Though our paths crossed just over a year ago, it would seem I have known Gaayathri for a lifetime. I refer to Gaayathri as my "enabler" because she skill-fully enabled me to see possibilities and create realities out of my dreams. Though we have never met and actually live in 2 different continents (Europe and Australia), we connect and resonate on so many levels including having full time professional jobs while running our businesses as a side-hustle as well as supporting women to be the best version of themselves.
Gaayathri's story is long overdue and I'm glad to share her journey as the first for 2019. I hope her story spurs you on through out this year and beyond towards embracing your own authentic journey.
I grew up in Singapore, in an atmosphere I consider to be quite toxic due to serious social issues. I experienced racism and bullying, which started way back in kindergarten and continued on through my school years, and working life. I attribute this to being one of the minority groups (Indian) in Singapore. This made my childhood and young adult years incredibly difficult, as people were aggressive and treated me differently just because of the colour of my skin. I had very low self confidence and was an introverted individual who constantly avoided group settings.
I led a mediocre life and performed quite poorly at school for these reasons. I did not know how to speak up for myself and felt silenced, cornered and often powerless. Unfortunately, my parents did not help me much with dealing with this. My parents were incredibly nice people and avoided conflicts at all cost, even though they had lots of negativity directed at them as well. They advised me rather to be 'nice' and 'just let things be'. From a tender age, I became really isolated in my journey, not knowing who to turn to and not understanding what was actually happening.
However, I got an opportunity to pack my bags in my early twenties and headed to Australia where I did a Bachelors in Creative Arts. Though I was very nervous initially leaving my family, this became the single best thing I had ever done for myself. I have not looked back as a great support network opened up for me.
Finding great support enabled me to open myself up and embrace new possibilities in Australia and what greatly helped was being surrounded by positive people with whom I could share my struggles and pain with. Some lecturers and mentors at my University believed in my capabilities so much and helped me unlock my potential and inner barriers. These individuals cheered me on and I started seeing things in a whole new light such that I acquired a more grounded perspective of my world. I got to understand that racism and bullying were not the norm but that people can accept me for who I am regardless of my colour. With this new found belief, confidence and perspective, I started excelling in my studies and soon became one of the top students at University, which subsequently gave me a scholarship to kickstart my second degree in law.
I finally broke away from the vicious circle of negativity and allowed myself the space to truly live. I eventually came to the realization that I may not have control over what happens in my life, how people choose to react to me but I have full control over how I can respond or react in any situation. My philosophy in life: "Don't look at it as a rejection; look at it as a re-direction."
A Burst of New life
The birth of my first child and motherhood changed my perspective on a lot of things. When I was shopping for my son, especially when looking for essential bedding items, I was very uninspired and disappointed by the low-quality fabrics in generic stores. I found some good ones online, but of course with shipping costs added, they were really expensive. Being of Indian heritage I thought about some of the things I grew up with, about the Indian textiles and artistry and how these are about slow fashion and slow living, such as hand looming, block printing, hand weaving, and wood crafting. I longed for my kid to have these things — a longing to revive centuries old artforms.
So while on maternity leave with my first son, I started Baby Peppers,
a brand that is synonymous with the notion of motherhood and ensuring that parents have access to wholesome and affordable shopping full of ethically crafted goods that will last a lifetime.
Our products include block printed textiles for bedding items such as cot quilts as well as handwoven baskets. By working with amazing artisan collectives, we create a unique, personalized experience for both the consumers and the artisans.
Furthermore, we make ethical shopping affordable and accessible for costumers, offering them the opportunity to make a social change on a global scale. Through this experience, we also create an opportunity for the artisans to imprint their story onto the products they create and to showcase the beauty of ancient craftsmanship on a global platform.
Voice for the Voiceless
From its infancy, I wanted my business to be built on a strong foundation of giving women of colour a true voice, a sense of belonging and female empowerment. Baby Peppers creates work opportunities for women who handcraft our products in the comfort and convenience of their homes, such that they are still able to cater for their kids. We also support a female fair trade collective made up of marginalized women living in the slums of Chennai - India, most of whom are disabled or victims of domestic violence and single mums.
The fair wages these women get, provides them with a source of dignified income, financial independence and hope for their children's future. Mothers are able to invest in basic needs such as education, sanitization, and good food. Buying our products means investing directly in these women's well-being and benefits.
The Best Version of Myself
I have always wanted to make a genuine impact on my family and community and now I can do exactly that by infusing people, marginalized women especially with positivism, encouragement and a means of earning a livelihood. This has greatly increased my level of confidence and overall well being. I am truly energized and able to focus on my business - one that ties in well with who I truly am.
I have an amazing online community with over 10k+ followers, which was really developed by sharing my story and being my authentic self. Several people approached me, after hearing or reading of my struggles and my past experiences because they could relate well to it. Since being an entrepreneur, I have come to discover that it is okay to just be myself, put myself out there - raw and real. This is much easier because then I reflect my genuine inner beauty and feel even more powerful to impact the world.
Gaayathri Periasami is the creator and founder of Baby Peppers, an ethical brand invested in making a global social change.
She is also the founder of The Honest Quill, a coaching business that helps stagnant brands get unstuck and pens for them authentic brand stories to turn their business into a purpose-driven adventure.