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Conversations with Eldonna Fernandez

Today we’d like to introduce you to Eldonna Fernandez. She shares her story with us below:
Eldonna went to Kenya on a mission trip in February of 2018 with an organization called Reaching Beyond Ourselves to be of service to the suffering and displaced people in Kitale, Kenya. She raised funds to go and do whatever she could to be of service. The group took supplies including food, blankets and clothing to schools, churches and clinics and prisons, slums and kids on the streets. One of the last places visited was the Kipsongo slum. The homes are mud huts with a tin roof and dirt or rough concrete floor. There is no running water, no kitchen, and no bathrooms. They shared supplies and stories of hope. As they were preparing to leave Eldonna noticed some of the women had hand-made items for sale. No one had any money so they couldn’t buy anything.

One Gift that Ignited an Idea
One of the women gifted Eldonna with a beaded necklace… made of magazines. The mother was hoping for someone to sponsor her son for school. Eldonna discovered someone on a previous mission trip had provided a micro loan for the women to get materials to make the beads and sell them in the local market. Eldonna woke up in the middle of the night with a God-inspired idea to buy some beads and sell them with her Think Like A Negotiator book when she would speak. People could get a book and a bead instead of only a book. Baskets and Beads was born that night in the middle of the night.

Suitcases of Success
Eldonna started with five women and half a suitcase full of beads made of magazines. Slowly she doubled her order… and then it was an entire suitcase… then seven suitcases, 11 suitcases… and now Baskets and Beads is receiving regular shipments from Kenya. Today, over 30 Kenyan women entrepreneurs are making the handcrafted products which are sold in a retail space in a Southern California location, in the online store and wholesale to several stores and boutique shops. Recently Baskets and Beads expanded to engage another 30-40 men and women making products of Kisii soapstone from Kisii county in Kenya. Soapstone is one of the softest known minerals, making it easy to carve for bowls, decorative small dishes, ornaments and various animals.

Self-Esteem, Status and Success

This program is teaching entrepreneurial skills to the ladies in Kenya. They are revered as “businesswomen” and looked up to in their community as leaders. This has provided an opportunity to earn regular income, learn sound work ethics and setting and achieving goals toward their success. The ladies work together as a team and are overjoyed to be part of the Baskets and Beads family.

Fair Trade
Fairtrade is an approach to business and to development based on dialogue, transparency, and respect that seeks to create greater equity in the international trading system. Baskets and Beads is a verified member of the Fair Trade Federation which means our practices have been scrutinized to ensure we are socially and environmentally responsible in everything we do.

From Poverty to Prosperity
Baskets and Beads are committed to supporting the women in Kenya. Our mission is to help them get out of poverty and create a better life for themselves and their families, sending their children to school and ensuring a brighter future.

I live in Irvine and have an online business and space in Fair Trade Long Beach Retail Collective.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
We were in 3 locations in 2019 and had several wholesale customers and sales from public speaking and various pop up events. COVID brought all sales to a stop here and in Kenya and put the ladies in jeopardy of not being able to feed their families… We had to close down two of our three locations. Three of our wholesale customers went out of business and the rest were not ordering. 2020 sales were dismal and a good part of 2021. It feels like we are starting over. During COVID, we raised funds to ensure the ladies in Kenya had food packs every month as there is no Government help for food.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I am a retired Air Force veteran who served 23 years in the US Air Force as a Contracts Specialist and retired as a Master Sergeant. After retiring I went to work for Aerospace companies as a Contracts Negotiator and Administrator. I wrote a book called Think Like A Negotiator and do speaking and training on negotiation, self-leadership and effective communication. When COVID hit in person speaking and training stopped and I took a job to cover the business expenses for Baskets and Beads so the business would not fail.

I’m proud of the time I served in the military and the work I am doing in Kenya. Most recently Baskets and Beads Kenya was named the Rosie Network Veteran Owned Business of the Year.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?
Get advice from people who are successful in the type of business you want to do. Be very tentative with your time and money. Get a coach who you can trust will have your best interest at heart and not looking to only take your money and get you nowhere. Hire slowly, fire quickly. Get referrals for services you need that have already been vetted so you have less of a chance of getting a bad deal.

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