We had the good fortune of connecting with Caleigh Hernandez and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Caleigh, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I knew I always wanted my work to be impactdful, never thinking it would lead me to start my own business in which I partner with artisans in Kenya and share their wares with consumers. I was always interested in economic empowerment efforts across East Africa and spent my time in college studying this. During my sophomore year, I learned about the Well Story, a forewarning that has impacted my work to this day. A nonprofit established a well for women in a rural community. These women had been walking hours each day to collect drinkable water for themselves and their families. An organization realized how silly this was and dug a well in the town center for everyone to use. The humanitarians thought they had solved the problem, saving women several strenuous hours a day lugging water. These women could now spend time on other, more lucrative activities. But this nonprofit returned six months later to the village and found the well broken. The first issue was that no one in the village was trained in how to fix a well if it broke. The second problem was that the well was supposed to last years, not months. The humanitarians learned that several women in the community had purposely broken the well and were dumbfounded. The aid workers had not done a proper assessment of the area and therefore had not taken into account other issues that would sabotage the well’s success. They assumed the lack of water exacerbated poverty, which was not incorrect, but they disregarded high domestic violence rates in the area. With the well fixed, women were spending more time at home and their husbands had more opportunities to become violent towards their wives. Domestic violence rates increased significantly. These women preferred spending hours a day walking to collect water because it was a reprieve from the constant abuse they faced in their homes. They had no real way of getting out of the situation as domestic violence is commonplace in many rural villages in the area so there were no legal repercussions for these men. Until the domestic violence could be addressed, these women would continue to prefer an arduous task like lugging water over spending time at home. This story has deeply impacted my work and how I view my goal of supporting communities in East Africa. I knew I wanted to be impactful and work with talented communities across Kenya but did not want to turn into a well-intentioned Well Story. That’s when I got the idea for RoHo where we partner with talented artisan groups across Kenya and sell their wares in the US. Artisans are paid fairly for their work and the artisan group decided that additional funds would send their children to quality local schools. Instead of telling a community what they need or want, I decided to start a business that partners with local communities. They are given better economic prospects and decide what they need. As I grow and develop RoHo, I make a commitment to do my best to understand the context in which we’re working, otherwise our good intentions can be more harmful than beneficial. Purchasing from artisans and other groups stimulates a local economy, supports a tradition of skilled work and gives artisans opportunities to decide for themselves what their community needs. Helping people help themselves. Sometimes, that can be more powerful than building a well.
What should our readers know about your business?
RoHo partners with talented artisan groups across Kenya to share their wares. Our line includes beaded leather sandals, Fair Trade jewelry, cowhide bags and accessories, global home goods and more. In addition to being paid fairly for their work, RoHo also sends artisans’ children to quality local schools. We currently work with over 400 artisans, 95% of whom are women. RoHo was highlighted in Forbes and selected as one of 50 projects featured in the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network Youth Solutions Report. RoHo believes that poverty is an absence of opportunity as much as a lack of material possessions. We seek to create opportunities in areas with vast amounts of artisanal talent, but amongst vulnerable populations with high unemployment rates, limited infrastructure, and poor education services. By creating new American markets for quality, artisan made products, RoHo is helping people help themselves break the cycle of poverty. Providing safe and quality jobs to skilled artisans is key in supporting community development. In addition to our original mission, since COVID-19 has hit Kenya, many RoHo artisans are food insecure. For the past several weeks it has been our commitment to ensure our artisans and their families have access to the food and healthcare they need during this uncertain time while our supply chains are disrupted. To date, we have assisted our artisans and their families in being food secure (upwards of 1,500 people) through thousands of mask sales for several months.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I love Santa Barbara and all it has to offer! I’d start with a hike in the mountains or a walk on the beach. Then brunch at Scarlett Begonia or Yellow Belly. We’d follow it up with some SUPing by the harbor then head to the Funk Zone for some wine tasting. Santa Barbara has great restaurants and wineries – plus the ocean and the mountains to burn it all off, it’s the perfect combination. At night, I’m a big fan of Loquita’s tapas as well as Venus in Fur’s wine cocktails, we’d add some of that into the mix as well.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Women’s Economic Ventures, a nonprofit that supports women business owners! They helped to turn this idea for RoHo into a reality and continue to be my biggest cheerleaders.