When Avani Modi Sarkar, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, became a first-time mom, she and her brother Viral (also a first-time parent) were looking for ways to give their daughters something to connect them to their Indian heritage and spark their curiosity. When they couldn’t find anything, they did the next best thing—they created toys inspired by their Indian roots with the goals of creating more diversity, culture, and inclusion in playrooms. From their first plush with audio singing a Hindu prayer to a full line of Indian toys, books, and kits, Modi Toys has caught on with parents and even adults who find these multicultural plush toys offer comfort and hope. We sat down with Avani, a soon-to-be mom of three currently living in Weekhawkin, to talk about what makes Modi Toys unique for all kids, how she keeps it all together after a challenging day (hint: a gratitude journal), and where she loves to go in Hoboken to sit back and chill.
Please tell us a little bit about your family.
My husband, Avik Sarkar, and I have been married for 5 years, and we have two daughters, 4-year old Naavya and 13-month old Saanvi. We’re also expecting a boy, due this August. Right now, we live in Weehawken but are moving to Skillman this summer.
Tell us a little about your background and how it led you to launch Modi Toys.
My brother, Viral, and I both became first-time parents within a week of each other. It was a life-changing, transformative experience that uniquely bonded us. Having come to America when I was 8, and he was 14, we were brought up fully immersed in our Indian culture, and when we both became parents, we knew certain parts of childhood were meaningful to us. We thought about how we could continue certain traditions from the time our children were born. My brother was looking for a plush toy that we could start the babies on, but he kept coming up empty-handed. Eventually, we realized we’d have to do it ourselves. We had our cousin sketch a plush inspired by the Hindu deity Ganesh, and we brought it to a manufacturer. Within 6 months, we had our plush in hand. Baby Ganesh is the first to market and unique in that it comes with an audio feature that sings Hindu prayers. As parents, we know what we feel good about bringing home to our children, and we wouldn’t settle for anything less. It’s also been a pleasant surprise to find that babies and young children are not the only ones getting what they need from our toys. We’ve found that many of our customers are adults going through rough times of their own, and Baby Ganesh offers them comfort and hope.
During this time, I worked full-time in corporate marketing at Amex Global Business and part-time with Modi. But then the pandemic happened, and I was furloughed early on and then laid off in September. Because of those circumstances, I focused all of my attention on Modi Toys. There has been a learning curve for us, but to bring more diversity, culture, and inclusion into playrooms through toys and put hope, faith, and our Indian culture in the hands of those looking for that has been transformative for us.
How have you adjusted your business throughout the pandemic?
Like many other businesses, we saw sales plummet in March and April, but then we saw an uptick in May and June, and then things continued to trend upwards for us. I think this is due to a combination of things. Parents were spending more time at home with their children, so they looked for new and different ways to keep their kids engaged and stimulated. Simultaneously, we started getting the word out about Modi Toys through digital advertising. And, last but certainly not least, we made it easier for people to find us. Instead of solely selling on our website, we decided to list on Amazon and Etsy, and it’s been a game-changer in our reach.
How do you reset after a challenging day?
With young children and a business to run, my to-do list gets longer and longer as the day goes on. What helps me feel more in charge and control is making a note of what I have accomplished, not to feel like I wasted the day. It’s along the lines of a gratitude journal, and it helps me acknowledge and appreciate that I am moving things forward.
What causes are you passionate about supporting?
As a children’s brand, children are at the heart of everything we do, which is why we’ve been supporting children’s charities since day one. We’ve raised over $3,000 to date and donated it to various causes, all hand-picked by the expert co-host of each event. In addition, we’ve hosted children’s events around the country where people would gather to refine or learn a skill. Events have included a paint-along class, yoga instruction, make your own floral arrangements, panel discussions with experts on a particular subject, and more.
What are some of your favorite local NJ businesses?
Pier 13 in Hoboken is the perfect outdoor hangout space and has always been my favorite place to chill. When I was single and living in Hoboken, I used to go with girlfriends, and as a married mom, I enjoy it just as much. It’s a unique outdoor space with gorgeous views of the NYC skyline, food trucks, music, and more. One of our go-to’s is The Village, a cozy play space for younger children. They also have a café with baked goods and an excellent barista.
What are your favorite things to do in NJ with your family?
I love towns with great downtown energy, which is why Hoboken, Summit, and Princeton are all favorite places I like to go to. If it’s a nice day, you can walk down one street and support so many local businesses while you’re at it. One of the reasons I’m excited about moving to Skillman is that it’s only 10 minutes from Princeton. My family loves Liberty State Park, where you don’t have to plan much to have a good time. We picnic and enjoy the views and open space, and the girls love to prance around in the fields. Nearby, we always visit Liberty Science Center. The exhibits are switched up regularly, so it keeps the kids interested, and it has a great structured environment that’s perfect, especially for my oldest daughter.
What do you wish you knew about becoming an NJMOMpreneur before starting your business?
I wish I knew how much the two roles have in common—you have to put just as much time and energy into building your business as you raise your babies. You worry about both hitting their milestones and finding trustworthy people to help you with them. And you realize it’s impossible to do either by yourself—it does take a village. So, for both, it’s crucial to find help, whether from someone you hire or within your circle of family and friends.