Debrosse Knitwear | NYC Artist

Photographed by: Rachel + Katie | Interview of: Teresa, owner of Debrosse Knitwear

How did you get started?

My knitting journey started where you might least expect it. I entered a dilapidated, post earthquake shelter in Haiti, alongside 67 joyful, orphaned children. We shared laughs, tickles, snuggles and lollipops.

Leaving them 2 weeks later was a heartache that I had never known. I wasn’t myself for weeks, plagued with an overwhelming weight and desire to continue loving them in some tangible way.

So I asked my mom if she would teach me how to crochet. And she did. We didn’t leave our pajamas for days. Over the course of the next 9 months, we made over 150 blankets. I packed 6 suitcases and I headed back to where I had left my heart that day.

With suitcases three times my weight, a few dozen creole phrases memorized, and the usual travel-day top knot, I showed up to that same dilapidated shelter. I was 9 kinds of nervous (my husband insists that there are not 9 kinds, but I assure you there are).

On day 2 of my 30 day adventure, I locked eyes with a little boy entertaining himself by finding his balance on top of a sack of potatoes. Between cultural differences, language barriers, and age gaps, making friendships at a Haitian orphanage looks a lot different (sometimes it looks like trying to find your own balance on the potatoes with that 4 year old).

We just got each other. We had a bond. I can’t really explain it. He was full of such joy and energy. Energy that teetered on the rascally side to be honest. And nothing has changed 4 years later.

I learned with time that his needs, and his friends in the orphanage, were much greater than blankets. The blanket project however, proved that people were interested. Interested in these children’s stories, interested in helping, and interested in being part of what we were doing.

So I took this love for both the children and crocheting, and opened an Etsy shop in his name. The plan was simple–sell to the general public, and invite them to support DeBrosse and his friends.

Our latest shipment included 50 bottles of medicine, 536 ounces of infant formula, 778 ounces of soap, and 3,678 diapers. But greater than that, our hope is that it puts orphan care on the hearts of those we meet.

What influences you? / Where do you get your inspiration?

I’m a huge fan of clean, minimal, and practical. Living in New York has even drawn this lean lifestyle further out of me as well, seeing as how my apartment is 350 square feet.

So when I design individual pieces and put together collections, I always choose fabrics, textures and colors that come together to create a staple piece. I want my scarf to become your go-to, season after season, as opposed to your special occasion. As of right now, there are no plans for glitter, ruffles, or color.

What keeps you motivated?/ Why do you love doing this?

I think I subconsciously designed the shop to be this perfect union of all my favorite things. I really enjoy working with my hands and mass producing my products. There is something really fulfilling about making a product from start to finish…and then making 20 more of them and watching the stack grow. I think what I do might drive many others crazy, but the rhythm of the making process is really therapeutic to me. 

I’ve also always had a soft spot in my heart for the underdog. As far back as I can remember, if you were to accidentally trip near me, I would totally pretend I didn’t see it. Or if you had an embarrassingly loud sneeze I’d probably tell you about the time I got kicked out of the classroom in second grade for a sneeze so loud my teacher thought I was trying to make a scene. I just sort of gravitate to those who need someone to be in their corner, and my little friends in Haiti are no exception.

The more I grow my shop, the more I am able to be in their corner. And the more time I spend in their corner, the more I ache for greater ways to love and advocate for them. So they make it easy to get up and get to work every day. I work for the sweetest souls I’ve ever met, who have never actually asked me for a thing except the occasional piggy back ride.

How do you balance your personal time + work? / How do you create separation?

This question just makes me giggle. My husband too…except maybe with a wry smile. Because what is personal time? It becomes one huge blur when you turn your passions into a business, which is great for business, but a little harder on your personal life.

This is my first year running the shop full time, so it’s been a season of trial and error. My current go-to breaks are running and yoga. It’s really hard to dream up a new product line when your calves are on fire, or to nail down your return policy in downward dog…so it’s the perfect way for me to switch gears.

Maybe even more helpful than that though, has been learning the delicate art of saying “no”. That may sound a little cold or counterintuitive, but for me it's been a healthy way to ensure that I stay focused and avoid burn out. Steve Jobs actually puts it quite well.

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

There are so many opportunities out there (collaborations, sponsorships, introductions, mentoring) and I’m realizing that a "yes" to anything is a "no" to something else. So I'm carefully weighing my invites these days as time becomes more and more scarce.

There is certainly a place for pouring into our community, but there is also a major freedom in knowing that our time is ours to give as we see fit. And sometimes eating breakfast in bed with the hubby just needs to win.

Where do you see yourself in 2-5 years? / What’s next for your brand?

Recently, my husband and I have been really drawn to the idea of investing in the parents, as a more proactive than reactive approach to orphan care. With a bit of nervous idealism, we asked, “What if we taught the mama’s how to crochet, and offered them a spot on the team?”

Because it isn’t a lack of love that is ripping apart these families, it’s poverty.

Orphan care is a much bigger issue than I can wrap my mind around still. I selfishly just want to adopt as many children as I can, and make sure that every forehead is kissed before bed. But the reality is that these children often have families who would love the opportunity to do just that. In Haitian culture, parents often give their children over to an orphanage in hopes that they will be fed, educated, and given opportunity that they themselves cannot provide. 

Can you imagine loving someone so deeply that you let them go, so that they might be better off? Like I said…I can’t wrap my mind around it.

We kick off this new venture in July, with a group of 7 women who recently took their children back home from the orphanage. I couldn’t be more excited…but of course I am those 9 kinds of nervous again.