It’s World Humanitarian Day. I have a story to tell, like always. And also some things to say.
As many of you know, I have launched my brand’s shop in order to feature and sell jewelry made by my friend Shiva, who I met in Nepal.
When we first met him at his shop in Pokhara, we knew he was different. While most jewelers on the street immediately tried to sell us something as Western tourists, Shiva was interested in just talking to us. In fact, he never urged us to buy anything, ever. He was glad to show us around his shop, tell us which stones were which. He had a ton of books on gems and stones and their healing properties, all in Nepali of course. So he would go through pages to translate meanings for us.
Many times we would walk in and he would be working on brand new piece. He would show us what he was doing. He would open up his notebook and show us the designs he had drawn up, and which he was working on. It was clear to me that the guy loved what he did. He was passionate about it.
Most of the jewelers on the street sold jewelry mass produced at the factory – aka how a lot of the jewelry we buy is made and sold here in the States. Wholesale jewelry suppliers and jewelry manufacturers. Made by machine.
And I could have guessed as much. I had been in a lot of different stores and passed by a lot of different windows, and came to recognize some of the same pieces. I even bought some from the Tibetan refugee women sitting on the streets. Did I buy this turquoise ring because I believed it to be real? Nope. Did the band make my finger green the next day? Yup. But I bought it from her to support her. I bought a few pieces.
Anyway, Shiva did, in fact, have some of these manufactured pieces in his shop. But he was truthful, always. In fact, when I would gravitate towards a piece from the factory, he wouldn’t even let me look. I was his friend. He wanted to make me a piece. He wanted me to have something special. He wanted me to handpick the stone, pick my own design, and he would create it for me.
And he did just that. I loved my piece so much that I asked him to make one each for my two sisters. And he did. I chose the stone, I chose the design. I would come in the next day to see him working on it. And then the next. And then in a few days, he was done with these beautiful pieces that were so distinctly his, so unique in style. So Shiva.
We wondered why he even had those factory pieces in the shop at all, to be honest. His pieces were so much more beautiful and so much cooler than anything else anyone was selling. But it is a business. He needs to have a shop that is stocked to meet the tourist demand. And there’s only one of him.
He was always so laid back about everything. We would ask him how much we owed him for our own custom designed pieces. He would shrug his shoulders, as if leaving it up to us. He never really seemed to care about the money. He just needed enough, nothing in excess. He was always so humble, and even when I started trying to help him come up with his own name and branding, he didn’t even want it. I don’t even know what his shop’s name was. It was just Shiva’s Shop.
We decided quickly that Shiva’s stuff would do crazy well in the U.S. I knew I wanted to continue working with him on a legitimate, sustainable brand for the future. I knew I could help. I knew I could take his business beyond brick and mortar. I knew that taking it online with the proper digital marketing could have the potential to change things for he and his family. Potentially for members of his community.
But right away, while all this was brewing, we worked with him on a kickstarter fundraiser. We helped him to make money for his business to support he and his wife, and unbeknownst to us, his first baby girl, who was protected in her mama’s belly under all those layers of winter clothes. Thinking back now, it all makes sense: Didi never drank coffee when we all sat, chatted, and sipped on hot drinks in his shop. I always offered her mine, but she never accepted.
Fast forward four months. Two 7.0+ magnitude earthquakes later. Over 9,000 deaths and 20,000 injuries later. Tens of thousands of destroyed homes later.
Shiva had a new baby girl and wife to take care of, and though he was blessed to find a store still standing, zero tourists passed by.
I saw a different side to Shiva. Not a less friendly version, or less caring version, or less passionate version. Never. But a scared one? A worried father, a nervous husband? Yes.
He reached out to me via Facebook (which we had newly set up for him) through broken English on Messenger. I couldn’t understand much at first, but what I did get was that he needed help. “No tourists,” he said, over and over. He said he could lose his shop, he said he was sending me jewelry. He said he needed help.
To be honest, I wasn’t necessarily ready for it, in terms of my long term business ideas. I’m a perfectionist, and I know what it takes to make brands successful, being a lot more planning than and a lot more preparation than I had even begun to start looking at. And I wanted it to be that, but I knew he was desperate. So I gave him my address and took a leap of faith.
A couple weeks later the package arrived.
I was a bit disappointed with the pieces I received. I guess I had become so accustomed to Shiva’s turning me away from anything other than his handmade, genuine stone, sterling silver, high quality, Shiva-style pieces. These didn’t seem like them.
What it came down to: he simply could not afford to make new pieces, and he could not afford to buy the high quality materials he had always purchased for his creations. He sent me all he had, all he could give me. But I didn’t see it that way at the time.
Unsure about the pieces in front of me, I took them to a highly recommended gemologist in the Downtown Los Angeles Jewelry District. Piece by piece, he gave me the market value (which each is being sold for per his evaluation). I was happy to find it was all sterling silver. But as far as the stones, he told me that the quality varied. I was frustrated. I expected them to be all of the utmost quality, especially if I was to attach these products to my brand, my name, and if I was going to ask my family and friends to put their hard-earned money towards it.
Not only was I frustrated and angry some days, but I was stressed. Shiva was messaging me every day asking if I sold anything yet. I started doubting him, I started doubting the project. I wanted to send everything back.
Me, me, me. I, I, I. My, my, my.
Here I am typing this on my MacBook Pro, after posting an Instagram post on my iPhone 6. I don’t have this dream career and job, and I’m living back at home. Many Americans, and me at times, would consider themselves to “broke” right now if they were in my position. But am I really though?
I am lucky to be in a position with a great education in a specialized, yet broad enough profession that enables me to secure freelance gigs to pay my bills. I’m in a position where I’m free to roam and have a certain sense of freedom. I am lucky enough to be in a position to switch careers pretty easily, when I want to (I just started up another).
I am lucky that I have family to help me when I need it. To most, I drive a piece of shit, but I am so lucky to have a car to get me from Point A to Point B.
This path I’m on has come with struggles and sacrifices, sure. But compared to what Shiva has endured? Not at all, not even a little.
Have I worked for what I have? Absolutely. Has Shiva worked hard? His ass off. But the reality is, he was not granted the same privileges that I was at birth.
But the thing is, he doesn’t even need a lot, he doesn’t want it. He’s always told me this. He just wants to support his family. He just wants to send his daughter to school.
Perspective. Understanding. Compassion.
I will never understand what the people of Nepal endured. I will never understand what they are going through.
I will never understand what it’s like to be a 20-something Nepali girl, desperate to get out to provide for her family, only to be approached by scammers wanting her money, claiming to give her a job in the U.S., just after she sends them a quick Western Union transfer (Yes, that really happened to my friend, and she was heartbroken when I told her it was a scam).
I will likely never be in Shiva’s position. I will likely never have to worry about my daughter the way Shiva is worrying about his right now. And I think that every time I see a new photo of his baby girl, who is getting so big every single day.
So my message?
First of all, I want to establish what’s up with the jewelry.
I came up with pleine de vie back in high school, and I didn’t really know what I wanted it to be. Should it be a fashion blog? A travel blog? An opinion blog?
I have decided since returning from Nepal that I truly want this to be its purpose. Something that is a creative outlet, and a place for me to pursue my interests in fashion. But also something that serves a greater purpose. Something that can become a seed that can grow people and their communities. And even if I try and fail, I will keep on working towards it.
But honestly, right now, my priority is not my brand. It’s not about even the jewelry, to be honest. Right now it’s about supporting Shiva. Everything is going back to him. It’s about giving him a boost so he can be in a position to create the pieces he loves to make again.
Don’t get me wrong. The pieces that are up are beautiful, and I would not even offer it to you all if I didn’t think so. They rival any of the brands you can buy here in the States. But I just know that Shiva and I could bring something different and beautiful. I just have to acknowledge that right now is maybe not the time.
My aim for the long term is to go back to Nepal, sit down with Shiva, and collaboratively come up with a beautiful brand based on the creative visions we both have – to come up with those pieces that are so uniquely Shiva. The ones I fell in love with.
My second, and most important message:
Make it about people. Not money, not material things. Make the things you do and the reason you do things for others. When you forget, when you get lost in the you, challenge yourself to look at the bigger picture. You’ll realize how small the you actually is, in the grand scheme. (It’s easy to forget, I’ve realized.)
And you don’t have to fly to Nepal and meet a Shiva to do it.
Whatever you can do to better others, whether it’s at your school, or your community, or your country, do that. If you can show kindness and compassion to a stranger and brighten their day, do that. If you can make a positive difference in someone else’s life somehow, some way, do that.
Let this be your daily reminder.
Happy World Humanitarian Day.