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Our Story

KAHINIWALLA

<ka •'hee•nee•'wal•uh'

(Bangla) n. a traveling storyteller;

(American English) prop n. a business sharing the stories behind sustainably handmade goods

Meet the Founders

Austin and Marita Miller first traveled to Bangladesh with an idealistic desire to change the world and to help those less fortunate than themselves. Fortunately, over the eight years that they lived there, they began to realize that Bangladesh was actually changing them in ways that they could not have imagined.

As their perspective shifted, they moved from a colonialist pursuit that sought to impose a particular vision of culture and faith, to a stance of listening and learning and the willingness to be wrong. After letting go of their own agendas, their relationships began to flourish with the strong foundation of authenticity minus the barrier of unspoken motives. Adjusting to all of these changes as a young, growing family had its stresses but as their sons began to grow up with Bangladesh as their home, it slowly became home for their whole family.

Austin eventually found his passion as a product designer working with Bangladeshi designers to create products marketable in the US. Through his work, he discovered Pebble. He was amazed at their business model and began meeting with Pebble’s founders to learn from them. When the Millers returned to their home in Ohio after being gone for years, one of Pebble’s founders asked if they would be interested in distributing Pebble in the US. They eventually said “Yes”, started Kahiniwalla, and have spent the past years building up Pebble’s distribution in the US. By partnering with Pebble, the Millers have been able to marry their values of compassion, imagination and sustainability. They delight in the fact that their work puts sustainable handmade toys into the hands of the next generation.

Photo of women walking on field in rural Bangladesh. Photo taken by Adrienne Gerber Photography

A little story about Bangladesh

Bangladesh is a lush and vibrant country, about the size of Wisconsin. It is nestled between India and Myanmar and is home to nearly 165 million people. Its capital, Dhaka, bustles with life, energy and creativity. North of the equator, its subtropical climate creates a countryside and villages which are unimaginably green and lush for a good part of the year. Bangla is the official language of Bangladesh. It is a little known fact that it is the fifth most spoken native language in the world. Most Americans pronounce Bangladesh with the first syllable rhyming with bang but Bangladeshis pronounce it to rhyme with gong. Bangladesh boasts Cox’s Bazar which is the longest natural sea beach in the world. The Sundarbans is the largest mangrove forest in the world. It is located in the Southeast and crosses over into West Bengal in India. This forest is home to the famous Royal Bengal Tiger.

Three boats on the shores of a Bangladeshi river. Photo by Adrienne Gerber Photography

Our journey with Pebble

Austin and Marita first met Pebble’s founders, Samantha and her husband Morshed, at a Craft Fair in the capital city of Dhaka. Over the years, the Millers consulted with them frequently, amazed at Pebble’s quality control and their business growth model. Pebble started when Samantha began teaching a dozen women how to knit and crochet in 2004, with the hopes of producing products that could be sold on the international market. By the time the Millers met her, Pebble had grown to be a job source for more than 2000 women. Today, Pebble provides jobs to more than 12,000 women in over 120 rural centers. Employees can walk to work, taking their little ones with them. Most of the centers have a nursery and/or preschool for the little ones. Employees are paid a living wage. This commitment to equity impacts entire communities as women are given a voice in their communities. Women in these areas no longer need to leave their children with grandparents and migrate to the cities in search of employment.