I got to know about Sunita from one of the Facebook groups – Desi Quilters. It was a story that sounded adventurous, gutsy, intuitive, challenging, fantastical and cool…all at the same time. I remember seeing a post where she wrapped up her work in the city and spoke something about the mountains calling. Then after a radio silence of a few months, her posts started trickling in and they were all about her work.. beautiful, earthy and she spoke about skill sharing, some local artists, local women joining her in. And with each passing day, her journey seemed more true to the soul. And then Covid struck. She rose to the challenge, like many other amazing women entrepreneurs I know, and started designing, creating and shipping boxes full of masks all over the country.
Read on to know her story… Sunita Suhas… a woman who is not just working alone, but is motivating and inspiring and taking along with her a a whole tribe of entrepreneurial women on this journey of self sufficiency.
Now, you left the city life and your corporate job and moved to the country. What was your calling? I mean it was a big move… how and what motivated or inspired you for this life event?
For about a year prior to making this decision, we knew we wanted to do more with our lives than the corporate rat race and materialistic living we were caught up with. We had started peeling ourselves off from this web bit by bit and during this time we also did a 2 month road trip across India covering 14 states and 14000+ kms in our car – all 3 of us. It was an unplanned, on-the-go road trip so we were very fortunate with some deep experiences. We spent most of these 2 months amongst rural India. The simplicity of people in rural India inspired us and we had a feeling that’s where we want to spend the rest of our life, that’s where we want our son to grow up.
What was the idea behind Indian Yards? Did you always start with the idea of training and working with locals?
After wrapping up our lives in the cities, we moved to the blue mountains – The Nilgiris in search of a better quality of life. We bought a piece of forest, did farming, built an earth house, worked in the fields alongside tribals who lived around us, listened to the elephants trumpet, bears growl – all of this over a period of one year. During this time, we realised that the “better” quality of life that we were looking for wasn’t limited to just OUR quality of life but for the larger community too. We realised that there are a lot of women rearing to do much more with their lives, they just need that extra nudge and the platform to express. That’s when Indian Yards kicked in. I had the skill to sew and teach, between me & my husband, we had the skills to run an enterprise so we thought we could use all of this to provide a platform which could generate livelihood. It was a natural choice.
How did the locals respond to you coming over to their bounds and start this journey? Tell us about the learning, the journey.
Were there any moments you thought it was not all going as per you wanted? If yes, then how did you move ahead?
Absolutely – the beginning was difficult. The language, geography, weather, logistics and to some extent the conflict in expectations were driving us up the wall. But, we knew we had to give all of this time and we knew we needed to be patient. We endured the beginning few months to overcome these challenges and slowly we kept knocking these off one by one – we took online classes to learn the language to the extent we could communicate, we tuned ourselves to the geography and weather so after a point it didn’t bother us anymore, etc.
You made a huge effort for masks for all. Tell ys about your design, how researched about the comfort and fit of the masks and how are you continuing to work with the community?
How is your working with the local community helping the local artisans, weaves, fabric makers? Do share your experience.
artisans. They hand weave naturally dyed cotton fabric which we use to make masks and other products.
How does your family rally around you on this entrepreneurial venture? Tell us more about it How did you son settle in?
The 3 of us have always been aligned in terms of our outlook to life – Aarav, our son, although too young also understands and appreciates this experience. He has been unschooled for most of his early years so probably appreciates this more. He has started school only a year ago at grade 7 and that too by his choice – he has an academic bent.
Suhas, my husband, quit his job with an oil & gas major to join me in this journey. So we both work together, alongside each other for 16-18 hours everyday and we love it. He often says, in all those years with the corporate world – he hasn’t worked as much and he hasn’t felt happier as much. Aarav too chips in when we need his assistance – but we have to pay him though! 😉
It is very daunting a thought for young people today to move to the country simple because of the tech benefits in the city… how did you cope with that or rather, how well prepared is the countryside with its infrastructure.
We consciously moved away from the high tech dependent lifestyles in urban India so this was indeed a bliss. But to run an enterprise one needs technology and the internet – we serve folks across the country and the world so we had to work around the infrastructure. BSNL is rather doing a great job here connecting us with the world. The govt depts too are quite efficient with the infrastructure. Considering the geography of the place we live in – mountains and forest – we do have spells of bad connectively or intermittent supply of electricity. For that matter, we sometimes have roads blocked due to landslips or falling of massive trees. But, none of these hindrances stop you from progressing. There always is a work around. We do need to think on our feet, sometimes creatively, to get around these obstacles – but there always has been a solution. So it’s just a mindset, a myth that countryside is less comfortable or less prepared.
How did you prepare yourself mentally for the move?
The move was a natural progression so we didn’t have to consciously prepare ourselves or our mind. We belong to the tribe who make the decision and then figure out the details along the path. It has been that approach for the past few years.
You are quite literally a social entrepreneur.. what would be your word of advice for more people who want to set out in your path.
It’s important to first recognise the problem one wants to solve and there’s plenty amongst us. Once the problem is defined then next is the solutioning. Here one must pay attention to not just what you think the solution is but to what others involved also think. Be Patient and this path will be rewarding. Nothing is impossible – if you look, you will find the solution. We are in our late 30s and we are learning new skills as we go through this journey so if one is open to learning then it’s never late. One needs to be open to acquiring new skills as that is key to growth. We need more folks to get back to grass roots. You not only get the satisfaction of making a social impact but
also enjoy a higher quality of life.
Who is your inspiration?
I don’t have one specific inspiration. Rather, I take inspiration from people around me and people I meet everyday. It could be the women who I work with or a supplier I meet or a customer I service. I am currently working around craving out a market for my handcrafted cotton aprons and related to this vision, I am inspired by Hedley&Bennett who revolutionised the Apron market in the US.
Do share your daily routine or your self best practices that keep you motivated.
I don’t really have a set routine. Everyday is different – that’s how we work – that’s how we like it too. But, one aspect that I think is key is one’s ability to read up / research. I spend good number of hours every single day researching, reading about topics I deal with. If my days are spent on
other activities then I spend extra hours in the night (sometimes beyond midnight) reading up. There isn’t a day in the past 2 years where I haven’t spent reading on the web. The internet is an ocean of information on practically anything so whatever field you are working in – read up on
what others are doing not just in your region but across the globe. It will inspire you. This is hard work, one needs to have the patience and the interest. Like they say, there is no alternative to hard work.
What is your biggest learning in this entire process of moving to scaling up the business with the help of the local community?
My biggest learning is to be open to change – be flexible and adapt to changing times. We never thought we would be making face masks let alone mask becoming a primary product in our offering. The last 6 months, our hands have been full with masks and this resulted in providing livelihoods to so many women. This is just one example, but, flexibility, agility, adaptability and openness to learn new things / acquire new skills are key attributes one needs to have to grow… especially when working with the local community. Their priorities keep changing based on their
circumstances. Everyday is different.