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How One Woman’s Amazing Business Idea Is Helping Hundreds Of Indian Parents

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By Bayiravi Mani:

Bayiravi with her son Advait whos first words were Kol Kol
Bayiravi with her son Advait.

Being an entrepreneur is something that really excites me, and I made a foray into it with Bee The Baker, my first venture. My son Advait came along during my baking journey and being in a nuclear setup with no help, I needed something to keep him secure and happy so I could continue to work on my cakes without any disturbance. Babies cry for multiple reasons and I realised that sometimes all they want is to be held. But I needed my hands to work!

Lucky for me, when Advait was around a month old, I was introduced to the art of ‘babywearing’, which seemed like the perfect solution. I got myself a wrap and started “wearing” my son at home while working on my cakes. The joy I felt at being able to do something while having him close to me, sleeping away, was bliss! In fact, this quote by Gordon Neufeld – “A child may not know what direction he is going, but when he is attached to you, he doesn’t feel lost” – pretty much sums up what I feel about babywearing, which soon became a way of life for me.

Starting Out

Rikhia Kol Kols in a park_croppedWhile the concept has been around for eons, the ergonomic way of babywearing has resurfaced now with parents being extremely aware of various carrier styles available in the market. I also started trying out different carriers.

As Advait got older and the weather, hotter, I needed a style that was great for summer and which also allowed me to get my baby in and out, quicker. So, I tried my hand at a ‘ring sling’. As my son got heavier, we needed something double-shouldered, so we opted for a Mei Tai. Then we got even more curious and got ourselves a full buckle! As I experimented with different styles, I had an urge to make them too.

When I finished making the first two carriers, I dragged my husband and son to a nearby park to take some pictures to post online. Sceptical at first, my husband soon wanted to try it. That day was probably the last day I wore my son when we are together. Since then, it has always been him wearing our son – that’s how comfortable the carrier turned out to be. This made me realise that I had to build something that catered to the needs of all kinds of parents.

That’s how Kol Kol Baby Carrier was born. The name? Advait’s first words were “Kol Kol!”

I now make carriers keeping my little boy in mind. I am always on the lookout for fabric that is best suited for our weather conditions and for babies who are heavier. Also, fabric that looks unique. My biggest difficulty, though, is communicating in Hindi with the tailor in my unit. Being from Chennai, I still struggle with the language, despite having lived in Gurgaon for over five years now.

Keeping It Personal

Priya Ravinshankars entire family uses the Ring Sling carrier which according to her is engineered to creat magicSo, what started in December 2014 from home with a few clients can today boast of having sold over 250 carriers! I now have two full-time employees at the workshop, putting together the carriers, day in and day out.

I would attribute a lot of my growth to the social media channels I use. The various social media groups, that I am part of, have given my business the much-needed impetus and support. The only marketing which we have done is through Facebook ads, whenever we launch new designs. We have had a lot of traffic because of this, which is directed to our support group where they get to interact with existing customers. Kol Kol’s Facebook page has helped bridge the gap between the retailer and the customer; my customers can now chat with me and put a name and face to the brand that they know of.

Despite all the challenges, what keeps me going is the heartwarming stories I hear from customers about their babywearing journeys. I had a customer, recently thank me for giving him the ability to step out of the house along with his little one after six months and actually have a great time. We have parents wearing their baby when they go on treks, attend conferences, dinner parties, brunches, on sightseeing trips and doctors’ clinic visits. Not just parents but even aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

As my son grows up, I struggle with juggling my time between my workshop and him. But it is stories like these that keep me motivated to keep going and make those lovely carriers.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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