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Sisters launch callaloo box

By Leah Sorias

Three years ago Trinidadian sisters Malika and Jamila Augustin took the plunge.

After 14 years of working in the corporate sector in the US, they packed their bags and not only left their jobs, but moved to another State.

Their dream was to establish their own business, but initially they had no idea what to venture into.

Then came the brainstorming.

They loved food.

Growing up in Trinidad, food was a major part of their culture. Trinidadian and Caribbean cuisine was readily available in New York, where they lived for 14 years.

However, they constantly heard complaints from friends and family living outside of metropolitan areas about how hard it was to find authentic Trini products.

Taking all these factors into consideration, the sisters launched Callaloo Box in 2017.

Callaloo Box is a US-based monthly subscription box and online grocery packed with Trinidadian and Caribbean condiments, seasoning, spices, pepper sauces, marinades and snacks.

Via their website www.callaloobox. com, the Augustins provide both services.

'We decided to focus on serving the Caribbean diaspora within the US, those who don't have access to products from home,' said Jamila.

'We like to think of ourselves as more than just selling a product. We're providing a service, but we're also trying to deliver that sense of home, of familiarity and memories,' Malika chimed in. The sisters shared their story with Express Business during a telephone interview from South Florida last week.

Trinidad close to their hearts

Originally from St. James, Malika, 40, and Jamila, 39, attended St. Joseph's Convent in Port of Spain.

They then moved to New York and attended the Baruch College, City University of New York, where Jamila attained a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree in Finance and Investments and Malika a BBA degree in Marketing, with a concentration in Research.

After graduating, the sisters remained in New York where they worked in the corporate sector for 14 years-Malika in the area of marketing and database analytics and Jamila in financial services op eration.

Malika said while working, she returned to Baruch College where she obtained a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree in Entrereneurship and Small Business Management.

'I always had it in the back of my mind that eventually we want- ed to branch off and start our own

business,'she said.

She said although all of their adult life was spent in the US, their hearts stayed close to Trinidad.

'So we would come home every six months and for Carnival. Our mom still lives in Trinidad periodically, so we always stayed connected to home,'she said.

'When we left the corporate world we wanted to do something that was related to Trinidad and our culture,'she explained.

Callaloo Box

'We wanted a name that resonated exactly with the service we were trying to provide. We also wanted a Trini word. So we literally went through aTrinidadian diction- ary online trying to find a name,"

Malika said.

Whentheycameupontheword 'callaloo', the sisters thought it was a perfect name for their business.

'Callaloo is a mixture of all these different ingredients simmered to gether to make a very tasty dish. We also use the word callaloo to mean mixed up. It's very reflective

of the multi-culturalism of our society,' she pointed out.

'So it was a perfect pick of what we wanted to call the subscription service,'Jamila interjected.

Most of the Augustin's customers are based in the US but, from time to time, they receive orders from customers in Canada and the United Kingdom.

'We can technically deliver anywhere in the world but it is kind of prohibitive because shipping costs are so expensive. That's because a lot of the products we use in the boxes are bottles, which are very heavy,' Jamila noted, adding that some customers do not mind paying the hefty shipping fee.

Subscription boxes and grocery items are shipped to customers via the US postal service, she said.

'Our suppliers are in Miami. They import the products directly fromTrinidadian manufacturers,'she said.

Customers have an option of taking monthly boxes, skipping a month at any time or taking a one-time subscription box.

Monthly boxes cost US$34.99 while one-time boxes cost US$39.99.

The first subscription box is shipped

within one to two days of purchase while recurring boxes are shipped between the 16th to 18th of each month.

Every month, the boxes feature a different theme.

This month's theme is 'The One Caribbean Box', and includes condiments, sauces, spices and seasoning originating from Guyana, T&T and St. Lucia.

'For Carnival, we did a Creole Box with a theme around creole food and carnival-related activities. In March, the theme was around seafood because of the Lenten season. For Divali we have a different box as well," Jamila outlined.

Funding challenge

One of the major obstacles entrepreneurs face when starting a business is accessing funding.

This was also the case for the Augustins, but their subscription business model required a lower start-up investment than a brick-and-mortar store.

Asked what was their biggest challenge in launching the service, Jamila responded: 'Initially, one of the main obstacles we faced was familiarity with the process. Because we never owned an online store before we had to literally understand how to build a website. We are basically educating ourselves with the content and what we are trying to sell.

'We took months and months to understand it. Even now, we're still learning the process, understanding how the postal service works, how we pack the boxes. We have to constantly keep our products fresh, so we are always looking for new products out ofTrinidad and trying to get them in our boxes'.

So far, reviews from customers have been excellent, Jamila said.

'Most of the feedback we usually get is that the products remind them of home.'

Looking ahead

As to plans for the future, Malika said their hope is to expand the global footprint of their subscription service.

'There are not only Trinis and Caribbean people in the US, but the Caribbean diaspora is global. So I think the medium to long-term goal would be expanding to the extent where we are able to offer our services not only

in the US, but to Europe, the African continent, the Middle East etcetera. We

also want to expand our product offer ings. There are so many very tasty and very innovative products coming out ofTrinidad and the Caribbean,'she said.

'We want to become household name, a one-stop shop for all your Caribbean grocery needs,'Jamila added.

Malika, left, and Jamila Augustin

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