about how you can champion them. Many think the best thing they can do is volunteer, but typically the more sustainable solution is to invest in the organization to hire someone locally to do the work needed, so go as an investor and position yourself as someone who can engage your network and more resources for the work.
What are your travel essentials?
No matter what the season where I’m traveling, I make sure to bring a swimsuit and a shawl to cover up/keep warm. Those are always the two items I wish I had when I leave them behind.
Any other trips planned?
Lots! Mostly for work, but I’m really looking forward to returning to Kenya in October with Kin Travel!
Photos Courtesy of Valorie Darling