Small Business Spotlight (SBS) – Masala My Life
Have you heard of Masala My Life? The word “masala” simply means “spice” and is the brainchild of Anu Mannar and inspires Americans to celebrate their connections to South Asia. They offer consciously curated modern South Asian-inspired gifts from jewelry to specialty foods. They recognize the duality and the thrilling intersection and blending of cultures. All the products are made in the USA or created ethically in South Asia.
Let’s find out more about Anu, founder of Masala My Life, and her vision behind the passion.
FTW: Growing up, we always have thoughts about what we want to be when we grow up. Do you remember what you wanted to be when you were 5 years old? Anu: I don’t remember when I was 5 exactly, but from a very young age I always saw myself as running an enterprise, either as editor of a magazine or as some sort of executive. I’m sure I had no idea what an executive did. In reality, I have had several careers, all with the common theme of telling a story. I graduated with a journalism degree, worked in daily newspapers, went on to do an MBA after which I worked in marketing and management. I then stayed home with our two young sons and then served as an admissions director. And then in 2019 launched Masala My Life. I certainly never would have guessed that path when I was younger.
FTW: What one piece of advice would you give your younger self? Anu: Probably to break more “rules” or expectations. Be open to risk.
FTW: Tell us more about your business and your inspiration behind your WHY. Anu: This one is easy as I had such a clear WHY — I believe passionately that the South Asian American identity is as “American” as any other identity. I wanted to give South Asian Americans a brand where that reality could be recognized.
I often share this example – I grew up in the South, and there are so many Southern boutiques and brands that allow you to express your Southern culture while maintaining your American identity. I wanted that for South Asian Americans. For me, it is important that our story be allowed to exist as an American story. That’s what Masala My Life does — it tells our story. This is the story of wearing jeans in the morning and changing into a full Bharatnatyam outfit and makeup in the afternoon. This is the story of having to answer the question “where are you really from” on the same day that listening to the “Star-Spangled Banner” at a baseball game brings you to tears. It’s graduating with a degree in journalism and then explaining that you do indeed speak English. It’s sneaking out for “secret hamburgers” during Hindu festivals. It’s loving Taco Tuesday as much as chana masala. It’s knowing how to make a mimosa and a samosa. It’s spending time explaining or straddling two or more cultures. We want people to feel seen and be able to showcase their identity when they come to our website.
FTW: Was there an aha moment that got you rolling on this dream? Anu: Yes, it was February 2019. I had read an article about T-shirt design the same day that I shopped at a store with a cute bracelet that had a Christian message on it and I wished for the same bracelet with a message that was more relevant to my background. That night, as I was falling asleep, those two things and years of ideas came together in my brain.
FTW: Did you encounter hurdles to get you to this point? How did you overcome it? Anu: I’m not a risk-taker by nature, so I have to push myself to take each small risk. I’ve overcome this because I believe in the mission so I’m willing to do what needs to be done to achieve it.
FTW: What has been your key to marketing your product authentically? Anu: That is very easy as I can only be who I am. We don’t attempt to tell any story that isn’t ours. Anything we include at Masala My Life has to be true to the mission, and therefore it would almost be impossible not to be authentic. There’s pretty much an automatic gut check — it’s one benefit of coming to this after having many years of life experience.
FTW: If we wanted to start with just one of your products, which one would you recommend? Anu: My favorite product is the “Land that I Love” T-shirt — it’s a stunning floral mandala drawn into a map of the United States. To me, if you grasp the idea of that t-shirt, you understand what I’m getting at. I also absolutely love the Luxe Jasmine gift box as a perfect and fun gift. I’d wear the t-shirt, with the scarf and bracelet from the box, and use the jasmine lotion and soap!
FTW: There are so many amazing choices, how does one decide? Anu: Over the years, we had so many people say they loved so many things and want to try everything, so we created the Subscription experience. The quarterly subscription boxes are an experience and allow us to share more products and get you exclusive flavors and varieties. Pick one box, the next two boxes, or get all four during the year starting with the next box to ship! This is a great gift or family experience and an awesome way to sample a variety of items. You can also order Gift Cards on our website.
FTW: Share some words of advice from your experience for others who are either planning to get started on their entrepreneurial journey or struggling with all the pandemic challenges currently. Anu: Remember that everything takes time! And, from a practical point of view, you have to know why anyone would seek out your product or service.
FTW: Now, tell us a little more about you. What is your favorite/last book you read or are reading? Anu: I love to read and I have read a ton during the pandemic. I was definitely drawn more to happy endings and old favorites during this time of stress. I have a guilty pleasure with Sandhya Menon’s YA books, which are just amazing. I just finished “The Trouble with Hating You” by Sajni Patel.
FTW: Tell us more about your commitment to giving back and to your philanthropic ideals. Anu: We donate a portion of proceeds to the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA). SAADA’s mission aligns closely with our vision of recognizing and celebrating the South Asian American identity. We also love community fundraising and we set aside a number of days each quarter to help support nonprofit groups.