When Avani Modi Sarkar and her brother, Viral, came up with the idea of creating a line of Hindu deity plush toys, they knew they were tapping into a need that Indian immigrants felt deeply. Each had recently started a family and wondered how they’d pass their traditions on to their first-generation American kids.
Little did they know that just three short years later, their creation – Modi Toys – would get a shout-out from actress Mindy Kaling, who shared her love for the toys in an Instagram post to her nearly 6 million followers. Along the way, Avani has been named to the Forbes Next 1000, the Tory Burch Foundation Fellows Program, and as an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist in New Jersey.
In addition, Modi Toys has won a 2021 American Business Awards Bronze Steve, a 2021 FedEx Small Business Grant and has been featured on GMA, The Washington Post, Parents, the Bump, Red Tricycle, Popsugar, Romper, and other outlets.
The Creation of Modi
Avani spent 15 years in corporate America on the B2B marketing side. She then transitioned to the technology sector for startups and eventually ended up in the corporate travel industry, where she was eventually laid off due to Covid.”
“My brother/co-founder, Viral, and I immigrated to New Jersey from India with our family when I was eight years old,” Avani said. “Having spent a considerable part of our childhood in India, my siblings and I grew up with a deep sense of connection to our heritage. Our parents’ upbringing only further helped nurture our love and appreciation for our culture. But when we both became parents ourselves in January 2017, we quickly realized how clueless we were about ensuring our children felt just as connected to their Indian roots as we were growing up. We wanted a simple solution that could be found in toys. We needed a fun, meaningful, and simple toy to introduce our newborn daughters to their rich heritage.”
They would quickly discover that toys representing their race, culture, and faith didn’t exist, despite the growing segment of the Indian population over the past ten years. So, taking a page out of their immigrant, entrepreneurial parents’ book, we decided to “just figure it out” and make the toys ourselves.
They launched Modi Toys in 2018 with their premiere of the musical Baby Ganesh collection — and sold out instantly — demonstrating the demand for more novel and representative products.
Women entrepreneurs often pioneer new products and services that expand opportunities for others. But even before the pandemic, barely 18% of South Asian businesses were principally owned by women – the lowest rate among global regions. Moreover, legal, cultural, and financial barriers discourage women from starting a business. Avani is hoping to change that.
“Diversification in the toy market is significant for the end-user: children,” Avani shared. “There are proven benefits to exposing young kids to diverse toys: toys help shape children’s self-concept when they see themselves represented, especially as faith-based hate crimes have surged in recent years. Case in point: just days after the Capitol Riots, a 5-year-old girl in Washington, D.C. showcased our Baby Krishna plush toy during show-and-tell and recited a Hindu mantra for the class. Her mother shared this proud moment on video with us and added, it would not have been possible without Ellora seeing herself reflected in everyday things like cartoons, books, and now, toys. Representation gave her the confidence to share a piece of her identity with her friends and classmates without fear of being perceived as “different.”
Avani shared that she’s hoping to set an example as a leader by remaining as transparent as possible about her family dynamic. “Just as people proclaim, “it takes a village to raise a child,” it takes the same level of support in growing a business,” she said. “Since my brother and I co-founded the business, my parents have naturally been very supportive of our endeavor. On the other hand, my husband and in-laws come from very stable careers and therefore were more hesitant about me pursuing entrepreneurship. It meant going from a dual-income home to a single-income home. It meant leaving a semi-predictable 9 to 5 schedule for a semi-flexible around-the-clock schedule. If it hadn’t been for the YoY growth we’ve experienced since 2018, leaping from a corporate job to running my own business would have been a difficult decision to justify.”
Being a Mompreneur
When it comes to being a mompreneur, Avani shared a struggle that many working moms can relate to; one of balance.
“In trying to serve thousands of children/customers around the world, I find myself not serving my children at home,” Avani shared. “I didn’t realize how running a business could potentially run your life instead, but in being aware of this work/life integration, I’m making a conscientious effort to draw boundaries when possible.
However, Avani feels that her kids have the opportunity to see both her husband’s career path and her own. This is inspiring as she hopes observing these two different journeys will encourage her children not to feel confined to any stereotype.
In the end, it’s clear that Avani cares equally about her family as she does, making an impact on families that look like hers. “I wanted to be able to impact more children more often. That’s when the idea for Modi Joy emerged: a means for raising donations for different children’s charities globally through a variety of workshops designed to spark joy and curiosity.”