Today we’d like to introduce you to Caleigh Hernandez.
Hi Caleigh, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
I never thought I’d own an accessories business! I was always interested in travel and giving back in some way.
I was living in East Africa working for a nonprofit when I first came across our primary sandal supplier, Lydia in Kampala, Uganda after weeks of shopkeepers in the city telling me to look for this woman. “Not the skinny Lydia, she’s a big woman, the Kenyan. You’ll know her when you see her”. So after hours of searching, three motorcycle taxis taking me to the wrong part of the city, and several minutes of me cursing my inability to speak Lugandan and Swahili fluently, I finally found her.
I can only imagine the sight I presented upon arrival – a disheveled, overwhelmed young person, trying desperately to explain to her how much I loved her shoes, wanting to learn more, to understand why she was in Uganda, etc. And yet we clicked right away. My Swahili and Lugandan might not have been up to muster, and her English wasn’t perfect, but we made it work. Beautiful shoes are universal. We sat on tiny wooden stools in one of her pop-up craft shops speaking for close to two hours.
I explained my idea about importing her shoes to the United States and creating a social enterprise, she told me about coastal Kenya (where the shoes are made), her background as a successful woman entrepreneur, the artisans she works with and the intricacies of sandal making. And so the business relationship and friendship started, in a slightly unorthodox manner and yet it’s continued to grow.
I stayed in contact with Lydia and started working on developing a sandal line with her that would work for consumers in the US. And that was the beginning of RoHo. At RoHo, we like to say we’re more than a shoe, which means a few different things. Firstly, our sandals do so more than just please the wearer – they provide the means for talented artisans and their families to improve their livelihoods and support themselves.
We also send our artisans’ children to quality schools in the area in order to ensure their children have more opportunities in their future. But we’re not stopping with just sandals. We’ve expanded to include cowhide bags and accessories, women’s slides, jewelry and a NEW home goods line (launching early Fall). I’m passionate about finding skilled, quality artisans across the world and creating new markets to share their goods.
I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
I often joke and say this is why not everyone starts an accessories company in Kenya. Sourcing and quality control proved initially difficult, bureaucracy can be burdensome, shipping prices vary, and language and cultural miscommunications do occur. COVID has been an especially challenging time for us as we want to ensure our artisans are safe and also able to support themselves during this uncertain time.
All that said, I love what I do. I love the relationships that have been developed with our artisans and the fact that our customers appreciate and understand the thought and intentions behind our products and actions. That makes it all worth it.
We’ve been impressed with RoHo, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
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 and a new line of natural home goods. 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 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. 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 the sale of masks.
Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?
I had no business experience before launching RoHo and have constantly sought advice and mentorship from those more seasoned. I’ve found most people who have enough time are willing to help if you buy them a cup of coffee and chat. A thank you note afterwards goes a long way as well.
- Shoes: $37-138
- Purses: $145-450
- Home Goods: $64-499
- Jewelry: $7-299
- Email: info@RoHoGoods.com
- Website: https://rohogoods.com
- Instagram: https://www.
- Facebook: https://www.