BRIKA was founded by two women who believe that pursuing one’s passion pays off in a big way. Both Kena Paranjape, co-founder and Crafter of Brand, and Jen Lee Ross, co-founder and Builder of Business, had strong business corporate backgrounds but yearned to express their creativity is a different light. Thanks to their shared passions and values, they developed and created BRIKA, a one of kind online marketplace that showcases beautiful, modern crafts created by amazing artisans and designers whose goal is to provide their customers with an unforgettable experience.
Her Agenda had the opportunity to speak with Kena Paranjape about the passion to start your own business, the importance of partnership, and advice on stepping out of your comfort zone to pursue your dreams.
Her Agenda: What made you ladies start BRIKA?
Kena Paranjape: It’s actually a really cool story of how it came together. In my career, I have always been really creative. I started a jewelry business while in business school and I used to write stories a lot. While I was following this very “corporate” retail and merchandising path, where I was learning a ton, I always said to myself, “I really want to do my own thing.” I would get this burning desire to want to do something but I just didn’t know what it would be, who I would do it with, and when would be the right time.
So while working, in my spare time I decided to start a blog, Life and Fashion. It was a way for me to express my creativity and my perspective on life, fashion and a bunch of other stuff. I started this blog how many people start blogs, just being happy if your friends and mother read it. One day I got an email from a girl who said she loved my blog and she wanted to bounce ideas off of me. I was like, sure! After I did a quick Google search of course. (laughs) After that, we then met up for coffee and instantly we liked each other and formed a strong bond. So, we just started talking about what we were doing in our separate lives and that girl is Jen, [who is now] my business partner. That’s how we met. Jen also went to business school but she worked in consulting, private equity and finance. After constantly brainstorming ideas, we started to realize we have a very common vision of what we want for our lives and the kind of business we wanted to build. I wanted the ideal partner that I liked a lot and could really work with and would have strengths that I didn’t have. That was Jen.
At that time, I was kind of playing the role as an intrapreneur by running a eco-friendly start-up store within a larger company in Canada called Indigo, its like a Barnes and Noble but a little more progressive. I was very hands on which was amazing because I got to get a sense of what its like to run your own business without the risks. The biggest insight from that experience was working with some of the artisans and designers for that concept. I would be blown away by their background stories, the quality of their product and the unique connection customers made with their products. Jen and I wanted to create a place online that would provide this same awesome experience plus more. That’s how BRIKA came about.
Her Agenda: So because of people being so busy and wanting to go online and find that one specific thing, do you think that is what makes BRIKA such a different online shopping experience than any other craft and accessory website?
KP: Yeah, I think that’s definitely one of the reasons. We try to keep a unique viewpoint on how we present each product. For example, we recently launched a collection that are six different gift boxes filled with products from different artisans that were put together really beautifully in a gift box. (Click here to check them out) It’s an instant perfect gift presented in an unique way that you can send a friend for any reason from birthdays to congratulating them on a life changing decision. We also recently partnered up with the Clinton Foundation where they are very passionate about saving African elephants. Hillary and Chelsea Clinton wanted to raise awareness because within just a few years, hundreds of thousands of elephants have been killed in Africa for their ivory. So, the best way we could help raise awareness was by tapping into our artisan community and expressing how we would love for them to be involved and to send exclusive designs inspired by elephants. We received hundred of designs and now we have this whole collection on our site of products that were made exclusively for BRIKA. You won’t find them anywhere else and 10% of the proceeds go back to Saving Elephants. (click here)
Her Agenda: What can you say has been your greatest inspiration thus far with BRIKA?
KP: Honestly, I think the people and all the artisans we work with because they are all doing what some of us are afraid to do which is to follow your passion in a real way. Even with some of the [artists] still having full time jobs, they’re committed enough to developing their own brand that they find a way to balance the two. They also connect with other artisans and collaborate to find a way to tell their personal stories in an interesting way. For me, they’re definitely my biggest inspiration.
Her Agenda: If you weren’t doing BRIKA, what do you think you would be doing at this point in your life based on the path you were originally following?
KP: Oh my gosh, I love that question because there is a story to this! There was a point where things were winding down for me at my job and Jen was actually going on maternity leave within a few short months. We were constantly brainstorming but we hadn’t made a firm decision on where we were taking things. At that point, I got a really great job offer from a big retailer that had just moved into Canada from the U.S. and on paper it had everything you would want from a job. A great title, tons of responsibility, more money than I ever made, bonus opportunities, all this great stuff. I went through a crazy interview process to even get that job. When I got it, I instantly accepted it but I had this feeling that something wasn’t right. Two weeks before I was supposed to start, I called and said, “no, I can’t take the offer.” I then called Jen and told her that I was serious about us starting our own project. And so we did it!
I always think to myself what if I had gone and done that other job? But personally, I think that at that time in my life that was not the right way for me to go. If I weren’t doing what I’m doing now, I don’t know exactly what I would be doing but I know it would be something creative and entrepreneurial and it would involve my strengths. It would also allow me to work with the kind of people I want to work with.
BRIKA has a list of these wonderful values on the website which I loved but I want to draw attention to two of them. The two are “Everyone has a creative spark” and “We have the tools to craft a beautiful life.” Do you have any advice for anyone especially young ladies out there who are attempting to pursue their dreams/passion no matter how crazy it may seem to others?
KP: Yes, for sure. I think it is such a fine balance because you need to be able to take care of yourself and provide the necessities but also do something you will love doing. I do think people resign themselves by sticking with a job they don’t love but eventually settle for this particular lifestyle of just “getting by.” My advice is if you love something or don’t know what exactly you love, just be curious and try to learn things. Learn as much as you can and try to get out there and meet people and pursue anything that you’re remotely interested in and just go deeper and deeper into it. Things will open up and you’ll get exposed to something that you didn’t even know you would love.
Another piece of advice is to go for it because you never know who’s watching. I could’ve been like I’m not writing a blog because no one is going to read it but I wrote it and Jen found me that way and now look where we are today which is incredible. I would say pursue those things and don’t resign yourself to whatever your current situation is.
Her Agenda: What has been your most satisfying moment working with Jen? that moment when you both knew this made it all worth it.
KP: There’s so many moments. I think you tend to not appreciate them sometimes because we always feel like we’re not doing enough or haven’t achieved enough. So that’s one side of things but on the other side, I think when we went live with our website and we had a team around us, to get to that point was amazing. Since then, we have opened pop up shops in Toronto especially this beautiful, gorgeously designed pop up shop we did for the holidays last year. To have all these customers, press and artisans come, it was an amazing moment. I think honestly everyday there’s so many times when we both feel discouraged but we have never been discouraged at the same time. One of us pushes the other to make things happen. I think when you have a great partner, you get those moments reflected to each other when you need it most.
Editor’s note: This post was published on October 29, 2014.