Knights find perfect fit in global fashion company
Who says you can't change the world and shop the world at the same time?
Bajalia International Group, a company based out of Winter Park, sells handmade jewelry, stationery and home decor, as well as other products, that are produced in impoverished or war-torn areas such as Palestine, Afghanistan and Uganda.
It has a goal of "providing fair wages and good employment opportunities to economically disadvantaged artisans and entrepreneurs worldwide," according to its website, which displays bracelets earrings, bags and brooches for sale, among dozens of other items Bajalia offers.
The owner and founder, Debbie Farah, started Bajalia as a nonprofit in 2003, transitioning to the for-profit entity in 2009.
Bajalia itself is an Arabic family name, which honors Farah's grandfather, a man, she said, who had eight daughters in a culture that put heavy emphasis on having sons.
His respect for women, Farah said, inspired her to create something that helps women across the globe.
Those international efforts have even reached UCF.
Farah, a Jacksonville native and University of North Florida alumna, has spoken at UCF for roughly five to six years now.
"I had a fashion background and used it for companies all over the world," Farah said.
But once she went overseas and began photographing social-justice issues, she saw that women in particular had the ability to solve many socioeconomic problems many countries were facing.
"I wanted to create a product that would create jobs for women that were bought by other women," Farah said of her goal to connect women all over the world.
And in connecting women all over the world, Farah has enlisted the help of some Knights, both past and present.
Callie Geartner, a junior art history major, met Farah at a fundraiser, and after meeting her again at other events was asked to intern with Bajalia. Geartner now serves as the design assistant for Bajalia.
For the international issues that Bajalia tackles, Geartner said, UCF students have every reason to get involved.
"Nowadays there's more women in college than men, and that's something they should be concerned with," Geartner said. " For men, a lot of the things that women deal with, if men are [made] aware, then they can try and prevent it."
And while some Knights charge the front lines to pursue Bajalia's goals, others, such as Board of Directors Chair Cari Coats, helps with the behind-the-scenes aspect of Bajalia.
Coats, a 1979 UCF graduate, does a lot of work in the social-entrepreneurship sphere and even teaches an entrepreneurship class at Rollins.
She met Farah at an event for ATHENA Powerlink, a program designed to bring leadership opportunities to women.
Coats was inspired by Farah's story and what she does for women all over the world.
At one point Coats just said "I'm going to help you," as Farah transitioned to a for-profit venture.
At this point, Coats said, they're working on getting Bajalia into the mainstream sphere, as much of their business has been through the Home Shopping Network.
"She's definitely in the right place at the right time, from a trend standpoint. There's certainly a tremendous interest in this date and time," Coats said.
And while their goals might be social, the products of achieving those goals can have much wider scope, Coats said.
"It's critical for everyone, men and women, to support these social entrepreneurships," Coats said. "It's proven that when women are empowered, the economy is lifted."