Getting to know ethical brand founders is one of the most rewarding aspects of running Conscious Life & Style—and hearing about Anitha’s journey to starting a conscious children’s clothing line, The Open Road, in this interview reminded me why. I loved learning about how her international background, exposure to ethical fashion at an early age, and experience working in Pediatrics and International Development all came together.
Anitha, along with her sister and mother, are positively impacting children around the globe. They founded The Open Road to give women artisans in India an opportunity to make a viable income from their craft that will enable them to provide a better life for their children. Additionally, Anitha uses The Open Road’s platform to share stories that will inspire the children wearing the clothes to make a difference in the world.
Read on to learn more about Anitha, her unique story, the ups and downs of running a conscious fashion brand, and her advice for aspiring social entrepreneurs.
Could you please give us a brief background on yourself? What has your journey been like that led you to where you are now?
I was raised internationally where I came across many cultures and varied backgrounds. It was there through a shared sense of identity and understanding of the world at large and how we are all inter-connected, that I was taught to be a global citizen. My family has always been conscious of giving back to the community—my grandparents were involved in volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity and as a child I was dressed in ethical fashion before I even knew the term!
My mother used to dress my sister and I in children’s clothes, very much like the fashion you see on The Open Road, where a friend had trained some women from disadvantaged backgrounds in India to sew and make these hand-smocked dresses and allowed them to work from home. It was a social action and response that also helped in ensuring a transparent supply chain and working conditions. We were dressed in these outfits, and when we outgrew them, my mother would buy these outfits as gifts for friends and their children.
Having a Public Health degree and working in the development field, I understand the importance of safe working conditions and the health of the population. Health and disease can impact productivity and quality of life. As I also worked in Pediatrics, I see the importance of raising children who are kind and can be good citizens in the world. I hope to inspire them through the stories on The Open Road’s blog, which are children’s stories that are influenced by my childhood and experiences.
Even if we can’t travel and live internationally as I did, we can still be a part of the global community by learning more about it. I share some facts and tidbits about the countries or flora and fauna in my stories for inquisitive minds to learn more about our world, and invite them to take part in it through international cuisine. I desire for children to grow up and have a positive impact on the world, and hope to influence them in a positive way.
How has living and traveling internationally ever since you were young impacted who you are today?
I think it has taught me to view things from a global perspective and see things through a global lens. Sometimes we don’t realize that our actions can have global impacts or ramifications—we never envision things beyond our immediate sphere of influence. But being raised internationally you are aware of these impacts.
For example, there were conflicts going on in other countries that you wouldn’t necessarily think impacted you. But because we were in the international sphere, those impacts affected us in tangible ways and we were conscious of current events. One example was a conflict going on in another country that impacted our events at school. Because we were connected to other international schools in the region, the impacts felt in one country impacted others and our events got canceled. Even if you weren’t stellar in watching the news (and not everyone in school was interested), you knew what was going on because it impacted you in tangible ways. But being raised internationally showed me that we have similarities and that our humanity joins us all together. We had friends that we were very close to and viewed like family, despite being vastly different ethically.
Why did you decide to build a brand of ethical children’s wear, despite not having children?
I have a niece and nephew that I have spent a great deal of time with, and I’ve always loved children. Both my sister and I desire to show the next generation how to be conscious of ethical fashion as well as conscious consumers. And I feel it’s important for each one of us to help open the door or hold it open for our fellow brothers and sisters, as we all need each other. It’s important to be a “brother’s keeper so the whole world will know that we’re not alone”.
What do you see as the most significant obstacles of growing an ethical brand and for growth of the ethical fashion industry as a whole?
I think there are a few significant obstacles. There isn’t a consensus or industry standard as to what constitutes ethical fashion, which I know you’ve discussed. There are different aspects to it such as humane treatment, or environmental standards, which then requires some additional research on the part of the consumer for what standards they are considering when purchasing a brand.
I recall doing copious amounts of research of each brand and even item when I switched to ethical living. This isn’t an issue that’s unique to ethical fashion though—it’s in other fields as well! I work in healthcare and there are so many terms that are thrown around but not defined clearly, like “natural”. I’ve run into these issues when working with families who are aiming for the best for their children and want to know more about organic and natural products. We have to caution them that not all products are regulated and not all terms are clearly defined. I think sustainability is key in this industry and is still in its infancy when we look at creating products that are environmentally friendly, do not add to or create more waste, and reduce their carbon footprint.
In your opinion, what are the greatest benefits of running a socially conscious business?
I think the fulfillment and growth of the field, as well as the knowledge that we are not contributing to unethical standards that hurt our fellow human beings. In the end, I think almost everyone wants to help each other and if we knew the conditions that others are working in (or are not receiving adequate compensation or benefits), we would want to support them. I also think an additional benefit is the ability to affirm the work of these artisans.
What has your experience been so far working with artisans?
I work with a partner in India, Subhashini Raja, whom I source these dresses from. Seeing the development of these artisans in their skills has been an affirming process. I hope to be able to continue to support them, and for people to realize there is a face and a mother, wife and fellow human being behind each hand-smocked dress.
What do you hope for the future of The Open Road and the ethical fashion industry?
I hope The Open Road can flourish, and continue to grow and influence people especially future generations in a positive way, to grow up to be responsible citizens. I hope I am able to continue to support these ladies and mothers who make and share their work made with love to a world that needs love. And I hope the ethical fashion industry continues to flourish and becomes the fashion industry’s standard.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to start a social enterprise?
Be wise and thoughtful in what you choose, but be passionate about what you do and what you pursue.