A Minnesota blizzard greeted Caroline Shibata when she first arrived in the U.S. from Indonesia to attend college, and she ended up stranded in a hotel for three nights.
“It was frightening as I saw the light snow turned into blizzard conditions,” she shares. Shibata intentionally chose to be far away from the large Asian population on the West Coast so she could be totally immersed and learn English as quickly as possible.
She realized that many Americans are unaware of Indonesia beyond having heard of Bali, but Bali is only one of more than 13,000 islands in the Indonesian archipelago. In addition to the tropical beaches and lush paddy terrace fields, Shibata loves the artisanal craftsmanship of Indonesia, such as “the traditional methods of weaving, carving, and batik painting that have been passed down from generation to generation,” she explains.
These are some of the design elements that Shibata has incorporated into her business, Jeffan International, an Indonesian artistry- and nature-inspired furniture and home goods brand. During Shibata’s corporate career, she realized that “deep down, some sense of fulfillment was still missing from my work life.” She looked to her parents for inspiration and found that as entrepreneurs, they were able to actively contribute to their communities. This led her to the idea for Jeffan: “connecting elements that I love from my home country to the country I call home now.”
One of the biggest obstacles to overcome as an immigrant business owner is not having established networks in the U.S. to lean on, Shibata explains. She credits her younger brother in Indonesia as her biggest asset when she first began her business – together, they were able to figure out rules and regulations for importing goods from Indonesia.
Shibata also attributes some of her success to her parents and the sacrifices they made to give her the opportunity to study in the U.S. “As a result, I strongly believe in access to quality education as a primary driver for economic and social mobility, especially among traditionally underprivileged minority groups,” Shibata says.
As an immigrant, Shibata is very aware of how diversity makes the U.S. a better place for everyone, which is why her vision for Jeffan is to “enrich lives through cultural exchange.” This applies both to her company’s products and her philosophy of business. Diversity in business leads to diversity of thought, and as Shibata says, “We gain strength when we care for and support all colors, shapes, and sizes of entrepreneurs.”