The Indian diaspora strive hard to stay rooted to their culture and traditions. Indian parents who live in various parts of the world do want to instill in their children the cultural practices and values that they were raised with. Speaking in their local tongue, making Indian delicacies, celebrating festivals, Television and books is their way of keeping the children and themselves connected to their homeland. A student who travels abroad to study becomes a member of a cultural club in the university and this only makes them feel closer to home.
CSP was in conversation with Ms Avani Modi Sarkar, co-founder of Modi Toys. She spoke to us all about the initiative she took up with her brother to spread their appreciation for their culture- Modi Toys!
What is the story behind Modi Toys?
I didn't think I would be adding the title of Co-Founder so soon after adding the most coveted title of all to my resume: Mom. But it was the birth of my daughter and my niece (just one week apart!) that inspired my brother and I to create Modi Toys.
When I was young, our family immigrated to America from India. I always grew up with a deep sense of connection and appreciation for our heritage and roots.
The birth of our children however, made us realize how clueless we were on how to ensure they felt just as connected to their Indian roots, as we did growing up. We decided to change that and launched Modi Toys. We created the first-ever Baby Ganesh singing plush toy, and since then, launched 2 more toys and 3 books.
Naturally, naming our company Modi Toys was an easy choice. As a family-owned small business, what better way to honor our lineage? Our parents and grandparents instilled the very appreciation for culture that we strive to pass onto future generations through these toys, books and kits.
Even our logo is steeped deep in meaning. The parentheses in our logo denotes the need for inclusion. It means we’re inserting ourselves in playrooms and on book shelves, we’re alongside children as they develop and grow. The 'namaste' symbol signifies the respect we teach our kids towards our elders, culture and faith.
What was your main inspiration behind starting Modi Toys?
Our kids! My brother, Viral, was about to become a Dad and wanted to gift his daughter something special. Not an heirloom or engraved jewelry, but something she could enjoy from birth. He wasn’t sure what he was searching for, but nothing felt “right.”
That’s when it struck me: why aren’t there any meaningful toys which are both fun yet cultural?
Just as the idea for Baby Ganesh was born, so was my niece -- on my brother's birthday. Safe to say, out of the two of them, my brother got the better birthday gift.
Who was your target audience when you started this and how has it changed over the years?
Over the years, we’ve seen our plush toys impact people of all ages.
Our target audience initially was those of the Hindu religion as the toys are based in faith. That being said, people who consider themselves spiritual are also purchasing our toys, and there is interest as well from families who want educate their children about different faiths and cultures through exposure on their book shelves and toys in their child’s playroom.
Baby Ganesh, Baby Hanuman and Baby Krishna have also become a source of comfort and strength for many - from newborns in the NICU, young adults trying to start their own family and even by grandparents. We receive many pictures and messages illustrating how people include us in their family’s journey, through the ups and downs. We’re truly honored to be welcomed into their homes and into their lives.
Which among your plush toys are the best sellers?
Baby Ganesh, because he symbolizes luck and new beginnings. Baby Ganesh was the first plush toy we created because he is often celebrated during many festivities and milestone moments – such as new housewarming, Diwali, baby showers etc.
Since then, we introduced a Baby Hanuman and Baby Krishna plush toy. Both receive an outpouring of love from the Modi Toys community as well!
In coming months, we will introduce our first Goddess plush toy (stay tuned to find out who!). Based on the feedback we’ve been receiving so far, we expect she will quickly become the most popular!
How did you decide which mantra or shloka to add for the particular plush?
We try to strike a balance between the most popular mantras associated with each deity, and simplicity so children can easily recite them.
Our original Baby Ganesh, which launched in August 2018, only sang one mantra at the time. Today, the Baby Ganesh plush includes 3 mantras. Baby Hanuman and Baby Krishan both sing 5 mantras, however.
How is the response from the Indian families who live abroad?
The response has been great! The appetite for more representative toys is universal, it seems. Baby Ganesh, Baby Hanuman and Baby Krishna have found their way into more than 13,000 homes in 28 countries.
In fact, we were even surprised to see demand from parents living in India! We assumed that being immersed in your own culture in India would preclude the need to have toys like ours, but the desire to expose children to our faith and culture in a relatable way transcends regions. It's not about where you live, but rather what lives inside of you.
There's also a huge pent-up demand in South Africa, but unfortunately we don't ship there (yet!). Our products have become the "it" item that people ask for when someone is visiting from the USA (i.e.: "can you please bring me Baby Ganesh when you come visit us in UK/Africa/India/etc.?")
The idea of passing values and traditions to your children in a meaningful way is a common experience many parents face. Especially when as immigrants, we’re trying to reconcile our identify between the country we’ve made home and our heritage. Everyone decides how this looks for them, in their own way. But what unites us, no matter where you live, is the common heritage we all share.
Other than the plush, can you tell us about your other interesting products you are working on?
Stay tuned! We will be launching our first plush Goddess in early 2021. You’ll have to check back to find out who.