On January 11, 2010 (the date is important here), we had a talk with our Haitian producer of papier mache whom we had helped grow their papier mache department from a handful of employees to over 100 in an effort to bring jobs to the impoverished nation. Without going into specifics, we had a major dispute when the owners of the shop crossed a red line for us. We were sad to part ways, especially since the program was such a success and also because we started the program in Haiti even when we could have done the entire process within our own workshop in San Miguel de Allende, which of course, would have been easier. We explained we would exit the shop slowly so as not to disrupt the workers and their lives. The next day, on January 12, 2010, the horrible earthquake of Haiti struck and the workshop was destroyed. Thankfully it was before work hours and no one was hurt while at work. But the nation lost almost a quarter million people, and those affected were in the millions.
Even though we had to leave the factory, Stray Dog and many of our clients raised $15,000 which we personally handed out to each of the workers to help them recover.
At this point, as a business, we had a complete line of papier mache product that was selling extremely well, but we had no producer. Our Haitian producer would need at least a month to get up and going, so we turned to our Mexican partner, the amazing Mariano, to see what he could do. Mariano had a contact (his wife’s cousin), who said she could make paper mache because her mother taught her when she was young. (San Miguel had a history of making papier mache years ago, but we only knew of one small shop still in existence that wasn’t really interested in what we were doing). This is all we had, a lady named Cruz who said her mother taught her how to make paper mache. Mariano handed her items we were making and said show me what you can do. Cruz returned a few days later with perfect copies of the designs. Encouraging, but we still weren’t in business as there was no scale. Cruz’s mother came down from Texas where she was living because she was so excited that her daughter was jumping into the craft that she taught her. Cruz’s brother, a contractor, jumped into it too…within a month we had daylight. Within two months we were back in business. Cruz and her family and now her workshop helped save our company. It was a small miracle.
Cruz, pictured above, learned papier mache from her mother when she was young.
Molds for papier mache drying.
Laura working on the Tommy Table.