Marie Mirveline Charles left the countryside in Haiti as a child for a new life in the U.S. It was a strange and challenging transition for Charles, but with family support, persistence and an aptitude for resilience, she now runs one of the nation’s top couture houses. Charles is one of the faces behind designs for celebrities like Rihanna, Michelle Obama, Taylor Swift, and many more. Charles describes herself as strong, grounded and a nurturer.
Some of these responses have been edited for clarity.
Tell us about your journey:
I am currently Atelier director at Velasco Couture. We are a couture studio that makes red carpet garments for award shows and other social events. We also make runway samples for high-end fashion shows. I started as an intern six years ago, and now I run the place.
I am someone who has had a lot of ups and downs in life. Learning to navigate these ups and downs are some of the reasons I am this person today.
I was born in Haiti in the late 1980s. It was not the worst of times in Haiti, but it also wasn’t the best either. My dad moved to Miami, Fla. as a citrus picker while my mom was pregnant with me. We were poor, but I was none the wiser.
My aunt was the neighborhood seamstress. It is because of her that I fell in love with fashion. I was her little helper.
Then, I spent my summers with my grandparents in the countryside. I had fields to run in, rivers and waterfalls where we would spend Saturdays swimming, cooking, washing clothes, and just having so much fun. I remember being so happy then. In the early 90s, the country became less safe. I also saw political violence and economic hardships. I saw physical and sexual abuse.
At the age of 9, I moved to Miami to live with my father. I had only seen my father once a year when he visited me in Haiti before then. I was not as familiar with him. I moved to a place to live with a near stranger. I didn’t understand nor speak the language, and at the time, I hadn’t gotten the chance to say goodbye to my mother. I had a hard time, and I was extremely shy. I was picked on and bullied in school. I had such low self-esteem. I remember I was in the fifth grade, and I couldn’t read on a second-grade level. When my parents noticed me struggling, they got me a tutor. I worked hard, and by the time I got to high school, I read on a college level. I had mostly honors classes by then too. I worked hard to love myself. Therapy helped me deal with and heal from my childhood traumas.
In 2014, I quit my job in Miami and moved to New York City to fulfill my dreams of being a working fashion designer. There, I have worked with and met so many people that I could have only dreamed of before. This ongoing journey of life that continuously challenges me to be better, no matter the hardships, is the reason I am who I am today.
What inspired you to pursue each goal?
The thing that inspires me to pursue my goals is the same thing that inspires me in everything in life. I desire to do and be better. It’s the desire to keep growing and not becoming stagnant.
How does being Haitian influence you in your everyday life?
Being Haitian influences me in every part of my life, every day of my life. It reminds me that I am a leader, and I am a fighter. It reminds me I am resilient, and I could get through and do anything. Haiti had the first successful slave revolt in the world. It then went on to helped many other countries fight and win their independence, including the U.S. My ancestors were warriors. I am forever grateful for them because I have such a fight in me, and I know that’s where it comes from.
What do you like most about being Caribbean or of Caribbean descent?I love that we have such strong cultures. I also love how we are all so connected.
What is your definition of success?
My definition of success is happiness. Whether you make a lot of money or not, if you are doing what you want and are happy, then you are successful.
When are you your happiest?
I am my happiest when I am creating. Whether I’m making a fancy dress or cooking and plating a beautiful meal or taking care of my plants, these are the times I am most at peace and, therefore, my happiest.