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Priya Empowers Rescued Indian Women

Joy KennedyAt the age of 23, Joy Kennedy is running a successful international business. Kennedy, a University of St. Thomas 2011 liberal arts graduate with a focus in international studies, promotes her love for fashion and mission to help women in India learn new skills and earn a steady income through her women's accessories brand Priya.

Priya, which means "beloved" in Sanskrit, gives the women in Kolkata, or Calcutta, rescued from human trafficking, the opportunity to produce quality, handmade products for women in the United States. They are making their road to recovery one that enhances their work ethic and talents. Kennedy, the founder and designer, came up with the idea for Priya in March 2011, and she designed and produced her first product line in November.

The business venture began when Kennedy was asked to be a fashion consultant in Kolkata to give insight on what Western women want in terms of design and usability. Her first trip to India sparked her connection with the country and its people.

"Walking down the street in India overwhelms the senses because you are stimulated from all aspects," Kennedy said.

Watch this video about Kennedy and learn how India enhanced her worldview.

Operating a business on the other side of the world presents a number of challenges. A translator fluent in Hindi and Bengali is always present during Kennedy's business trips. Her most difficult task is balancing cultural differences with regard to time management.

"The cultural barrier is definitely there because we a have an efficiency first mentality," Kennedy said. "In India, for business, they preserve the relationship first. We want things very quickly in the West and that doesn't always translate in third-world countries, so at the beginning there was some miscommunication."

Kennedy tries to maintain a good working relationship with the women by reemphasizing the positives, such as telling them how happy the customers are with their products. She said constructive criticism is handled better with positive affirmations. Kennedy also tries to design her products according to what the Indian women can make.

Priya Empowers Rescued Indian Women"The design part is constantly evolving," Kennedy said. "I design a line around the capabilities of the women. I try to merge the things I love most in Western and Indian culture. For Western, we've done a great job with shape and form. What the Indian culture does so well is color and femininity."

Kennedy transferred to St. Thomas from Texas Tech University in her freshman year. A Houstonian through and through, Kennedy missed Houston and chose to study international studies at St. Thomas because she was attracted to the unique international environment.

"I love the diversity of St. Thomas," Kennedy said. "I loved going to class, and it seemed as though there was a different culture represented in every person. It was such a great representation of Houston and the way the world is moving now."

Kennedy hopes to expand the business to Nicaragua in the fall.