After watching the results of the 2016 presidential election, cousins Tarul Kode Tripathi and Tejal Angolkar began talking about creating a company that would highlight the diversity and complexity of the immigrant and feminist experience in the United States.
“As we saw the political climate in the country change, we reflected on the hateful rhetoric we have experienced firsthand,” said Tripathi. “We want to take action to help make a better future for the next generation.”
That’s when the pair, along with friend Sandy Mathews, began coming up with what would become The Sanaya Set. The new subscription service introduces customers to six to eight products created by women artisans with each seasonable box.
Co-founder Tripathi says all three of Sanaya Set’s founding entrepreneurs were heavily influenced by both their immigrant backgrounds and the strong women who raised them.
“Our immigrant parents left behind everything they knew to come to the United States to make a better life,” Tripathi noted. “We are determined to use the opportunities and privilege that we have been given to help elevate others and positively impact social justice.”
We reached out to Tripathi to chat with her about the new company, the importance of giving back, and why a percentage Sanaya Set’s sales go to charity.
The Teal Mango: Fashion and social justice aren’t usually two terms that go together. How Sanaya Set get started? When did you know that you wanted activism to be part of your startup’s core?
Tarul Kode Tripathi: We knew activism would be the platform for Sanaya Set from inception, as we came together with a shared passion for intersectional feminism, social justice, style, and self-care.
I have loved style and fashion since I was a young girl — I will bashfully tell you I received the trendsetter award my senior year of high school. With great thought and care, we ensure each item in our collection aligns with our mission. The Sanaya Set is definitely our passion project, born from a desire to find a greater purpose during these tumultuous times, not only for ourselves but for future generations. We are also committed to proving that you can source responsibly, give back to organizations that positively impact social justice, and still be a thriving business. We want to show the world that doing the right thing and doing good can also make good business sense. At the Sanaya Set, we are doing business with a conscience.
The Teal Mango: All three of Sanaya Set’s founders are Indian-Americans with connections to the Seattle area. How did you come together to create this company?
Tripathi: The Sanaya Set is named after my daughter — Sanaya means distinguished. I thought of the idea to combine my passion for style and self-care with my greater desire to want to positively impact social justice and elevate intersectionality on a beautiful summer day- on a road trip to Mt. Rainier with my family. As CEO and founder, I lead several areas of our company, including sourcing, website design, and business strategy, with a lot of support and encouragement from my team. I have also worked full-time as a senior clinical program manager/pharmacist for over 15 years, which has refined my business acumen and passion for access to healthcare.
Tejal, my cousin, was with me as my co-pilot on the Mt. Rainier road trip. I immediately asked if she was interested in being a part of the project. It was an enthusiastic yes, and as our millennial, Tejal now leads marketing and social media as our CMO and co-founder. Tejal is also a business consultant, currently residing in New York.
We then approached my friend Sandy, who I had met through a book club several years ago. I knew her to be passionate about social justice and intersectionality, so she was also ready to take the plunge. As a business consultant for a local technology company with over 15 years of experience, she now leads operations as our COO and co-founder.
The Teal Mango: Why was it personally important to you to make giving back to South Asia part of Sanaya Set’s mission? About 10 percent of your net proceeds are donated to charity. How do you decide which organizations to support?
Tripathi: We believe in elevating womxn in South Asia (and globally) because of our strong focus on intersectionality. As first-generation South Asian womxn, our life experiences have shown us that feminism goes beyond gender. We believe in intersectional feminism, which is aimed at understanding overlapping identities and how these factors impact the way we experience oppression and discrimination. Intersectional Feminism to us means showing each other greater understanding- recognizing our diversity makes us stronger, makes us beautiful. Most importantly, it means pulling each other up.
We make decisions on which charities we donate to based on their positive impact on social justice, intersectionality, and alignment with our own mission. So far, we have given to Planned Parenthood, and this Spring we will donate to the ACLU. We are putting a lot of thought and care into our future donations as well.
The Teal Mango: You work a lot with women-owned businesses from marginalized communities. How did you create these partnerships and where are the women you work with from?
Tripathi: Sourcing is complex and deeply personal, as it is our goal to collaborate primarily with womxn owned businesses, with an emphasis on businesses owned by womxn of color and/or womxn from marginalized communities. We also work directly with organizations and fair-trade companies who elevate womxn globally. We collaborate with like-minded businesses who are committed to giving back to positively impact social justice. This means we spend a lot of time and care in getting to know the people we source from. We ask for their commitment to our mission, we tell them our own stories, and we commit to elevating their businesses- womxn empowering womxn. Some companies we have worked with for our Winter and Spring Sets are Ten Thousand Villages, Etta Arlene Candles, Wild Botanicals, Nandi Jewelry, Sudara, Claws Out, and Hi Wildflower.
The Teal Mango: As you know, issues like domestic violence and rape culture are not often openly talked about in the Indian American or South Asian communities. How can projects like yours help change that?
Tripathi: It is our goal to give womxn the courage and platform to tell their stories and pursue their passions. Whether their oppression is rooted in domestic violence, sexual assault or harassment, discrimination, or otherwise — we want them to know they are not alone. We hope to give womxn the courage to call out their oppressors and change the course for future generations. Our Fall 2018 collection will be focused on raising awareness of domestic violence (two of us are also survivors of DV). Through our mission, our blog, and our sourcing, we hope to do what we can to positively impact this space.
We also believe that self-care is critical to maintaining the strength of this movement. This means being as kind to yourself as you are to others. Self-care to us means nourishing your mind, body, and soul. We understand self-care goes beyond the Sanaya Set. However, we do take a lot of care in curating the items we include in our collections. If our mission and products resonate with you, the Sanaya Set is a meaningful way to treat yourself and/or loved ones, while also positively impacting social justice.
The Teal Mango: What are some of your favorite pieces in the collection? Why do they stand out?
Tripathi: Some of our favorite pieces in the Spring collection are:
The Sudara Anju robe is made in India by womxn working to remain free from sex slavery. Sudara is a Certified Benefit Corporation that exists to advocate on behalf of and empower womxn who have escaped from, or at the highest risk of, human trafficking by providing dignified employment opportunities. It’s gorgeous, versatile, and full of heart.
Hi Wildflower Gulabi Gang Lipstick is a bright pink shade created by Tanwi Nandini Islam, a writer and novelist who explores culture, feminism and fiction. Gulabi Gang is an extraordinary womxn’s movement formed in 2006 and was intended to punish oppressive husbands, fathers and brothers, and combat domestic violence and desertion. They continue to fight for the cause that womxn should have equal socio-economic, cultural and political opportunities as men.
Claws Out Resistance Nail Polish is a beautiful deep red shade will make you look good and feel good. 20% of Net Proceeds from this shade go to the ACLU. Claws Out is a vegan, five free, family-owned company that simply makes beautiful nail polish. They diligently give back to organizations they believe are trying to make the world a better place, but they also believe in being a part of the community through action. Claws Out names each of their polish shades after topics they genuinely care about so their values are clear.
The Teal Mango: I was struck by your company’s use of the word “womxn.” Can you explain that and talk a little about how you think fashion can be more inclusive of trans and non-binary people?
Tripathi: At the Sanaya Set, we have adopted ‘womxn’ to show solidarity with the trans community, as this is one of many ways we seek to promote intersectionality. To learn more about this spelling of womxn, click here. We think that we should all be focusing on the different ways we can elevate intersectionality in our daily lives, and we believe in doing what we can (and always striving to do more, learn more) to show our solidarity with the trans and non-binary communities. This means learning to ask about preferred gender pronouns and teaching our kids about how to respect and make people feel comfortable just being themselves. While the Sanaya Set may not be a good fit for everyone, we want to ensure our values are clear.