Winnsboro welcomed a young entrepreneur last week who shared her story of pursuing the American dream.
Gaya Samarasingha is a native of Sri Lanka, over 9,000 miles and a more than 16-hour flight from the U.S.by air. She came to the U.S. as a college student and now makes her home here with her husband and their five-year-old daughter.
She is CEO of her own company, Kalaia, which offers a line of skin care made from natural ingredients. Gaya was invited by Winnsboro business owner Cloid White and his wife Ginger to speak to local residents, and women in particular, to provide them an opportunity to learn more about what entrepreneurship can offer.
The White’s daughter, Grayson White Boudreaux, was also present for the local event which took place at noon Friday at the Old Post Office Museum. A separate evening event offered a closer look at the company and what it has to offer. Grayson became involved with Kalaia as a brand partner and quickly rose to the position of director. She also holds a seat on the company’s advisory board.
Gaya said it was her own mother who inspired her to pursue her dreams.
“My mom was someone who dreamed big.” Gaya said.
She said her mother started a small business to better provide for their family and went from there to own several other businesses. Gaya said her mother was turned down for a loan of just $100 when she sought to start her own business. And while $100 may sound small here, that same amount can be a life-changing for people, particularly women, seeking to better provide for their families, she noted.
“She somehow made it happen,” Gaya said of her mother.
For that reason, Gaya started Kalaia Cares, a program which offers small starter loans to women entrepreneurs. One percent of her company’s sales are devoted to funding the program. The company has given out a total of 14 loans through Kalaia Cares since the company launched in 2018.
Gaya said she went through her own challenges to get to where she is today.
“I got here with two luggages and barely speaking English,” she said.
The only person she knew here was her now husband who also came to America to pursue an education and better life.
But Gaya was quick to express appreciation for what the U.S. has to offer.
“We were presented with so many great opportunities,” Gaya said. “I am proud to say that I have lived the American Dream.”
“If you want to work hard and dream big, this is the country that provides those opportunities,” she said.
Gaya said she came from a place and has visited many places where those opportunities don’t exist.
“Even to go to college over there, you have to be top of the top. If my parents couldn’t afford to send me here, I wouldn’t have been able to get a college degree.”
Gaya came across the direct sales industry after graduating with an MBA. She worked for multiple companies before deciding to start her launch her own.
Gaya spoke of the challenges she faced as a woman, even in the United States, when she sought investors. She said those challenges are a part of what makes the direct selling industry appealing. She said direct sales industries can provide an opportunity for someone to start their own business regardless of education or background.
However, she was quick to add that success is not overnight.
“It doesn’t happen overnight, but no other career path provides an opportunity like that,” she said.
While there are numerous direct sales opportunities, Gaya said the business model she chose has certain facets which she feels make it stand out against others. She said her company doesn’t require any personal purchases or inventory, and there are no monthly or annual fees. Instead, she said, it focuses on having a customer base.
Louisiana was the company’s fastest growing and largest markets at the time of the interview, and the company was seeing growth in California, Texas and the Northeast, Gaya said.
Asked why direct sales might be more appealing to women than other more traditional jobs, she said, “It’s the flexibility. You get to work however much you want and wherever you want. You can spend more time with your children.”
There is also the advantage, she said, of a low initial investment.
“It’s really hard to start something from scratch. You get such a lean business model,” she said.
And while social media platforms are a big part of her business model, she said more direct personal relationships with customers are also important.
“It’s a delicate balance,” she said.