When Kyu-Seung Lee completed his education at the Ēcole des Beaux Arts in Dijon and returned to live and work in South Korea, he found himself unhappy with the famously ultra-competitive Korean lifestyle and decided to change direction entirely – to Haiti.
That was in 2011 and Lee’s father was involved at the time in the artificial hair industry in Angola. So father and son decided to start an artificial hair manufacturing plant in Port-au-Prince, which the son would run on a daily basis and his father would oversee, making annual visits to monitor growth.
That growth, by any stands, has been quite spectacular. Initial investment in the business in Delmas, Port-au-Prince was $1.5 million, the plant now produces one million hair pieces every month and has a total fulltime workforce of 200 people, making it one of the largest employers in the region.
Leesco began by producing hair for the local Haitian market only using raw materials imported from Japan and his native South Korea. The aim was to look at other countries in the Caribbean region after five years. However, Lee is already ahead of schedule – exporting to Jamaica and French Guyana since last year.
The main competition for Leesco comes from China, but because the cost of importing from China to Haiti is high, Lee has been able to remain competitive and has the largest market share. In the medium term, he’s looking at possible diversification into cosmetics – and sees a potential in Asia for exports of Haitian products such as vetiver and moringa.