“It’s not about retreating when I encounter a challenge, it’s about finding a path around it,” Stefanie Nissen said in regards to her innovative venture, Trvl Porter. Her company is dedicated to eliminating luggage by lending a pre-styled wardrobe delivered to your destination. Two years prior to the company’s inception, an overstuffed suitcase caused a misstep up a flight of stairs. Stefanie’s suitcase came tumbling down on her resulting in a sprained ankle.
Clothes & Accessories
Outdoor Voices is the new kid on the block. This bright-eyed, fresh-faced activewear brand is taking on industry giants like Lululemon and Nike by redefining the idea of activity as something that can be fun, inclusive, and social. OV brings a playful and refreshing personality to the activewear scene, as it was created with the “recreationalist” in mind, including dog-walkers, hikers, and dodgeball enthusiasts. Founder and CEO Tyler Haney likes to think of OV as the friend who invites you on a hike and brings the snacks. Oh, and the leggings are super cute too.
Buying a bag can change someone’s entire life.
The proof is on the back of Parker Clay co-founder Ian Bentley’s business card. The card’s flipside shows a school report card with top marks. The grades belong to an Ethiopian boy, Eyob whose mother, Meselu, works with Parker Clay. Meselu used to leave her two sons in front of a church at night while she did what she needed to do to provide. Now her job as a weaver brings stability to her and sons’ lives.
The college years are a time for gaining new perspectives, expanding the mind and ideally coming to understand more about what the rest of the world is really like. Many of us get emboldened with passionate new ideas we come across in our studies, and perhaps for the first time, become convinced of how we can make great change in our world. It’s an exciting time.
Then we graduate. For many, the need to get a job and enter the workforce takes top priority. It’s at that point that some of those yearnings to continuously explore begin to fade. Most will accept this fate to some degree and satisfy themselves by staying connected to their passions at a loose distance.
But Caleigh Hernandez is an exception to the rule. Having graduated from college in 2015, she’s taken her experience studying International Development and African Studies and amplified it, making direct use of her education by creating a business that addresses important social issues; namely, high unemployment rates faced by many Africans today. This has become the basis of her business, Best Foot Forward.
The power of a sandal
Best Foot Forward (BFF) imports beaded leather sandals made on the Kenyan Coast by local artisans. Currently, the company sells the sandals here in the U.S. at festivals and home shows, and eventually, a number of boutiques. The business employs 36 Kenyan women who do the intricate bead working and six Kenyan men who cut the leather and rubber that make up the upper and the sole. Caleigh explains that on average it takes a woman artisan half a day to make one pair of sandals.
The artisans themselves live in the Kenyan town of Malindi, which is about 100 kilometers north of the larger city of Mombasa. Unemployment in Malindi is around 50 percent and has been on the rise since the tourist industry took a hit under the threat of the Al Shabab, a terrorist group that’s been wreaking havoc and consequently disrupting local economies.
Caleigh’s idea for her impact-driven business was ignited while studying abroad in Uganda, when she lived in a rural village with a host family and worked for a local NGO. On the weekends she would venture into larger nearby cities to visit craft bazaars, where people sold all variety of African-made products. She kept coming across beautiful beaded sandals at the bazaars, and through her curiosity, learned about the regional sandal industry from local shopkeepers and artisans.
Her interest in local goods and incessant desire to be of service drove her to return the following summer to Uganda to do research for her thesis on women entrepreneurs and their access to aid programs. It was during this period that she developed the idea for her business, while learning the ins and outs of the anything-but-linear industry.
After graduating from college, she received a fellowship through Princeton University that brought her again back to Africa, and it was at this time that she started Best Foot Forward. Immediately, the shoe gained traction in the U.S. through festivals and home shows. This is how Caleigh raised a bit of startup funding to get rolling.
100 percent committed to creating a social good enterprise
In addition to creating jobs, Best Foot Forward is committed to giving 10 percent of profits back to people of Malindi, Kenya, which it does by channeling money through a Community Development Fund. The artisans themselves determine the allocation of funds, as the locals know what their community needs most. Caleigh notes that empowering artisans to become change-makers in their own communities is a vastly different model from how many international aid-based programs work.
Best Foot Forward also offers “fair wages for fair work,” so that the artisans who work for the company are paid higher wages than the industry standard. Caleigh says that long-term goals also include being able to offer employees health care and daycare.
Customers can now purchase BFF sandals online at bffshoes.com. The company is interested in collaborating with local residents who want to host home shows, to which Caleigh herself will come and present information about the issues that BFF is addressing. BFF is also looking to expand by creating more products, with the larger goal of positioning Best Foot Forward as a hub for ethical fashion.
“I wrote The business plan for TerriTory ahead on The sTeering wheel of my saab, while driving back and forTh To los angeles”
Coworking: from Kenya to California
Caleigh has been a global Impact Hub member for a while now, having first learned about it while living in Kenya and attending Nairobi Impact Hub events. “Being an entrepreneur is really isolating when you’re working alone,” explains Caleigh. She says that Impact Hub is very popular in Nairobi among the entrepreneurial Kenyan crowd and that it even became a source of inspiration as she started her business there. When she moved back to Santa Barbara in the beginning of August 2016, she already knew that Impact Hub Santa Barbara would be her U.S.-based home.
Any entrepreneur can tell you that the life of an entrepreneur is not for everyone; the inconsistency of the highs and the lows often weed out the faint of heart. Caleigh talks about the peaks and valleys of entrepreneurship and how working at the Hub has helped her keep her sanity as she weathers the storms.
She says she likes to know that people around her are going through some of the same things. She adds, “It’s nice to be in a space where you are surrounded by like-minded people who are interested in doing social good, while also having a successful business.”
Caleigh travelled back to Kenya again in January 2017. Always on the go, she is learning to expect the unexpected. “One day, it’s that the Pope came to Nairobi, so the shoe shipment is a week late. The next day, I’m sanding wood for a shoe display,” she says. “It’s empowering and humbling at the same time.”
For More Information Visit: bffshoes.com