When Avani Modi Sarkar, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, first became a mom, she and her brother Viral (also a first-time parent) were looking for ways to give their daughters something to connect them to their Indian heritage and arouse their curiosity. When they didn’t find anything, they did the next best thing: They created toys inspired by their Indian roots with the aim of creating more diversity, culture and inclusion in playrooms. From their first plush with audio singing a Hindu prayer to a full line of Indian toys, books and kits, Modi Toys has won over parents and even adults alike who find these multicultural plush toys offer comfort and hope. We sat down with Avani, an expectant mom of three currently living at Weekhawkin, to talk about what makes Modi Toys unique for all kids, how she keeps everything together after a tough day (hint: a gratitude journal), and where she likes to go in Hoboken to sit and relax.
Tell us a bit about your family.
My husband, Avik Sarkar, and I have been married for 5 years and we have two daughters, Naavya, 4, and Saanvi, 13 months. We are also expecting a boy, expected in August. Right now we live in Weehawken but are moving to Skillman this summer.
Tell us a bit about your background and how it led you to launch Modi Toys.
My brother, Viral, and I both became parents for the first time within a week of each other. It was a life-changing experience that changed our lives and brought us together in a unique way. Coming to America when I was 8 and he was 14, we were brought up completely immersed in our Indian culture, and when we both became parents we knew that some parts of childhood were important to us. We thought about how we could continue certain traditions from the birth of our children. My brother was looking for a stuffed toy that we could start babies on, but he always came back empty handed. Eventually we realized that we had to do it on our own. We had our cousin draw a plush toy inspired by the Hindu deity Ganesh, and we took it to a manufacturer. In 6 months, we had our plush in hand. Baby Ganesh is the first in the market and unique in that it has an audio function that sings Hindu prayers. As parents, we know what it feels like to bring home to our kids, and we wouldn’t settle for less. It was also a pleasant surprise to find that babies and toddlers aren’t the only ones getting what they need from our toys. We have found that many of our clients are adults who are going through difficult times on their own, and Baby Ganesh offers them comfort and hope.
During this time, I worked full time in corporate marketing at Amex Global Business and part time at Modi. But then the pandemic happened and I was put on leave early and then fired in September. Due to these circumstances, I focused all my attention on Modi Toys. There has been a learning curve for us, but bringing more diversity, culture and inclusion to playrooms through toys and putting hope, faith and our Indian culture in the hands of those looking for this has been transformative for us.
How have you adapted your business throughout the pandemic?
Like many other companies, we saw sales plummet in March and April, then saw a slight uptick in May and June, and then things kept going up for us. I think this is due to a combination of things. Parents were spending more time at home with their children, so they looked for new and different ways to keep their children engaged and stimulated. At the same time, we started to promote Modi Toys through digital advertising. And, last but not least, we’ve made it easier for people to find us. Instead of selling only on our website, we decided to sign up on Amazon and Etsy, and it was a game-changer for us.
How to reset after a hard day?
With young kids and a business to manage, my to-do list gets longer and longer as the day goes on. What helps me feel more in charge and in control is noting what I’ve accomplished, not feeling like I’ve wasted the day. It feels like a gratitude journal, and it helps me recognize and appreciate that I’m getting things done.
What causes are you passionate about supporting?
As a brand for children, children are at the heart of everything we do, which is why we have supported children’s charities from day one. We have raised over $ 3,000 to date and donated it to various causes, all handpicked by the expert co-organizer of each event. In addition, we have organized children’s events all over the country where people come together to hone or learn a skill. Events included a painting class, yoga classes, creating your own flower arrangements, panel discussions with experts on a particular topic, and more.
What are some of your favorite local NJ businesses?
Pier 13 in Hoboken is the perfect outdoor relaxation area and has always been my favorite place to relax. When I was single and lived in Hoboken I used to go there with girlfriends, and as a married mom I enjoy it just as much. It’s a unique outdoor space with great views of the New York skyline, food trucks, music and more. One of our must-sees is The Village, a comfortable play space for the youngest. They also have a cafe with baked goods and an excellent barista.
What are your favorite things to do in NJ with your family?
I love cities with great downtown energy, which is why Hoboken, Summit, and Princeton are all favorite places I love to go. If the weather is nice, you can walk down a street and support so many local businesses while you’re there. One of the reasons I’m excited to move to Skillman is because it’s only 10 minutes from Princeton. My family loves Liberty State Park, where you don’t have to plan a lot to have a good time. We picnic and enjoy the views and the open space, and the girls love to prance around in the fields. Nearby, we still visit Liberty Science Center. The exhibits change regularly which keeps the kids interested and the environment is very structured and perfect, especially for my oldest daughter.
What would you like to know to become NJMOMpreneur before starting your business?
I’d like to know how much the two roles have in common: you have to put in as much time and energy building your business as you raise your babies. You worry about both meeting their goals and finding people you trust to help you. And you realize that it’s impossible to do either on your own – it takes a village. So for both of them, finding help is crucial, whether it’s from someone you hire or within your circle of family and friends.
For more information on Aveni Modi Sarkar and Modi Toys, check out their website, Facebook and Instagram pages.
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