By: Jade Shi
Junior Praveena Fernes has an inspiring story about starting an online store to benefit women and children in Kadapa, India. She recently shared with the Smoke Signal her initiative and the motivation behind it.
Smoke Signal: How did you get started with your online craft store? Can you tell us about it?
Praveena Fernes: So, my family started a homeless school for children in India twenty years ago, in 1992, in a village called Kadapa. The reason we started that home was because there’s an epidemic called female infanticide, feticide, where they kill the girl children when they’re tiny; it’s sexist, basically. There’re multiple reasons why people do it—I can go on about that. Anyway, we started that home and it was supposed to be for girls and women because they’re being abandoned. My great-aunt actually founded it. I had this benefit concert with Peer Resource in the beginning of the year, which raised a bunch of money. And then I was like, there’s also village women that also are a part of that home because their children go to that school but they come from the village and actually were taught how to sew pillow covers, clothes, purses—anything you can really think of. They actually supply a lot of the stuff for the store called Anthropologie. It’s a small group of seven to nine women that make these clothes, so they’re pretty amazing, and I think their connection with Anthropologie has since ended, but they’re talented. There’s something also called fair trade, where in third-world countries, you don’t get paid as much as you should for your labor, so I was like, I’m a kid, I have a little bit of time to try something out, so I had talked to some people because I had that family connection with the home; I asked if I could sell their products and give them that money and donate the rest to build a school or fund a scholarship, something like that. So that was why I had that idea to start a craft store, or how it came about.
SS: Do you get your products from elsewhere to sell online?
PF: I designed the case for an iPad. I was like, what’s in right now? iPad cases. First I made a storenvy, which is like a free tool you can use; you can buy things, upgrade and pay more for it, but I just wanted to have something for free, mostly not to sell it online but so I could have a base so I could send a link, as I prefer to show them to people personally so they can see it. I have my own domain name, and I plan on making a real website, hopefully over winter break. The reason I why I wanted to make the store was that I couldn’t find a store online that told me exactly where the proceeds were going in a clear-cut way, where I could see the breakup of where my money was going to. My plan is to have a way for people to see the source: these nine women I’ve personally talked to and visited for the last six summers. I know them and their stories and I have that to motivate me and make sure I do a good job.
SS: Just to clarify, you say that you design these iPad cases. What exactly is your relationship, product-wise, with these women in Kadapa?
PF: So their children go to this school called Aarti Home in Kadapa and they also have to support themselves financially, so this is their work. They make things; I pay them before I sell the products, I pay them the amount that they ask for, and a little more, I guess, and then after I sell the products I also give them that money, the rest of the money, so that’s how they make money. I’m just selling what they make, and I design them, and I’m just helping them out as their thing with Anthropologie ended. I design the iPad cases, and they make them.
SS: Can you tell us a little bit about where your proceeds do go?
PF: From the recent concert I had with Peer Resource, I just started a scholarship fund, and I made about $5,000 from that, which gives scholarships to kids that graduate from that school, or live there. It’s like an orphanage where you can’t adopt children, which is why it’s called a home. After they graduate, they have to have some type of sponsor, or take a loan, so I created the scholarship fund to give them that money. There’s around $5,000 in there so far, which in that country makes a lot of kids go to school.
SS: Can you tell us about the process that you go through to do this?
PF: Like I said, I looked online to buy my own iPad case and I was like, wait, I can’t find one where I can see where the benefits are going. So with that lack, I thought, okay, what if I design my own. I took a piece of paper, looked online, saw what was kind of cute, and used ethnic-ish materials to put it together, but I didn’t’ sew it myself. My mom and my sister actually went with me to India this past summer and we worked together with the women in the village, and we compiled the designs and figured out the patterns. First I designed the cases, and they have a copy of them there, and it’s nice because every time my family goes to India, they come back with like 30 cases, so I don’t have to pay as much for shipping. So that’s how the shipping part works out. Setting up the storenvy was pretty straightforward; it’s a bit like setting up a blog. As I recently bought a domain name, I’m planning on making an html site.
SS: Is there any advice you would give anyone else who would want to do this or something similar to this?
PF: Definitely. A lot of people, when I started to do this, said “oh, it’s going to be hard” or “make sure you have time”. My advice would be: make sure you believe in your product, because that’s the only way you’re going to sell your product, and my belief system was based on the source, so find something that motivates you to do whatever you do well.