Gaayathri Periasami

HOW DID YOU IDENTIFY YOUR PASSION AND THE WORK THAT SATISFIED YOU VERSUS WORK THAT JUST PAID THE BILLS?

Being a lawyer and compliance manager paid my bills but the meaningless corporate grind reinforced in me that I was not doing anything to genuinely impact the lives of others. As a corporate slave, I was tied to my desk with mediocre wages when I could use that 8 hours to travel, give keynote speeches at world conferences, or just sit down with someone whose life I could turn around for the better. When I was shopping for my son especially in relation to essential bedding items, I was very uninspired and disappointed by the low quality fabrics in general stores. I found some good ones online but they were generally expensive and this showed that there was a real problem. If the product was ethically crafted, it was unaffordable. Naturally, being of Indian heritage I thought about some of the things that we grew up with as kids and everything about the Indian textiles and artistry has been about slow fashion and slow living such as hand looming, block printing, hand weaving, wood crafting etc I really wanted to amplify that and bring that back to life plus I wanted to provide a real life solution to make ethical shopping affordance and accessible. So there were lots of sleepless nights researching and finding the best artisan workshops to partner with and I’ve been 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 marginalised 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 marginalised 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 like education, sanitisation and good food. Buying from us means investing in these women’s wellbeing and benefits.

We don’t just sell products; we create a unique, personalised experience for both the consumers and 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 the global platform.

FOR YOU PERSONALLY, WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FEMINISM AND EMPOWERMENT?

Feminism is largely about redressing the gender imbalance and gender equality (though I don’t necessarily agree with the way that radical feminists go about it) and empowerment has nothing to do with gender. Even though being empowered is an internal feeling, the empowerment itself stems from a validation from an external source. You are empowered by something. For instance, the women we work with in the slums of Chennai show up to work everyday despite their pain and struggles. Believe me, they are not feminists by any stretch. Rather they are empowered by the opportunity that this fair trade organisation gives them to provide financial independence and continue their lives with dignity and the hopes of normalcy for their children. Any woman can feel empowered without needing to stop and think that they have defeated the men or the patriarchal society.

WHO WILL ETERNALLY BE A WOMAN YOU ADMIRE AND RESPECT, AND WHY?

Princess Diana will be a woman I eternally respect and admire. She went against the grain in all aspects of the monarchy and where the kingdom was steeped in meaningless bigotry, she used her power and influence to drive positive change and make a genuine and meaningful impact in the lives of others. From orphans, to terminal ill children, to HIV patients, Princess Di was not fazed by the ugliness of these diseases. When she expressed her interest to fund research into AIDS, she was met with so much resistance from the Queen who only saw her as a misfit and she was often described as ‘quite mad’. Despite the resistance and constant scrutiny, Princess Di showed the world what it was like to live her personal truth and be authentic by expressing how broken, vulnerable, and real she was. Just as what we would look for in a tribe, she craved for genuine human connections which she certainly did not gain with her husband Prince Charles or the general monarchy. She paved the way for true feminism by raising two beautiful boys with good ethics and values and til today, people say they see Diana in the boys. A woman that showed that female empowerment is not synonymous with male hating. In fact it was the opposite about nurturing the opposite gender where Diana craved for male attention and love and unfortunately ended up in a few damaged relationships which misused her trust. Against all odds, Diana showed that she was not defined by a meaningless title or crown but rather how human she was by wanting to share a connection with the everyday commoners.

IN LIGHT OF YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF OUR HASHTAG #WHYITRIBE, WHY DO YOU THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO CELEBRATE WHO WE ALREADY ARE TODAY?

I think it is absolutely important to celebrate who we are today. From the tribal days of performing very limited roles within a civilisation, women have all come an incredibly long way. Today, we are women who hold influential and powerful positions in many industries. Celebrations of who we are right now act as a way of positive reinforcement and show that there is more wins to come in this tumultuous entrepreneurship which can be an incredibly hard and lonely journey. There is always this incredulous race to be the next big thing or be better than your competitor but taking the time to celebrate all that you have already achieved and being in the present allows you to be truly mindful and conscious of your potential. The ‘now’ will pave the way forward for your future.

WHY DO YOU THINK WOMEN SHY AWAY FROM CELEBRATING OR PRAISING THEMSELVES SO MUCH?

Women do this because they don’t want to be seen as being more successful than their sisters. They don’t want to be seen as that woman who rose above the challenges and soared with her wings leaving all her incapable sisters behind. Women want to be seen as being modest and self-effacing and they feel like there is nothing more terrible than experiencing the scorn of a woman who’s jealous of their achievements. Women don’t want to praise themselves because they don’t want to come across as conceited or arrogant or worse even fraudulent for simply taking the time to acknowledge their achievements. From personal experience, I’d even go as far as to say that it feels embarrassing to praise yourself and I know other women are in the same boat.

HOW DO YOU OVERCOME THE TENDENCY TO DISCREDIT COMPLIMENTS YOU ARE GIVEN?

The root cause of why we find it so hard to accept compliments is because there is a deep-rooted fear in us that doesn’t accept us as being worthy. A fear that turns into confusion about who we really are. I grew up with zero self-confidence and self-esteem because I felt unworthy and upset that I didn’t belong in a clique. As a minority in Singapore, I felt like an outsider. So naturally, when someone passed a compliment, I was quick to reject it because I didn’t feel that I was worthy enough to receive it. I didn’t think there was anything special about me to warrant a nice compliment. I was always quick to divert compliments and even said things like ‘Are you crazy, I look like shit’. I overcame this challenge when I slowly started realising my worth, especially in my ability to make a positive impact in someone else’s life. When I dug deeper on how I could start to accept compliments, I accepted the positive truth that getting compliments was never really about me. It was about the person giving compliments because here is someone telling you how much you mean to them or how much you have done to change their mindset so dismissing or diverting the compliment is actually an act of insult to the other person. I’m certainly working on accepting compliments in a much more reassuring way now.

HOW DOES SOCIETY REINFORCE THE IDEA WE, AS WOMEN, ARE NOT ENOUGH AND HOW CAN WE TAKE THAT POWER BACK?

This is a great question but also one that is incredibly complex because people have very strong views about who society really is. We first have to establish who this elusive ‘society’ is. When you say society, I don’t know whether you can include both genders – male and females. I would be the first to put my hand up and say that most of my life, the rejection came from women. The notion that I am never enough was instilled in me by other girls my age from the age of kindergarten. When girls your age look at your skin colour and belittle your very existence, you can’t help but tell yourself that you could never be worthy of true friends. When my mother was giving birth to me in the hospital in 1983, the woman next to her was screaming and said she was in excruciating labour pains and the nurse said the most vile thing to her and asked her to shut up. The nurse asked her whether she would still be screaming like this if she went through painful sex. My mother said she would never forget the aggression expressed by the nurse that night. There are women who have blocked me from their lives and all social media platforms purely because I chose to live the truth and be successful. When there is an issue about breastfeeding, there are women who are disgusted by breastfeeding in public and actively discourage it. This is how society reinforces that we are not enough. Through racism, social engineering, stereotypes, and envy. We can only take that power back when we show the world what we can do with our brokenness. How we can turn a negative emotion and shift it to create true impact in both our lives and others. We take the power back by realising our self worth, even if it means learning to live with the discomfort of others who have not achieved anything useful because you can never stop a woman from hating on another woman. And we take the power back by forming a tribe, no matter how small – a community to share in each other’s struggles and achievements, to uphold our dignity and values and most importantly to combat whatever stands in our way of freedom and flexibility.

WHY IS THE TRIBE MOVEMENT IMPORTANT?

THE TRIBE movement is important to establish that women have always worked and performed best in tribes. Ancient civilisations show the importance of women in tribes where they were the primary care givers, gathered food, cooked together and educated their children. They were the fundamental pillars that held the civilisation together. The sense of healing and nourishment a woman obtains from being with her like-minded sisters who provide physical and emotional support is second to none. In today’s world, life can be very isolating where distractions and technology limit the opportunities for women to truly connect. Where women could use social media positively to connect, in many instances it has become a platform for jealousy and hate instead of encouragement and support. Now is the best time to band together and rise above the corporations, the big conglomerates that eat up small businesses. Now is the time to show the world what strength in numbers can do to make a genuine impact on the lives of others and to give back to communities that are directionless. Being in business, you can’t do it on your own. You need a tribe to back you up 100% to live your truth and live your story. In the 21st century, we are still hearing unfortunate words like poverty, domestic violence, human trafficking and modern day slavery and if we need to abolish these atrocities, we need THE TRIBE. We need THE TRIBE movement to learn from each other’s pain and struggles and build powerful fortresses to educate, empower and inspire other women, especially those without a voice.

Occupation: Founder, Baby Peppers

Website: www.babypeppers.com.au

Instagram: baby.peppers