Sheeva Sairafi started her business just 2 years ago, and she’s already built up a name for herself. She’s self-funded, works out of her home, and designs her home decor with manufacturers all over the world using a fair-trade model.
Melissa and I visited Sheeva in her Los Angeles home last January — the first home-based business we’d interviewed — and I loved seeing how she built an office for herself that essentially doubled as a showroom. Her business name, Local + Lejos, is Spanish for “near and far,” and perfectly captures her two-sided mission:
“First, we aim to provide sustainable work to artisans abroad, primarily focusing on working with women. Second, we create unique, modern home goods at accessible prices for consumers here.”
“Fair trade” is a term that gets tossed around a lot, but Local + Lejos takes it very seriously. Sheeva meets all of her potential makers and visits them periodically for check-ins. “The most fulfilling part about running my business is seeing how much our global artisan relationships have grown,” she says. But of course there are downsides to her business model, too.
Because a lot of the artisans do not have internet access — or even much phone access — things take longer, making it hard to introduce new products or restock bestsellers. Sheeva works hard to combat the barriers, traveling regularly to maintain relationships with her manufacturers and quality standards with her products.
“We want our story and culture connection to be the focus of the brand, with the design and our goods being a reflection of those stories and heritage,” Sheeva says. Local + Lejos profiles the makers on their site and features them on social media. Connecting her consumers to her manufacturers in this meaningful way helps to keep her customers engaged with the brand.
Sheeva partners with a lot of different interior designers, which helps bring awareness to Local + Lejos. “In the home-decor space, interior designers really help set the trends and define what is credible,” she told us. Having designers vouch for her brand and promote her on social media helped get her products in front of lots more potential clients than she would have on her own.
One of the first big challenges for any small business owner is building a quality list. Most businesses assume that the bigger the list, the better the business, but Sheeva learned that’s not how it works at all. She decided to emulate other businesses and build her audience through giveaways, not realizing that the methods were ones that can turn a great, albeit smaller list into a compliance nightmare.
So while she earned 30,000 new subscribers in a short time, all of a sudden her emails started getting flagged, subscribers were dropping like flies, and Gmail was sticking her straight into spam folders.
After 2 years, one of the most surprising things about owning a business to Sheeva was just how long it takes to figure it all out. In fact, she realized that there’s never really a point where it’s all figured out.
“This really is an evolution, and I’ve stopped putting so much pressure on ‘getting it all done.’ It’s never done. And it won’t ever be, but you just always need to keep it moving in the right direction.”
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