The International Labour Organization (ILO) is marking its centenary in 2019 and as part of the commemoration has launched a photography project called “Dignity at Work: The American Experience” to document the working life of people across the United States. UN News joined the ILO on a visit to the southern US state of Louisiana.
Kai Bussant is a fashion designer and milliner in New Orleans. She refurbishes hats at the Goorin Bros store. She has multiple jobs including styling and tailoring, and is about to launch her own fashion brand. She sold her first piece of clothing when she was at elementary school.
“I became a designer as I understand and am very comfortable with materials, and let them lead me. There are not many milliners so it’s quite a unique situation and not many people understand what it involves; so much so, that sometimes I feel as though they are asking me to be a magician when refurbishing their hats.
Historically, millinery has been male-dominated, but I don’t believe customers are concerned about a woman working on their hat. - Kai Bussant
A lot of the work I do is hidden, so I do my best to explain to customers what is involved and what is possible.
Historically, millinery has been male-dominated, but I don’t believe customers are concerned about a woman working on their hat. As a woman, when I’m dealing with customers, I like to be inclusive and comforting and explain the process and timeline.
The contact with the customer is extremely important; the customer wants to understand how I work, they want to ‘feel the vibe’.
There is a poetic process of designing or bringing a hat back to life as well as an exacting attention to detail. So, the fit and symmetry needs to be right.
"Family and community and the creation of culture is very important to me. For this collaboration and having people who believe in you is very important. - Kai Bussant talks about her job as a milliner in New Orleans for the @ilo4USA photo project. pic.twitter.com/uOnWe2WHMG— UN News (@UN_News_Centre) December 30, 2019
Technology is not playing any role in my work, as millinery hasn’t really changed since its fruition, although there are new materials and new ways to shape materials. It is important to maintain the traditional methods of creation, the craft of millinery and pass them on.
We are moving back to hand-made goods, I’m not a fan of fast fashion. I want to create an experience for people and give them something they can connect to, deeper and longer.
Family and community and the creation of culture is very important to me. For this collaboration and having people who believe in you is very important. Work means play, focus and spiritual comfortability and work means money.
I have been born at a time when life is what you make it. I feel as though I can literally make a career out of anything.
I am not afraid to be out of work. I’ve seen so many people create their careers out of thin air. The future of work for young people like me is having multiple jobs.
I’ve met so many people in New Orleans who have five gigs; they’re a DJ, yoga teacher, a counselor. This is what you have to do if you are an artist. And I see many young people are patient and work hard and are willing to go against the grain and wait for their success to come.
In three years’, time I expect to be working for myself as the CEO and creative director of my brand Bussant. I want to be happy and I want to be at peace, and I want to have helped millions of people.”