We are delighted to share with you features and essays written by super women with inspiring careers and businesses that are reshaping our economy and the way we consume. They share their journey, the process it took them to get to where they are now and what they’ve learnt along the way.
Welcome to Modern Mentors.
I was born in Chennai, India, where I spent my early years, while my father finished his PhD. At the age of 4, I moved to Texas with my parents. I spent my childhood dreaming of being a pediatrician but as I got older, I was drawn to fashion and entrepreneurship. My mother founded and ran a successful jewelry business which was truly a family business. The three of us spent our weekends traveling for her trunk shows and getting to know her clients throughout the country.
Eventually the stability of medicine won out and I found myself Pre-Med at the University of Texas-Austin. After my mom suddenly passed away in a car accident soon after my 18th birthday, I moved to India and eventually graduated from medical school in India. I met my husband there and we moved to LA and got married. We then moved to Chicago in 2017 for my husband’s residency and had our first child, Rohan.
The idea germinates
HAVA was born shortly after. I stayed at home with my son for a year and during that time I was trying to figure out what it was I wanted to do next, because I knew a career in medicine wasn’t the life I wanted. During that time we went to a few weddings and on my search for Indian clothes for my son I realized there wasn’t much out there that was comfortable and cute for a baby! The idea of starting a children’s clothing line was so exciting to me. As I continued to think about this the more it evolved in my mind. I thought about my own childhood and what I wanted for my son.
Growing up I didn’t always feel like I was American enough and when I moved to India I felt like I wasn’t Indian enough. I wanted my brand to represent a global community.
I started to do some more in depth market research and found that the market for this was definitely there! Next I started looking for manufacturers, and called and emailed them one by one between 9pm and 2 am every night ,after my son went to bed. Most factories ignored me or hung up on me. The factories that did take the time to speak with me either had minimums I couldn’t meet, didn’t work with startups, or were already full for the Fall winter 19/20 season! Each call I took, whether it was a fabric supplier in San Francisco, a cut and sew in Peru, or a hand block printer in India, I would write down terms that they mentioned that I didn’t know. I would then look them up and incorporate them in my working vocabulary-fake it till you make it they say! The resource that helped me the most was a moms group called HeyMama, they inspired me to start and helped me along the entire process.
When the hard work pays off
When the final product came in, it was so rewarding to finally see my vision come to life! In just a little under one year, I had a product in hand that I was getting ready to sell. There was still so much work left to do, though. Social media, marketing, logistics were all hugely challenging, especially since I had never done anything like this before! When we officially launched on July 29thth, I also happened to be moving 2 weeks earlier. When the orders started coming in from friends and family, it was so amazing to feel their love and support after giving so much of myself to this company. but even more than that, the purchases made by complete strangers were even more validating! To design and produce a product that people actually wanted to buy was so rewarding.
Entrepreneurship has been the biggest professional challenge I have ever had. While it is true I personally get way more satisfaction I that I could ever get from a 9-5 job, the constant grind of owning and starting business cannot be understated. There are constant issues and problems that pop up and I never seem to get a break. It is even harder, when you are doing this while trying to raise a toddler! I try to stay centered by trying to remember how my mom used to work just as hard while raising me. Ultimately, there is nothing else I would rather be doing.
I put my time and my passion into each one of my pieces, and I hope it shows whenever your little ones put them on!
About the Author
Mownika Chawla is the founder of HAVA an LA-based, modern baby collection inspired by my Indian heritage. Hava was established to address a major gap in the modern baby fashion market. It brings a global perspective to Indian textile and prints, creating a collection of comfortable, everyday clothes that are interchangeable and versatile. Each piece encourages curiosity – to play, to explore and to appreciate versatile pieces for stylish little ones living in a multicultural world. ‘Hava’, that translates to ‘breeze’, inspires Mownika to create a collection of modern baby fashion that is soft, whimsical, versatile, comfortable and stylish – everything you want for your child.