When you visit Svaha’s website you might be drawn to their ode to NASA Perseverance – a ‘Dare Mighty Things’ parachute pocket-dress or perhaps, their ‘Constellations Glow in the Dark’ pocket-dress or even just the fact that their dresses have pockets at all. Quite shockingly, before the rise of ‘STEM’ or ‘geek’ fashion – ‘geek chic’ simply meant round-rimmed frames and itchy looking sweaters with crisp collars peeking out from underneath. And don’t even get me started on women’s clothing not having pockets.
Now, the industry is filled with small-business owners running Etsy stores in-between their Ph.D. coursework with the words ‘Engineer’ printed boldly across t-shirts in millennial pink and glittering faux-diamond barrettes. The best part about this neutral-toned gear is that it provides a whole generation of quirky STEM-clothing deprived millennials an opportunity to finally express themselves. The sheer lack of this a mere 5 years ago, and the culture perpetually being male-dominated from practically infancy – where Target only sold NASA clothing in the boys’ section, had exasperated girl-moms frequenting the boys’ aisles trying to pick up as many astronaut-themed shirts they could find.
A similar problem led Svaha’s founder, Jaya Iyer, to start her brand and Rocket Women had the chance to ask Jaya about her inspiration and upcoming goals for Svaha.
How were you inspired to start Svaha?
I noticed a gap in the kids clothing market while shopping for my then two-year old daughter who wanted t-shirts with astronauts on it. I just had to do something about it. Being well experienced in the apparel industry, it was something I had to take on and I did. This is when Svaha was born. I’m glad I did.
How does Svaha aim to smash gender stereotypes?
One of the main things we do is make clothing that depicts various fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math for everyone. Gender cannot define what someone wants to be. We also don’t tag any clothing as Women’s, Girl’s, or Boy’s. All clothing can be worn by anyone. If a girl wants to wear clothing with code on it, or a boy wants to wear clothes with flowers on them, it’s totally fine.
Who were your role models when you were growing up? How important are role models to young girls?
I didn’t have any role models growing up as I grew up as a military kid in a very different world. One thing I do remember as a kid is that my father always encouraged me to do something that would make me independent. It was something I was always sure about. I recently found out that my grandfather dedicated his life to empowering women. He started a tailoring college in India in the early 1900’s and taught women how to sew, so that they could be independent. It’s something that I now do with Svaha. We are all about breaking gender stereotypes and empowering women.
Do you have a favorite design from the Svaha collection?
Yes! One of my favorite designs is called Herd Immunity. We launched it in 2019 and it was really close to my heart and I believe that it is very relevant in today’s times. We have received so many requests to relaunch that design that we are bringing it back in the next few months.
Who is your fashion icon?
My fashion icon is Diane Keaton. She revolutionized how women dressed in the 70’s and I am so glad she did that. I am also about defying the stereotypes and I love that she did that and brought comfort to the forefront.
What does fashion mean to you?
For me, fashion means comfort with elegance. I would never wear clothes that I can’t move in or can’t wear for an entire day. It reflects in the clothing that I sell on my website. All the clothes are wash & wear and extremely comfortable.
Not only is Jaya kicking-ass in the STEM-fashion world, she is also a phenomenal entrepreneur with handy business advice.
What was your biggest challenge when going out and starting your own company?
For starting your own business, it is very important to have a product or an idea that people really want. It’s key to achieving success. But, once you have a good idea, and figure out a way to get funding, it will be worth it. For me, funding was not an issue as I started my company through a Kickstarter campaign. This way, I had the money before I actually had to place my first order and didn’t really have to invest much of my own money.
What is your favourite part about being a designer and Founder of Svaha?
I love my work. It gives me a lot of joy to make products that people love. I love to hear from my customers and often interact with them on social media. When they tell me about how Svaha clothing has impacted their lives, it’s what makes me the happiest. That definitely is the best part of being the founder of Svaha.
Jaya also came with brilliant advice for her younger-self. Something you may want to jot down yourself in your bullet journal.
If you had one piece of advice for your 10-year-old self, what would it be? Would there be any decisions that you would have made differently?
I was a very happy 10 year-old. But as I got older, I was very concerned about what others thought of me and how I could make others like me. But, as I am getting older, I realize that it is not possible for everyone to like you. It is important that you like yourself. Once you do that, you will be happy, and everyone likes happy people.
If you are as inspired and invigorated as us, go support Jaya and SVAHA here.
Rikhi Roy is a graduate student at Georgia Tech studying Aerospace Engineering. She is passionate about systems safety, and advocating for the wellness of gender-minorities and international students in STEM. You can find her blogging at her neighbourhood black-owned coffee shop and drinking copious amounts of London Fog Tea Latte’s. She is the founder of Singapore’s first ‘Women Leaders in Aerospace’ conference and Udaan, a platform for international students in the aerospace industry in the United States. She is also the Women of Aeronautics and Astronautics DEI chair, a 2019 Brooke Owens Fellow, a competitive Indian classical dancer and wellness blogger. You can follow her at @RikhiRoy on Twitter and Instagram and read her work at www.a-balancing-act.com