Short Film Spotlights Stacy’s Pita Initiative Elevate Women Founders

The foundation of Stacy’s® Pita Chips is built on supporting women entrepreneurs as they relentlessly chase their dreams. Since the brand’s conception in 1996 by founder Stacy Madison, Stacy’s continues to find ways to stay true to its roots by helping women-owned businesses ascend — including through the Stacy’s Rise Project™. Recently their inspiring stories came to life on screen with “RISE,” a short film produced by Hello Sunshine, which screened at the Stacy’s Roots to Rise Market at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

Directed by Nisha Ganatra and narrated by Rupi Kaur, who also wrote an original poem for the film, “RISE” showcases the raw and tumultuous reality of three women and the obstacles they faced building their businesses. Though from vastly different backgrounds, entrepreneurs Sajani Amarasiri, Maria Palacio and Jocelyn Ramirez share a tenacious drive to rise above all challenges in impassioned pursuit of their goals.

“There were a lot of emotions,” says Rhasheda Boyd, vice president of marketing at Frito-Lay, after seeing the film. “I was disappointed, at first, that in 2023 we’re still facing a lot of these challenges; but then excited we can tell the story that hopefully will inspire and motivate others to support women.” Far from minimizing the difficulties faced by women founders, the film offers a measure of reality, which Boyd hopes resonates with audiences. “Their perseverance and commitment to their passion, despite setbacks and obstacles, is definitely inspiring,” says Boyd.

Palacio, who was raised on a coffee farm in Colombia, watched as her family and community worked tirelessly only to suffer in poverty. After arriving in New York City to pursue a fashion career, she was shocked to see how many people were willing to pay exorbitant prices for a cup of coffee from a local café. Moreover, the booming demand wasn’t benefiting perhaps the most important people in the supply chain: the growers. “It didn’t make sense [in that context] that farmers were falling into poverty,” Palacio explains. “During my journey, my dad lost his farm.”

For the first time, Palacio saw the real value of coffee, as well as what her family had been working toward for generations. Not content to stay idle, Palacio decided to help grow a brighter future by changing the narrative — and supply chain — for Colombian farmers. “We were able to open Progeny Coffee in California with the mission to lift farmers out of poverty,” Palacio says. “Coffee is a vehicle to deliver our mission, impact and hope.”

Though the company grew quickly since its 2016 launch, the pandemic wiped away a staggering percentage of its business almost overnight — most of its clients worked for companies that had switched to a WFH model. While uncertainty loomed and funds dwindled, Palacio gave birth to her second child. On the brink of losing everything, she applied to participate in the Stacy’s Rise Project — a decision, she says, that kept her dreams in motion. “It was so beautiful because it was in a moment where I didn’t know what was going to happen tomorrow,” Palacio recalls. With access to mentorship from talent across multiple PepsiCo departments, as well as weekly meetings and financial investment, Palacio was able to rise again — this time, with a network of people who believed in her vision. “It helped me dream bigger. I went from about to lose everything to rising alongside them. It was a really emotional journey with the Stacy’s brand,” she says.

Much like Palacio’s business, Amarasiri’s Kola Goodies is centered on delivering a product that benefits both the consumer and farmer. The company offers a range of products, including her mom’s magical milk tea latte, with every ingredient sourced with intention. “We don’t buy from big plantations; we buy from smallholder farmers,” Amarasiri says. “It’s a ripple effect across the world because of how we source. That benefit of your sip goes back to the farmer.”

In the 18 months since launching Kola Goodies and participating in the Rise Project, Amarasiri has come to understand the power of both her story and her company. “I realized how far you can go as a bootstrapped and resourceful person. I learned I should always bet on myself,” Amarasiri says, reflecting on how the process with Stacy’s forced her to take a step back and recognize just how far she’d come. “I love the fact that my parents make an appearance in the film; though still in Sri Lanka, their journey itself is so incredible,” Amarasiri explains. “They came from absolutely nothing. For me to be here in America in this film, that was emotional; it’s a generational thing.”

This aspect of realizing one’s fullest potential hit Ramirez — owner of plant-based Mexican- and South American-inspired business Todo Verde — hard during filming. “What I learned about myself in the process is there is so much potential for this brand to grow in a way that I just can’t see,” Ramirez says. What she thought was impossible has become within reach after unraveling the mystery behind how [massive] companies achieved success. “Peeling away the layers and seeing within myself that I do have potential to reach something really big,” Ramirez explains. “I just have to keep building.”

The newfound awareness inspires Ramirez to dream bigger. Being a part of the Stacy’s community and interacting with Palacio, Amarasiri and other Rise Project founders supported her drive to keep going and stop thinking small. “I have a lot of respect for each of them because I know how hard it is and the resilience [needed] when one door closes; [it’s like] here we go, let’s figure out the next thing. It makes me feel like I need to keep hustling,” says Ramirez. Going forward, the e-commerce best seller wants to continue writing insightful cookbooks while also creating products families rely on and see frequently on store shelves.

The stories of women rising despite adversity won’t end here. Stacy’s plans on expanding its reach to impact even more women entrepreneurs. “This year we expanded to include female founders in Canada,” Boyd explains. “I see us continuing to expand the program beyond the U.S. and exploring partnerships to really help bring more resources to more founders.”

However the Rise Project continues to evolve, elevating women by creating access to unparalleled resources and mentorship will remain at the core of the Stacy’s brand. “It’s in our DNA,” Boyd says.

To learn more about the Stacy’s Rise Project™ and to watch the short film “RISE,” please visit here.

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