Flower scarves from Nepal, antique textile handbags from Guatemala and precious-stone earrings and necklaces from Egypt are just some of the accessories that can be found at Bajalia, a high-end, handmade jewelry and accessories store on Park Avenue that brings fashion and fair trade together to empower women all over the world.
All of the handbags, jewelry, scarves and home décor found in the store are made by women in some of the poorest countries in the world. Customers at Bajalia get a quality product and the satisfaction of providing work and wages to women in need.
Debbie Farah, CEO and founder of Bajalia — which is her mother’s maiden name — partners with organizations and nonprofits dealing with women’s issues such as AIDS and human trafficking in 22 countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uganda and Rwanda. She said it all started as a simple act of kindness.
“It started as a way to help a few women in a village in India,” Farah said. “That’s really all I saw; then those women knew other women and so on.”
Through traveling and a passion for photography, Farah found herself meeting women from all around the world through her work with nonprofits. She wanted to tell their stories, so she brought back all the photography that hangs in the store and realized there was work to be done to improve the lives of those women and others like them.
A social entrepreneur
Farah has been in the advertising, design, creative direction and product development business for 28 years. She has worked in design and advertsing with luxury brands such as Neiman Marcus, Bloomindales's and Macy's, just to name a few.
She considers herself a social entrepreneur; she started a way for women to meet and network through the making of the jewelry and accessories her team designs in the states then ships overseas to be hand-crafted and refined by the women who have been trained to make them.
“It’s constant pay-it-forward,” she said. “We do what we do to help them grow their business, while they also do what they do to help their villages and people. We help them help others.”
Women in India who may normally only make about 50 cents a day may make upward of $2 a day and are less likely to be subjected to rape, molestation and violence than women who look for work in those countries, Farah said.
Martha Kyomya volunteers at Hesed Ministries, a Christian organization in Uganda that helps women and partners with Bajalia. She said the money women make by making jewelry out of paper beads allows them to have a sense of security and independence needed to survive.
She said that because of Bajalia, mothers can help their families, send their kids to school and instill in their children the means to create a future for themselves.
Kyomya knew of a 10- or 12-year-old boy who accidentally threw his shoes into an outdoor bathroom. She said his mother, who was making extra money creating jewelry for Bajalia, couldn’t afford to get him new ones, so the boy began helping his mother make the paper-bead jewelry and soon got new shoes on his own.
“I don’t know how else he would have gotten them if it weren’t for the opportunity Bajalia gave him and his mother,” Kyomya said. Although Bajalia works to help women and children, it does not promote or use child labor to manufacture its products, Farah said.
With its posh Park Avenue-meets-tribal motif, Bajalia also uses its appeal to educate shoppers about women’s issues around the world.
“What’s so great is that I don’t have to go to India to make a difference,” said Monica Taffinder, a Winter Park resident and customer. “I can go down the street, buy a scarf or piece of jewelry and know that, by buying a necklace, I’m changing a life and giving hope to a woman that’s oppressed.”
Farah began her nonprofit Bajalia Trading Company more than 10 years ago to develop training and outreach. Three years ago, she established the Bajalia International Group to include a wholesale and online business to make up the marketing efforts.
Last December, she opened the store to have a home base, design studio and retail spot all in one to add to her empire.
Most recently in March, Bajalia became the only fair-trade jewelry line on the Home Shopping Network.
“We are not only selling merchandise,” Farah said. “We’re selling the education and stories of these women’s lives.”
Bajalia is located at 520 S. Park Ave. in Winter Park. Store hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Prices range from about $15 to $500-plus for one-of-a-kind and antique pieces. Visit www.bajalia.com for more information.