24 Hours With… Petit Kouraj
Born in London and now an NYC resident, fashion stylist-turned designer Nasrin Jean-Baptiste is the creative mind fusing NYC style with her Haitian heritage. The brains behind Petit Kouraj, Jean-Baptiste’s distinctive fringed bags blend the artisanal craftsmanship of Haiti with a luxurious nose for what's next in fashion. Debuting an exclusive collection of styles for Browns, Nasrin tells us more about facing her fears and juggling a baby and a brand...
“My baby and co-conspirator, Somi.
She loves to “help” me with the bags.”
“Morning dose of sunlight to start the day.”
What time do you wake up and where?
My 8-month-old daughter, Somi, typically wakes me up around 6am in our Brooklyn apartment, whether I like it or not!
What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
I nurse my daughter while answering emails and drinking far too much coffee.
Where are you usually based?
Brooklyn, New York. I moved here from London nine years ago.
What does your average day look like?
I spend the mornings taking care of my two daughters and getting them set up for the day. Once our nanny arrives, I focus on work, which usually consists of managing production and suppliers, shipping current orders and creating prototypes and samples for future designs. Then it’s dinner and hangout time with the kids before their bedtime. I return back to work after the kids are asleep.
Do you have any rituals?
We like to go out on our stoop in the morning and take in a few minutes of calm before the day begins. It’s a really nice way of reminding myself to slow down and be present. In the summer I try to take my kids to the beach once a week. Even though we live in New York City, I think it’s important to keep them connected with nature and the ocean.
“I start at the desk but always end up working on the floor.”
“Ode to the ocean – Mini Fringe in Wave.”
How would you describe what you do?
I do everything! Petit Kouraj is still very much a start-up in every sense of the word, so my hands are in every aspect of the business. From material sourcing, production management, design, to strategic planning, social media and photography – I’m very much immersed in it all!
How has your background influenced who you are today?
Petit Kouraj was born of a deep desire to connect back to my roots in Haiti and manifest my Haitian background and culture through my brand. I was born and raised in London and so my experience of Haitian culture has always been from a second generation perspective, so to work with Haitians directly has also been a discovery of my heritage. Haitian people, culture, history and landscape all inspire my designs. Building my business and production in partnership with Haitian workers and artisans is an integral part of my brand and my business. With the current political destabilization, Haiti needs this type of support now more than ever.
I also recently learned that when my dad first moved to London from Haiti, he worked in a factory making handbags. So I guess it’s in our blood! He only told me this after I started Petit Kouraj, and I like to think somehow he passed it on to me.
How did you get your start in fashion?
I studied at London College of Fashion. During my final year, I realized I wanted to be a fashion editor creating the images I saw in magazines. I landed an internship at Untold Magazine, and then became their fashion assistant. I started to get booked for freelance styling work until it became my full time job. I moved to New York in 2012 and continued as a wardrobe stylist working on editorial, commercials, music videos, etc. before starting Petit Kouraj in 2018.
What was the impetus behind starting your label?
I had been in the fashion industry for years, but always felt like an outsider. I never felt like accessory brands represented me or people like me. I wanted to create a brand that has a strong sense of identity, that felt fun but was luxurious at the same time.
My first pregnancy and the process of giving birth and becoming a mum was the true catalyst. I was forced to confront my fear of childbirth, and through that I learned that if, as a daily practice, I have the courage to confront my fears, anything is possible. Hence the brand name, Petit Kouraj, which means “little courage” in Haitian creole.
“Finding inspiration in clothing at my favorite Brooklyn café boutique, Sincerely, Tommy.”
“My daughter, Daye, loves modeling my bags.”
What are the most important factors for the brand?
Producing in Haiti keeps me focused on making decisions that serve a bigger calling. In a world of excess and fast fashion, it’s a way to support and celebrate the vastly underutilised talent in a country that has been widely ignored. At the heart of the brand is the desire for each bag to ignite a real connection with its customer. I want to create pieces where the hands and time spent creating it can be felt by its wearer.
How do you get into a creative headspace?
I am perpetually in a creative headspace, but with so many things happening with my brand at once, I find what I need to work most on is focus. For that, I go for walks around my neighbourhood here in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. It’s always stimulating to watch all the beautiful people and characters here.
Whilst working, where do you go and what do you do to take a break?
A short stroll around my neighbourhood can be just the escape I need to rejuvenate. A block away is one of my favourite concept stores/coffee shops in New York, Sincerely Tommy, so I’ll go grab a chai tea and take a moment for myself.
Can you tell us a bit about the exclusives you’ve created for Browns?
It was such a fun process creating the Browns exclusives. I created the collection at the height of the pandemic, whilst heavily pregnant, so I very much wanted to create pieces that felt like an antidote to the darkness of the time, celebrating life instead. The fringe’s innate movement has a natural energy and joyfulness to it.
Who would you most like to see wearing it?
I’m really inspired by female founders and creators across all sections of business, whether it be beauty, fashion, jewellery, tech or any creative space.
“My studio mates…”
“I love having a travel-inspired book on my desk and this book on African Surf culture makes me want to book a trip immediately.”
What’s on your bookshelf right now?
My partner recently purchased a beautiful coffee table book on Black African surfers called Afro Surf. He is a keen surfer and we really want to take the family to experience Ghana and the surf culture there, so I’ve been reading this book for inspiration.
What do you usually do for dinner?
I love to cook, so most nights I cook dinner for the family. Plant based meals are my go to, but I’m a Caribbean girl so I love fish too.
What time do you go to bed?
It depends on how much work I have to do, but I try to be in bed by 11. I know my baby is waking me up at 6am no matter what!
Last thing you do before you sleep?
I set the coffee up for the morning because I know I’m going to need it!
What do you dream about?
I try my best to live in the present but truth be told, I find daydreaming to be a huge motivator. I have a lot of ideas for new styles and how I want to grow Petit Kouraj, so my dreams centre around that and places I would like to travel with my family.
Images by Katie Borazzo
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