Help Haiti. Or, At Least, Help Peru : Planet Money Haiti wants to build its T-shirt manufacturing business. But T-shirts being sold by the fashion industry to support Haiti were made in Peru.
NPR logo Help Haiti. Or, At Least, Help Peru

Help Haiti. Or, At Least, Help Peru

A model shows off CFDA's Fashion for Haiti t-shirt. Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images hide caption

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Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

There's a bit of angry buzz among Haiti's apparel manufacturers about a possibly misplaced effort to help.

The Council of Fashion Designers of America launched the Fashion For Haiti campaign, "the American fashion industry's nation-wide response to the January 12 earthquake in Haiti."

You can buy a Fashion For Haiti t-shirt for $25 and "net proceeds" will go to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund.

Only thing: the t-shirts were manufactured in ... Peru.

And that's what's got some people in Haiti pretty ticked off.

As listeners to the podcast know, most observers see the apparel manufacturing sector as Haiti's main economic growth possibility. And what the country really wants to make is t-shirts.

"I'm not angry, I'm just smiling at the irony," said Georges Sassine, president of Haiti's main industrial association. "Here we are: 50 percent of our workers [in Haiti's apparel industry] are making t-shirts. And here you are making a t-shirt celebrating them, and you don't give them a chance to make the t-shirt."

I emailed Steven Kolb, executive director of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, and asked why they didn't use Haitian manufacturers. "We basically put the campaign together in ten days," he said. "Theory manufactured the shirts for us so in order to have a quick turn around we decided to go with a factory that they were already familiar with."

Kolb said that the industry plans to raise $1 million for Haiti by selling the shirts. For other projects, "US apparel companies will continue to use Haiti as a resource and many new companies will follow suit."

Sassine said that Haiti's apparel manufacturers could have easily turned this project around in time. "Haiti does not need gifts," he said. "It needs an opportunity to earn its own keep. Give us work to do."