By Laura Bruzzese
[Laura Bruzzese lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her daughter, Isabella, and whippet-cross, Velma. When she's not working in the 19th c. adobe studio next to her home, she can usually be found walking along the Rio Grande or cultivating her garden or playing preposterously bad games of tennis with her daughter. Laura has been a professional artist for more than 20 years, having worked her way through art school in Chicago by painting portraits of cats and dogs as well as being the owner & CEO of Frida's Pet Portraits, and later working as a scenic painter. Her primary medium for the past 13 years has been ceramics, creating hand-painted raku vessels for galleries as well as funerary purposes. For the past 2 years, she has partnered with a group of artisans in Haiti, designing paper-mache sculpture.]
The opposite of faith is not doubt. It’s fear. That is what I have to remind myself every day as I move forward and think I’m nuts half the time, trying to do business in, or from, Haiti. As I see it, fear of failure in all its myriad forms – looking foolish, letting people down, letting myself down, financial ruin, not being part of the American Success Story (or even wanting to) – is the biggest threat to creative inspiration and perhaps the single most limiting factor in any passion or profession. Thank you for allowing me to share our story, which involves a bit of all.
I can only begin to imagine the difficulties of daily life, let alone running a business, in Haiti. I’ve learned a little through my design collaborator, Aly Abraham, who grew up in Haiti and now lives and works near Port-au-Prince. He has described the street violence that breaks out in response to political events or random discontent. He has told me about his aunt who was waiting on the corner for a bus to take her to church when a police car drove onto the sidewalk, striking and killing her. He has told me about the door to his metal shop being broken down and losing almost all of his tools to thieves. For most people in Haiti, there are no insurance policies that compensate people for their losses; it’s just part of life and you move on.
Aly and I have been working together (long distance) since 2009. One of the many things I do as an artist is design and create items for the funeral industry – weird niche, I know. Two years ago, I was looking for a company to create my designs out of a biodegradable material for ocean scattering. (A large percentage of cremations these days are scattered at sea.) I sent my design to several small companies I found online, not paying much attention to where they were located. Aly responded first with a picture of a beautiful sample and said he would send me a dozen of them soon. I didn’t hear from him again for about 6 weeks when he wrote to apologise that my samples were late… because of the earthquake! It was then I realised he was in Haiti and my heart just about broke.
The paper turtle collaboration was successful and they are now being distributed through a wholesale company that specialises in eco-friendly and biodegradable funerary products. Because I wanted to help Aly in whatever way possible, especially because he had lost so much during the earthquake, I decided to continue working with him. We altered the turtle design to make them suitable for home decor, and I started selling them locally and on Etsy. I did this as a side project and donated the profits to Aly. However, I soon realised that, as a single mother and artist with two businesses already, the time I could devote to The Paper Turtle as a charitable cause was limited.
It was after I saw more examples of the work created in Aly’s shop that I realised: a) he employs some really talented artisans; and b) there was potential for bigger business. I added some new items to our Etsy inventory, such as Giraffe and Rhino ‘trophies’, and the response was very positive. But I knew that our business couldn’t be profitable as long as I was paying exorbitant DHL Express shipping costs. In order to grow, we would need to start using ocean freight; and, of course, we would need a lot of inventory for ocean freight to be worthwhile.
Because neither Aly nor I had the money for start-up costs, I thought Kickstarter would be a great funding resource to help grow our business. I spent a long time researching, including talking to a friend who had been funded in excess of his $8,000 goal. Soon thereafter (read: 4 months and approximately 52,000 hours), I ‘launched’ our project. I’m certain that I’ve spent more time on the video and supporting materials (including a new website) than anyone in the history of Kickstarter. I was nervous and sleep-deprived and permanently sweaty for two weeks; I lost five pounds. When I ask myself why, why the madness?! the only answer I can come up with is: because it means that much to me.
Am I scared? Terrified.
Thank you for taking the time to read our story, and please know that every pledge we receive on Kickstarter not only helps us reach our financial goal, but is also humbly accepted as a ‘we believe in you’ cheer of encouragement that’s even more valuable. The wellspring of support from other people is what keeps me going into the unknown, insecure, and unproven territory of ‘I have this idea…’