The designer and founder of the Urban Zen Foundation works with Haitian artisans to sell their crafts

By Ana Calderone
Updated November 07, 2014 10:55 AM
Credit: Courtesy Urban Zen

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Donna Karan immediately lent a hand but knew she also wanted to help the country on a much larger scale.

“At first, I felt it was really important to give them something that could help. So we supplied tents and living facilities,” Karan, 66, tells PEOPLE of her Urban Zen Foundation. “Then, when I went down to visit, I realized that everybody here is an artist – and their creativity is so much a part of their being.”

So as a designer, Karan did what she does best.

“My dream was to work with them to develop products and help communicate what the soul and spirit of Haiti was all about,” she recalls. “They’re making truly artisan products of a high quality.”

Now, Karan plans to open a holiday marketplace at her Urban Zen center in downtown New York City on Nov. 21, featuring products from Haiti and countries around the world, with proceeds going back to the preservation of artisan culture.

And her efforts don’t stop there.

“We’re looking into opening a vocational school in Haiti because it’s important to be able to give people jobs,” she says. “It’s not just giving money, it’s giving people education and helping them create something that they’re passionate about.”

“I really believe the concept of conscious consumerism, and when you wear something that affects peoples lives, that s the happiest you could possibly feel.”

For more of our interview with Karan, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

Want more stories like this?

Sign up for our newsletter and other special offers:

Thank you for signing up!