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Celebrating Women Social Entrepreneurs: CAOS Apparel

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An ongoing series chronicling the words and wisdom of women CEOs and business leaders.

As part of a new series, Mela Moments plans to  profile effective women leaders in the business community. From CEO to founders, senior executives to owners, we will share the inspiring stories of their success, not only in building innovative businesses, but also in creating positive social impact. In this post, Mela Chief Creative Officer Dipali Patwa launches the series with the following conversation with Anjali Schiavina of CAOS Apparel.

Dipali Patwa visiting Pondicherry.

“In addition to my work with Mela Artisans as Chief Creative Officer, I also have a small  business called Masala Baby. I founded it in 2009, hoping to create a modern, eclectic and stylish clothing line for infants, toddlers and children, with fabrics exclusively sourced from India using only natural materials. Since the line is inspired by my Indian roots, it has allowed me to meet a number of extraordinary women across the country.

 

A french school in Pondicherry, India.

In one such instance, my journey with Masala Baby took me to a wonderful  little town called Pondicherry in southern India. Pondicherry was a French colony and still maintains its European charm with  graceful French colonial architecture,  delicious indo-French food and a laid back lifestyle. However it was the people that I met there that fascinated me the most. I had the pleasure of spending time with Anjali Schiavina, CEO of CAOS Apparel- a sustainable, fair trade, organic apparel company whose  work force is 80 percent women! I was sold.

Anjali Schiavina, CEO of CAOS Apparel.

I was touched by Anjali’s journey and how far she had come. Her story inspired me in more ways than one. As Masala Baby strives to carve our own footprint, this relationship also meant that we were in good hands to make an entry into making more meaningful children’s organic apparel and help change the environment in a small way.  So we began our conversation….”    

Dipali Patwa, Chief Creative Officer, Mela Artisans

Dipali: What inspired you to start CAOS?

Anjali: The fashion industry is one of the most exploittive industries. Not only towards the people who work in it, but also towards the environment. In CAOS Apparels I wanted to create an enterprise that is sustainable, accountable and respectful towards all its partners.

 

Women in the CAOS Apparel factory.

Dipali: How do women inspire you?

Anjali: The beauty of Indian women is that they do not try to imitate the men. They bring to the table their intuitive strength and their emotional intelligence – that is the reason for and the beauty of their success.  

Dipali: What is it like being a leader of your organization in India?

Anjali: Initially it was very tough because I returned to India after having worked for 10 years in Italy. I had to relearn the ways. Now I enjoy it because my work is very gratifying as we empower women through our various projects. The fact that you – in your very small way – are able to make a change is a difficult emotion to explain. One has to implement systems and processes, and you cannot run an organization without it, but you need to add compassion and the results that you get touch the heart.

Dipali: What challenges do you face as a woman CEO?

Anjali: I have to admit it is a man’s world. In the beginning when I would interact with the banks, auditors and government officials, I felt they would not give me the importance that our project deserved. But when they saw our perseverance,  hard work and dedication, then their attitudes changed. Now there is a respect and appreciation for what we are doing

 Dipali Patwa and Anjali Schiavina reviewing orders in the CAOS factory.

Dipali: We know that you have worked hard to exclusively use sustainable and organic textiles in the manufacturing process. Why is this so important to you?

Anjali: In 2004 there was a huge movement of cotton farmers committing suicide due to GMO cotton and the huge financial dependence on pesticide companies. That moved me enormously and I made a decision that I would create an enterprise that would be sustainable and would base its strength on 3 pillars: social, environmental and economic. It is a huge challenge because you need to be doing a balancing act all the time.

Dipali: As a parent, what has been your proudest moment so far?

Anjali:  There are two moments that I would like to share with you:

My son was 3 years old and when he started kindergarten he would just not stop crying. After a couple of weeks the teacher asked him what was the reason and he said  “I want to go to the office like my Mama and Dad because I feel they are having more fun there than I am at school.” At that tender age he had felt the passion we had for our work.

From 2010 till 2012 I went through a very difficult time financially in my business and I would share everything with my son who was 10 at the time. One night I was so low that I just could not stop crying and he came up to me hugged me and said “Mama don’t worry. Very soon a miracle will happen for you.” That was the night the biggest miracle happened: I realized that I had the most loving, caring and understanding child.

Dipali: What work-related accomplishment are you most proud of?

Anjali: The fact that though I started with one tailor and two helpers, today I have 184 workers in a short span of just13 years; all without any external financial help. Out of the 184 workers, 80 percent are women. They came to us unskilled and semi-skilled and we have trained them through our various vocational programs and upgraded their skills.

Dipali: What advice would you give to young woman entrepreneurs?

Anjali: Women are very fortunate because they are privileged to have two sets of parents.  First, we have our  biological parents to whom we should be extremely grateful because they have sown the seeds of change in us. They have taught us to dream. Our acquired parents after marriage, our in-laws, also deserve our gratitude because if we believe ardently in our dream then they can support us to make it happen. They give our dreams wings. As so beautifully said in the well-known song, they are “the wind beneath our wings.”

Every woman should remember to pay it forward.  She has to sow the seeds of change, teach her children to dream and be the wind beneath the wings of her and her partner when they grow up.

Dipali: What inspires you the most and why?

Anjali: The thing that inspires me most is reaching out to people because I would not want to be an island of success but would like to contribute to an ocean of change.

Dipali: Thank you! And we are excited to be partnering with you!

Anjali: Happy to partner with people who care.

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  • Esha Chhabra
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