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Caleigh Hernandez

ms.caleigh
​Founder and CEO of Best Foot Forward

Caleigh attended Vieja Valley from 1999 - 2002 (1st - 3rd grade). She moved away with her family to Park City, Utah but came back to Santa Barbara and attended San Marcos High School. Caleigh went on to Northwestern University and studied Political Science and International Studies with a focus on international development in sub-Saharan Africa.

Q & A with Caleigh

VV: What was your favorite subject as a young student?
Caleigh: I always loved reading; in fifth grade I was voted “Class Bookworm”, which goes to show how much time I spent with my nose in a book! I also loved math, until I got to Calculus.

​VV: Which teacher at Vieja had a lasting impression?
Caleigh: I absolutely loved my teachers Ms. Murray (now Mrs. Rickman) and Mrs. Busby. Mrs. Busby and I wore the same Halloween costume one year – she was the Queen Bee and I was a bumblebee. Ms. Murray was the first and only teacher to send me to the office! I’ll never forget that and I never did it again! But we are still in contact and she’s been a wonderful friend.

VV: Who has been your biggest role model in life?
Caleigh: I know it’s clique, but my mother is my biggest role model. She’s taught me perseverance and that there is a solution to everything! She’s been my biggest supporter as I’ve done things that aren’t typical like conducting independent research in Uganda, moving to Tanzania and Kenya for a year or starting my own business at 21. She raised three happy, healthy children on her own and continues to serve as an incredible mentor. She is Wonder Woman. 

VV: How did Best Foot Forward evolve?
Caleigh: The inspiration for Best Foot Forward started when I was living with a host family in rural Uganda. On the weekends, a few of us would explore larger towns where we would come across craft markets. Through these travels I kept coming across beautiful beaded leather sandals. I brought a pair back for my mom and she thought we could do something really special with them. 

The following summer I returned to East Africa to find our manufacturer. That’s when I came across Lydia, a Kenyan entrepreneur making the best quality sandals I could find. We developed a friendship and a business relationship. She shipped me samples and I took the idea to a conference where I received funding and mentorship for the idea. That’s how Best Foot Forward was born. We import the highest quality beaded leather sandals made in Kenya and sell them through home shows, festivals and women’s boutiques. We now have ten adult styles in our line as well as two children’s styles. 

Best Foot Forward’s goal is to be as impactful as possible, so our giving model has evolved significantly over time! We originally wanted to create a trade school for marginalized groups in Kenya, but the more time I spent where the shoes are made I realized that wasn’t the most effective use of resources. Unemployment rates are upwards of 40% due to terrorist threats and a declining tourism industry. Several organizations are offering trainings on a variety of skills, but there still aren’t jobs. 

We’re now focusing on the growth and development of our artisans. We’re ensuring they have the skills and resources they need to thrive. As we expand, we can hire additional artisans who can support themselves and their families. We’ve also allocated a community development fund that our artisans can choose to allocate how they see fit – scholarships, sources of capital, etc. We want to give back to the community and have realized our artisans know most about the area and its needs. 

As we move forward, we’re looking at other products we can import from Africa that are ethically sourced. We’re looking into scarves, jewelry, etc. I foresee Best Foot Forward developing into an ethical fashion hub, but who knows? Everyday is different. It’s been quite a journey!

VV: What has been your most cherished moment to date?
Caleigh: That’s too hard a question without weeks of contemplation! I will say this though, waking up everyday loving what I’m doing and don’t take that for granted. 

​VV: What inspiring message would like the students of Vieja Valley to carry with them throughout their academic years?
Caleigh: I would say just go for it! There’s never a time I tried something that scared me and I regretted it. Even if I didn’t make a team or failed at what I tried, the process of challenging myself was the most important part. 

To read more about Caleigh and Best Foot Forward, click here.

Interviewed 2016-17 school year

 

2010 VV Alumni with Mrs. Lauderdale and Mrs. Seigel-Boettner

2010 VV Alumni
with Mrs. Lauderdale and Mrs. Seigel-Boettner

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