For most students, summer vacation is a time of rest and relaxation.
But for two sisters now from the Cranberry Township area, their annual summer holiday to south Asia as students jump-started their business.
Marvi Ali, a rising high school senior who co-founded a business called ZuMantra, said seeing the conditions in which some people in Mumbai live inspired her to make some sort of change in those conditions.
She said a number of children had to drop out of school because, although their parents respected and valued education, they needed the supplemental income to simply put food on the table every day.
“As I learned more about their families, I realized not only did their mothers work several jobs each day to make ends meet, but they were also incredibly skilled artisans who could make beautiful handcrafted products,” Ali said.
While working several jobs a day, these women were able to barely eke out a living, Ali said, because the goods they produced were under-appreciated in local markets, despite having “the beauty of centuries-old art.”
“The inability to earn left women powerless — for many, it meant asking their children to sacrifice their education,” she said.
Those realizations led Ali and her sister, Zara, to found ZuMantra, which commissions artisans in disparate areas such as India, Peru and Ghana to produce handcrafted goods.
Ali said the goal of ZuMantra is not only to provide an income for these women artisans, but also to help provide a sense of independence.
“Our goal is to help women create their own small businesses,” she said. “This independence will eliminate women's reliance on others, whether that be their family or even ZuMantra.”
She frames the company as working toward women's empowerment, especially in what she called the “patriarchal, caste-based society” in south Asia. A goal, Ali said, is to increase these women's financial literacy and independence and help them hurdle over societal limitations.
“I want women from marginalized and underprivileged communities to realize their worth, their role and their power,” she said.
“The journey towards women's empowerment and equality is a long one, but I'm proud that I'm able to say that we're a part of that journey.”
Ali also urged consumers to be more conscious in their choices, saying choosing a more ethical producer has significant impacts in these individuals' lives.
“Small actions can have a major impact. That's why our motto is 'Buy and Do Good,'” she said. “By choosing to support a business that gives to others, you can contribute to a cycle of good.”