Nasrin Jean-Baptiste’s fledgling brand Petit Kouraj is only two years old, but has already established itself as a go-to for luxury handbags. After a lengthy career in fashion styling and editorial, the London-born stylist became inspired by her Haitian heritage after visiting the country in 2018. Petit Kouraj, which translates to “little courage” in Haitian Creole, prides itself on craft; each handbag takes at least eight hours (and numerous stitchings) to create. The line officially launched via a Moda Operandi trunk show last year, and has since expanded to other shopping platform—plus your Instagram feed, where its fringed bags can be found on the arms of fashion insiders like Elaine Welteroth and Shiona Turini. The Daily spoke to Jean-Baptiste about her career beginnings, favorite bag, love for fashion, and more!
What’s your backstory?
I was born in London and lived there until I moved New York in 2012. I got my start in fashion during my final year at The London College of Fashion, when I took a fashion internship at a magazine called Untold. It quickly led to a permanent position where I worked my way up from assisting on shoots to styling my own, which then led to me becoming a freelance wardrobe stylist. I loved growing up in a culturally diverse place such as London, but there weren’t many Haitians living in London at the time. My immediate family were the only Haitians I knew. Part of me has always been seeking ways to connect back to the Haitian ancestry and culture that I wasn’t exposed to growing up. Which is why I am so proud to make my line in Haiti.
What’s your earliest fashion memory?
I have a picture of my sister and I when I was three-years-old. I’m wearing a pair of pink overalls with a white rope tie and I wore it with red sandals and socks. I wasn’t capable of understanding at the time but I have very vivid memories of how wonderful that outfit made me feel and it’s my earliest recollection of a piece of clothing having that kind of affect me. I also remember discovering magazines like, Trace, The Fader, and Untold (whom would later give me my first break in fashion). I never saw Black people being photographed and styled in a way that reflected my gaze. It was high fashion, it was intelligent, and Black and I just wanted to be a part of creating images as powerful.
You started your fashion career in personal styling, with the likes of Alicia Keys. What would you advise people who want to get into the world of styling?
I learned so many things throughout my styling career. Styling is a great career for self exploration. As a freelancer, you essentially have only yourself to rely on which offers many opportunities to discover and challenge your capabilities. It’s made me appreciate just how important self expression is to me and how important it is to trust my creative voice. There are so many paths that can lead to styling and so many paths to travel down once within it. I think it’s important to keep reevaluating what, why, and where you want it to take you. Keep reinvesting in yourself especially when there is not a clear or immediate payoff and trust in your individuality. This will keep you persistent and pointed in the right direction.
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How did you make the transition from stylist to handbag designer? Did you always know you’d go out on your own?
I knew quite early on in my career that I wanted styling to be a springboard into something else. It’s true what they say, you manifest what you think about most and I literally thought about this line everyday for years before I finally decided to put some real intention behind it. It was a slow process at the beginning, working on the line in my spare time was a good start. But things gained momentum when I decided to really put some action behind it and I went to Haiti to find our now manufacturer.
What are the inspirations behind the brand?
I held the idea for this line for years before starting it. I was unsure of how to begin and was overwhelmed by the vision I had for it. But it was the birth of my eldest daughter, Daye that gave me the seeds of confidence that would later grow into Petit Kouraj. Pushing through my fear of childbirth and having a totally natural, unmedicated birth taught me that my fears of starting a brand were also a self-imposed illusion and that it too could be overcome. I named it Petit Kouraj, which means ‘little courage’ in Haitain Creole, as a daily affirmation.
What’s something you wish you knew before you started your brand, and something you would tell anyone wanting to launch their own endeavor?
I think finding the courage to start a brand is really the hardest part. I wish I knew that I already had everything I needed to start and I didn’t have to wait for the perfect situation to begin the process. My only regret is not doing this sooner! Don’t wait, no matter where you are in life, just make a start. You don’t need to know all the answers yet, have a perfect business plan, or need to know the right people. I am building the pieces of my brand as I go, growing slowly, and deciding daily to trust in myself.
Do you have a favorite bag you’ve designed thus far? If so, why is it your favorite?
I am forever attached to the very first bag I made myself. What has now become the white Fringe Shopper continues to resonate with me because I remember clearly the feeling I had when I finished stitching the sample and it was as beautiful as what I had imagined in my head. It was that lightbulb moment that completely changed my trajectory as it gave me such a clear and tangible vision for what I wanted this brand to be.
What’s the best overall career advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t sell yourself short. I try and take my own advise!
This Black History Month, what’s one piece of parting advice you’d like to offer young Black creatives trying to get their start in the industry?
The fashion industry can be a very insular place, which is even more reason to need the many varied Black voices represented within it to seen and heard. Be persistent and create your own network and work with your friends—there’s nothing better than coming up together. Hold tight to the value you bring and dream big!
What are you working on right now, and what can we expect from you in the future?
I’ve been working on new styles that will be coming out for Spring Summer. Right now I’m focused on growing my community and the Petit Kouraj collection beyond fringe bags.
What are your hopes for the future of the fashion industry?
I would love to see the industry truly embrace slow fashion and the concept that less is more. My hope is that we redefine the concept of luxury and be more inclusive of sustainable and artisanal ideas. I would like to see that the recent attention on Black-owned businesses to continue and create real, generational, and systemic change.