Be the best version of yourself
Sharing my story means giving the marginalized and ostracized a voice to reason their struggles and dreams, a voice to show that you can rise above the challenges and soar and be an example to lead the way for those who are lost in their own journeys.
My childhood and teenage years were the hardest because I grew up in Singapore — in a very toxic atmosphere fraught with serious social issues like racism, schoolyard bullying, and workplace bullying. This made me grow up with zero self-confidence and the lowest self-esteem ever which naturally made me a very introverted and reclusive individual. I found it hard to involve myself in group settings, and my education was very mediocre because I felt like I couldn't perform my best. My parents really were fantastic, but they never liked controversy or conflict. Each of my bullying episodes was met with, "It'll be OK. Don't worry; you'll get through it." I wish they had told me to stand up for myself instead. So naturally my introversion and being a person of color stopped me from really putting myself out there, but I've realized that there is no way around this if you truly want to make a genuine impact in the lives of others.
To overcome these challenges, I had to go through a healing journey, one that prompted me to look within myself and ask what I can do or change to remove the built up toxic energy in my life. I had to come to the hard realization that I don't have control over what happens in my life but I have full control over how I can respond or react to that situation. And that is what is really going to help you rebuild your life. I always operate on this philosophy of, "Don't look at it as a rejection; look at it as a re-direction." I think it is incredibly important that you don't get bogged down in meaningless contemplation over negative situations but rather start redirecting your energy and focus into building something meaningful. Especially being a mum, it's very important to keep my mental well-being in check to fully embrace myself not only as an entrepreneur but also most importantly as a mother. In addition to that, when you surround yourself with positive people — ones that truly believe in you and your work — your energy levels to keep doing more good really soar and you find yourself overcoming lots of challenges and excelling in more areas.
After earning my diploma in mass communications, I got a job in a media production company. While the experience I got from the job was great, the environment was riddled with workplace bullying, which made me feel worthless all over again, especially when there was no support network or system to report such bullying. I resigned from the job when I got an opportunity to pack my bags and move to Australia to pursue my studies. I was so nervous doing it, but I haven't looked back since. It really has been the best decision I have ever made.
While on maternity leave with my first son, I started Baby Peppers. I always thought I would get into food or fashion, but motherhood changes your 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 general stores. I found a lot of good ones online, but of course they were really expensive. Naturally, being of Indian heritage I thought about some of the things that we grew up with as kids, and everything about Indian textiles and artistry has been about slow fashion and slow living, such as hand looming, block printing, hand weaving, and wood crafting — so I really wanted to amplify that and bring that back to life.
Essentially the online store was really born out of a personal need — the need to satisfy nostalgia — a longing to revive centuries old artforms, and the need to amplify slow fashion, but over time my branding has become 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. There were lots of sleepless nights researching and finding the best artisan workshops to partner with, and I’ve been so incredibly lucky to find some amazing collectives to partner with and create some of the most stunning collections.
The purpose of giving and female empowerment is the lifeline of the brand. Today the business has created hundreds of work opportunities for marginalized women. Our cot quilts are hand quilted by mothers in the comfort of their own homes to work around the needs of their children. Our baskets are handwoven by disabled and marginalized women (most of them are single mothers and victims of domestic violence) living in the slums of Chennai.
The fair wages these amazing women get provide them with financial independence and hope for their children's future, including being able to invest in basic needs such as education, sanitization, and good food. Buying from us means investing in these women's well-being and benefits. We don't just sell products; we create a unique, personalized experience for both the consumers and the artisans. We make ethical shopping affordable and accessible for consumers and give 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.
As for struggles in the business, I think the hardest challenge was to reach my ideal tribe. There’s so much of noise and clutter in the online space that sometimes you feel silenced in your journey, especially when you have a unique brand story and concept that people just don't understand sometimes. And it's through no fault of their own; it's just that they have been very sheltered and removed from what's really happening in the world. Topics such as poverty and slavery — it's hard to believe but after thousands of years they are still very much relevant in today's world, unfortunately.
The best advice I've ever been given is to "Live your personal truth" because you don't need anyone to validate your struggles and experiences. How people accept you is a reflection of their own lives. If you are a good person and making a genuine, positive impact in the lives of others and people love you, it means they love themselves and their life. If they hate you for all that you have achieved and continue to achieve, it means they hate their own lives and are projecting their own insecurities and fears onto you. I have personally borne the brunt of people who have blocked me from their lives purely because I am truthful and successful when I have been so supportive in their own lives, but this only prompts me to keep living my truth and keep doing what I'm doing. One of the most inspiring experiences along the way in my journey has been connecting with like-minded individuals who will have your back 100% and support you in greater ways than you could ever imagine. There is certainly strength in numbers; it is all about finding your tribe.
The more I am in business, the more I know that it is completely OK to put yourself out there, raw and real, and show how broken you are. And I have cultivated an amazing community on Instagram that shares in my struggles and keeps pushing me along. When I shared my pain of seeing the devastating effects of postpartum depression suffered by my mum, there have been so many people who have come forward with their own struggles after hearing mine. And this helps me show up as the best version of myself because this who I really am, and it is so much easier to be yourself than to be someone else you don't even recognize.
My advice is take the plunge. Don't be afraid to embrace opportunities and just give it a go. Life on this earth is far too short for us to be stressing out. We all need a creative outlet to use our passion to genuinely make a positive impact in our lives and in the lives of others, so don't give up and just keep at it. The outcome will be way better than what you had envisioned.
Gaayathri is a full-time lawyer and compliance manager working at a major Australian bank. She loves the corporate grind, but during her maternity leave following the birth of her first son, she felt a compelling need to make a difference in the lives of mothers from all walks of life in her own community and overseas. Shortly after the birth of her son, Baby Peppers was born to manifest this need.
Words: Gaayathri Periasami