Student business showcases underrepresented voices in books

"In Her Words" champions print, diversity and pop-up retail

Some might say that a shop selling nothing but paper books is, today, a niche business, given the appetite for rapidly digestible digital content.

Kareena Virdi would shrug that off. In fact, Virdi (above, left) has challenged that notion by specializing in selling not just books exclusively but a specific type of book. In Her Words, which she started with business partner Rajah Maggay (above, right) in February 2024, is a pop-up and online bookstore featuring only women and gender-diverse authors.

The friends built their business on a love for reading developed in part by serving as Edmonton Public Library student pages, shelving books and helping patrons. But In Her Words is also a response to what they see as the need to champion underrepresented voices.

We caught up with Virdi after meeting her and Maggay at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital this spring, where the “travelling book ladies” set up a table full of new books as part of a project by JR Shaw School of Business students to revive the facility’s retail shop used by patients, visitors and staff, and even as part of rehabilitative treatment.

Here’s what the fourth-year Marketing student told us about this new chapter of her life as an entrepreneur.

Learn about what you can do with an education in Marketing at NAIT

Why open a store?

Virdi: Our bookstore is women-owned and led – for women, by women. We curate stories by women authors, both local and international, because we feel that women's voices deserve to be heard in the book world. There are so many male authors out there and females don't get the representation they should.

Why physical books?

We find that there's not enough emphasis on print books anymore, and we want to bring that back.

in her words book store at a pop up market at the glenrose rehabilitation hospital

Is the goal bricks and mortar?

Yes, and to get our ecommerce going. It's nice to be able to do pop-ups because we are travelling book ladies. We can bring our books with us wherever we go. We've done pop-ups at Southgate Centre, Kingsway Mall and the Enjoy Center in St. Albert.

Has your education helped?

Definitely – my education has helped me to understand the supply chain and just what it takes to open a business. There are so many different factors and knowing where to start is so important.

Is this financially worthwhile?

Yes, because we get a good deal on our books. We are selling them at a markup, but not by much. We are comparable to Indigo or Chapters.

How are you different from them?

We have a curated selection of books. That's the biggest point of difference. We take great pride in the books that we choose. We spend lots of time researching the market and understanding what kind of books there's a need for. We look to see what local authors are writing and try to supply the ones that Indigo and Chapters don't have.

What was it like selling books as part of the Glenrose project?

I asked if I could get involved and if we could sell [there] because I just loved the project so much. It's really important that Glenrose has this corner store because it does definitely increase happiness among the patients and staff members. [And] it helps little vendors like myself as well.

It was just nice to be a part of something bigger, because you had all the patients coming by and saying hello. Even being in that atmosphere was really nice. You could tell that we were putting smiles on their faces.

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