Chat In The Cafe With Gaayathri Periasami, Founder Of Baby Peppers, An Australian-Based Online Ethical And Fair Trade Store
By: Mayuri J Ravi on Aug 23rd, 2017
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In a world of fast fashion and high-end technology, there exists a few fashion labels and brands that believe in sustainable and green living. And one such brand that truly believes in sourcing only ethical and eco-friendly products is Baby Peppers. Founded by Gaayathri Periasami and her husband Nathan Chinnappa in 2015, this Australian-based online baby store was born out of Periasami’s longing to bring back vintage and sustainable crafts, and slow fashion. Being of Indian descent, the couple have an affinity towards Indian fabrics and handmade products, which has inspired them to source and showcase handmade products from artisans in India.

We got to speak to Periasami herself, who is not only the founder of this eco-friendly store, but is also a qualified lawyer and full-time mom to two sons. She tells us all about her online store, her inspiration, the challenges she’s faced, her view on sustainable fashion and more.

How and why did Baby Peppers come into being? What was your inspiration?

Baby Peppers, like most novelty stores, was born out of a personal need. The need to satisfy nostalgia – a longing to revive centuries old art forms and the need to amplify slow fashion for kids' goods. It was really when I was shopping for my first son that I realised the lack of sustainable and ethical baby goods in the markets. And even if we found fair trade or ethical goods, they had an exorbitant price tag slapped on them. As strong believers of sustainable global trade and the socially conscious movement, we knew we had to bring our vision to life and make ethical shopping accessible and affordable for consumers to do the right thing.

What was the idea behind the name?

I wanted something fun, playful and colourful to reflect the vibrancy of the products that I was going to carry in my store. I drew inspiration from Steve Jobs when he named his company, Apple. He wanted something totally fun and did not want something rigid and reflective of computers or electronics. He had just returned from an apple farm, and thought the name sounded “fun, spirited and not intimidating.” I took the same approach when I was looking for names. It is a big risk but well worth once you build up your reputation and consumers start understanding and resonating with your brand story.

Baby Peppers is known for their sustainable products. Tell us a little about that. What made you take the ethical route?

Our products range from bedding to toys to blankets. Uninspired the generic designs in the market and manufacturers’ questionable production ethics, I wanted to bring my vision to life and have a brand that stood for the socially conscious movement.

In the recent past a lot of brands have emerged, that believe in sustainable living. How is Baby Peppers different from other such brands? 

We are different from other brands because we partner with fair trade and ethical suppliers to put slow fashion on the global platform. By slow, we mean really slow. Such as hand block printing which could take days to weeks just to print one six metre running fabric depending on the intricacy of the design, weaving baskets which could take anywhere from four to ten hours depending on the size, and making organic vegetable dyes for wooden toys and fabrics. Every one of our item is made using ancient craftsmanship. You can tell sustainability is a priority in our business but the purpose of giving is the lifeline of the brand. 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.

Being a part of the ethical fashion industry, what is your learning?

It is certainly not an easy ride. There is still so much to learn from this niche market and trying to educate consumers on the choices they make for purchases. Ethical fashion is such a broad term and covers anything from fair working conditions, exploitation to sustainable manufacturing practices. We try to do our part to steward nature and offer customers sustainable lifestyle choices.

Were there any challenges that you faced initially? Please mention a few, and tell us how you overcame them?

Setting up a small business is one of the hardest decisions that someone can make in their life. The amount of initial investments, the slow traffic to the website, getting your first ever sale, dealing with difficult and ruthless suppliers, ensuring that every aspect of your business is 100% socially concsious - all of these are ongoing challenges but with time, effort and patience, I believe I can get where I want to be. This is a niche market and putting your brand in front of the ideal client avatar takes alot of hard work. You can overcome these challenges with a good support network and by just believing in your brand. There are days when I wake up thinking that my brand and business are an absolute failure but when someone emails back to discuss features or collaborations or when a customer leaves a fantastic review for us, I know I’ve done the right thing by believing in my brand.

All your products are sourced from artisans in India. Can you mention 5 products and tell us where they are sourced from?

1. Wooden toys - Our eco-friendly wooden toys are handcrafted by a fair-trade co-operative in Channapatna, Karnataka using sustainable hale wood and are lacquered with pure vegetable dyes and natural lac. These toys are crafted using woodturning, a 200 year old art form. All toys are designed and constructed in accordance with the stringent Australian Standard AS/NZ ISO 8124 in terms of the dyes used and age classification.With proper love and care, these toys can be heirloom quality and last through for generations. All toys come packed in our customised cotton drawstring bag for easy storage, travel or gifting.

2. Baby quilts - Our reversible baby quilts are hand quilted in the softest hand blocked cotton voile by the lovely ladies of the artisan community we work with in Jaipur. These ladies quilt from the comfort of their own homes to ensure they can work around their children’s needs. The hand-blocking is done by a fair trade studio in Jaipur. All quilts come packed in our customised cotton drawstring bag for easy storage, travel or gifting.

3. Handwoven baskets - Baby Peppers works with Baladarshan, a world fair trade organisation in South India to bring these beautiful award-winning baskets to Australia. These baskets are woven by women who live in the slums of Chennai, mostly disabled or single mothers and often victims of domestic violence, and are made from 100% recycled polyethylene – a great way to renew and recycle plastics. Sixty million metric tons of polyethylene is produced annually for use in packaging and containers, including plastic bags and bottles. What better way to save the landfills than recycle plastics to make gorgeous products.

4. Baby dohars - The name comes from doharana which means repetition in Hindi and has overtime taken the meaning of ‘layers’. Our dohars are stitched with three layers of the softest voile. They are so versatile – you can use them as swaddles, stroller blankets, or nursing covers. The dohars get softer with each wash and come packaged in a drawstring bag made ready for gifting and easy storage.

5. Kalamkari quilted blankets - We source for the finest and softest Kalamkari fabrics from a fair-trade artisan group in Andra Pradesh to stitch our quilts and plushies. The process of getting the fabrics involves seventeen painstaking steps from treating the cotton naturally, to carving the wooden blocks, to mixing the natural dyes, to drying and washing before the final fabric is ready for use. Approximately ten skilled artisans are involved in creating just one yard of fabric. The quilts and plushies are handmade in Uttar Pradesh in a small crafting studio.

Do you have a warehouse or factory where you make products?

We don’t have a specific factory to make the products, which sets us apart from other brands. The products we carry and stock are not manufactured in sweatshops but crafted in various small working studios, providing the artisans with fair wages and a positive impact to their families and broader community.

You are the only Australian store to have partnered with Kateson, which is an American babywear brand. Please tell us a little about that.

Kateson is an American brand that has redefined the concept of pure ‘organics’ for babywear. Kateson garments are hand-dyed in ayurvedic botanicals to produce the colour on the organic cotton fabrics, and the buttons on the garments are made from coconut husks. This means zero chemicals or synthetic dyes during the entire fabrication process and the dye water waste is used to nourish the surrounding land. We have never come across this level of purity for any infant wear. When we heard about the process and story behind Kateson from founder Tanya Thomas-Thorpe, we thought we needed a piece of that in our store! Their brand is revolutionary, the fabrication process - just mindblowing. I mean we have all heard of organic cotton but who hand-dyes organic baby onesies in botanicals and ayurvedic herbs?! Kateson does and they do it the fair trade, ethical way.

Can you please tell us a little about your collaboration with Melbourne designer, Sailoung Mannion?

Sailoung Mannion or better known as Rainbow Mannion is an aspiring designer who has a way with textile designing. She listens to clients’ needs and is able to envision and deliver exactly what the client wants. Part of our brand ethos is to collaborate with Australian small businesses and produce something bespoke for little ones.

You are a full-time mom, a qualified lawyer and also run Baby Peppers. How do you manage to juggle between these?

Juggling between these various roles is a big challenge but if you set your mind to something and practise effective time management, nothing is impossible. I am currently on maternity leave so I usually try to work when both my bubs are asleep. I am also very lucky to have the support of my husband who tries to plan his work schedules around my needs so that I get to work and put some time and dedication into Baby Peppers.

Slow fashion is definitely picking up pace. But what are its advantages and disadvantages, especially in India?

Advantages - Slow fashion like woodturning and hand blocking promotes sustainability because it helps preserve exceptional skills and family traditions that are apathetically replaced by fast fashion, robots and electronics. Our intention is to create quality goods that will last a long time (a lifetime even!) and reduce consumption and waste - all while practicing ethical and eco-friendly methods. Slow fashion items are usually made with high quality materials and are far more durable. This ensures they last much longer than their counterparts made with fast fashion. Slow fashion also ensures that all stakeholders in the supply chain promote and follow ethical manufacturing practices such as fair wages, proper working conditions, amongst other international codes of conduct.

Disadvantages - One of the biggest disadvantages of slow fashion is the amount of time taken to make the items. Processes like hand blocking and vegetable dyeing is time consuming and labour intensive and this can be a deterrent in the textile and fashion industry. And because of this slow fashion items are also generally more expensive than items made with conventional methods such as in factories as workers are paid fair wages and work in proper, audited sites.

Your comments on sustainable fashion.

Sustainable fashion is just another variance of slow fashion. Both movements share similar goals. The primary aim of sustainable fashion is to create a method of production that will minimise environmental impact and reduce consumer consumption. The movement also takes into consideration on socio-economic aspects. Consumers are starting to think and analyse more about their purchases and how long they last. It is endearing to see more brands driving consumers towards conscious and sustainable consumption patterns but there is a still a long way yet. Many companies still use the profit over people business model and for sustainability to matter, this attitude needs to change.

What do you have in the pipeline? 

We are discussing another collaboration with Sailoung Mannion plus collaborations with other experts such as naturopaths to provide a free e-guide. Lots going on, so stay tuned! Our goal is to increase brand awareness and put our store in front of as many ideal consumers as possible.

What do you think of this eco-friendly store? Have you tried their products? Do you like them? Let us know in the comments below!

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Mayuri J Ravi
A daydreamer, tea addict and nutella lover! She has studied Visual Communication and worked as a journalist. She loves to read, dance, and spends most of her time on Facebook. Besides writing, she is passionate about cooking, and dreams of running a restaurant someday.   Read more
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