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Wyclef Jean at VILLA talks Timberland Earthkeepers with Philly2Philly.com

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Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Wyclef Jean showed up at VILLA sneaker and apparel along Market Street on Wednesday afternoon to promote his project with Timberland Co., the Timberland Earthkeepers Yele Haiti Collection.

The collection, an effort by both Jean and Timberland CEO Jeff Schwartz, is a line of shoes and boots sold all over the world. Two-dollars of every pair sold goes toward Jean’s foundation.

Jean first achieved fame with in the mid-90s with his R&B group, The Fugees, then went on to launch a successful solo career. In recent years he’s taken up humanitarian causes, and established his grassroots movement/foundation, Yele Haiti, to build global awareness for his native Haiti.

“We just want people to pay more attention to Haiti,” he told Philly2Philly.com. “For years, the image has been so bad, with violence and war, and I wanted to take a chance with Haiti.”

Yele Haiti’s mission is to create small-scale, manageable projects that contribute to long-term progress. According to Yele Haiti’s website www.yele.org, the majority of Haiti’s residents live on less than $1 per day, unemployment is close to 80 percent, and it’s the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. The money currently flowing into Haiti through Jean’s foundation is going toward tree planting and other environmental and sustainability pursuits.

According to Jean, Timberland CEO Jeff Schwartz was immediately interested in working on the project. “He heard about the stuff I was doing in Haiti and got in touch with me, and we set up a meeting,” Jean said. “Immediately, I could tell he was someone who wanted to help. We connected. It’s hard to find someone who naturally wants to help out with a cause like this one, where you don’t feel like he’s trying to use you as a poster child for his brand.”

Schwartz told the Associated Press in October, “We’re going to dig the holes, we’re going to pant the trees, because restoration in Haiti is a social issue…It’s not about being hip. It’s about – in hockey terms – throwing a hip. I want to bang into some of these problems.”

Timberland’s Earthkeepers line has worked with several entrepreneurs and philanthropists to raise awareness. All footwear is made from recycled and organic materials. So far, the company has planted more than 1 million trees around the world.

Jean says his idea for Haiti has been in his head ever since he came to the United States and, as a young man, watched Bob Marley show a new face of Jamaica to America.

In addition to the footwear, Jean and Timberland are combining their social media networks, including Twitter, and offering downloadable playlists, with proceeds going toward the foundation. One such mix was given to fans and media who came to VILLA to meet Jean. The mix is titled, “Toussaint St. Jean: From the Hut, To The Projects, To The Mansion” and features 17 songs.

“What we’re doing together, I believe, can be incredible – is incredible,” Jean said. “We really wanted to do something for Haiti and this raises the profile of both Haiti and the charity. People should really be paying more attention to Haiti, because there’s a lot that can be done to help the people there.”

 

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