Creating opportunities for Creative and Artistic Women of Colour

Priyank Kaur is an accountant and an abstract artist. She founded Mahala, a socially impactful business on the backbone of her incredible South Asian heritage, and the amazing stories of women she has crossed paths with throughout life.

She’s passionate about giving back to the community, women’s financial literacy, and seeing more female creatives start businesses that share their art and make the world a better place. That was how Mahala came about!

During the 2021 lockdown, Mahala supported fellow women of colour, particularly South Asian women impacted by the lockdown. Through Mahala, Priyanka hopes to help accelerate the pace of representation, growth, and development of women of colour in arts and entrepreneurship.

Priyanka’s mission is to help uplift them, see them take up more space, and be recognised for their creativity, passion, and skills.

Why do you think it’s so important for us to support Women of Colour-led businesses?

I am going to throw a few numbers and statistics here because that how my brain works (go accounting!). Also, numbers never lie .

According to one of the studies, artists, that are female make up 74 % of visual art graduates worldwide, but only 34% of them represent in state museum exhibitions. Women deserve a voice.

If I ask you to name five famous male artists, it will be easy. Names like Picasso, van Gough and many more acclaimed artists will come to your mind. now, can you name 5 favourite female artists? Not that easy.

1 in 3 women of colour has experienced racism and feels culturally unsafe at their workplace. More than 60% have experienced discrimination in the workplace and many more hide their identity just to fit in and avoid negative stereotypes.

1 in 5 culturally diverse women feel that their workplace is free of cultural stereotypes or is a truly diverse and inclusive space. Studies show that 60 per cent of female migrants are less likely to be employed full-time than their male counterparts. Combining all these statistics together, this tells us how vastly women of colour are underrepresented in many areas. We need to uplift women of colour and provide them with equitable opportunities to thrive. 

In recent times, there has now been a wave of female entrepreneurs now carving positions in business spaces, where traditionally middle-aged men would have proven dominant, and I am all here for it.

Can you share a little about how your culture has influenced you as a business woman?

I grew up in a humble, bustling Sikh Punjabi family in the capital of India, Delhi, with 10 cousins and many neighbourhood friends who were like a family.

If I didn’t like what my mother cooked for dinner, I would casually go to one of my aunt’s rooms and have dinner there. We all looked after each other and shared our sorrows and happiness.

Embracing my community has been and always will be my life.

There is a concept of ‘Seva’ in the Sikh religion, which my parents embedded into my life from a very young age. ‘Seva’ translates in English as ‘Selfless Service to Others’. I always knew that it wasn’t about what I have, own or identify as; It was about what I do. Growing up, I loved giving to others. I was a studious kid, letting others copy my work in class! It was a fun time, nonetheless.

However, as I grew up, I started noticing the deeply rooted social differences between men and women in our culture. Men carry the privilege of independence, opportunity and autonomy. Being part of a culture where you are taught to normalise this is debilitating. Women should not do too much, be kind but behave in a certain way; there’s almost a massive, invisible rule book of how a brown woman should behave!

Financial independence helped me break those barriers and gave me the confidence and power to dominate more spaces and fight to be heard. I want to share that power with more brown women and tell them to speak up. They too can override intimidation with their art, creativity and hustle this world like a badass boss.

What is one memorable moment in your business that you’d like to share?

Oh, there are a lot of memorable moments. To not sound super cliche, but truly every moment and every order we get is a memorable moment for us. To know each order has supported seven or more women-led businesses, empowered Mahala makers to keep running their small businesses, and made them believe in their skills is the most beautiful feeling. 

During the thick of the lockdown, I frequently talked to these women and checked in with them. One of our Mahala makers mentioned how she would have closed down her business from losses due to Covid; and if it wasn’t for Mahala, there would be no orders for them to keep their business going. Sometimes, very little support can go this far for someone to keep their passion alive. Small businesses are the most hardworking businesses but do not get the exposure that extensive marketing and mass-produced products giant companies do. Hence, we rely on each other’s shoulders to carry us forward, help us grow and celebrate the beautiful moments of running a small business together.

Another memorable moment this year was our recent giveaway. We took this incredible opportunity to highlight women of colour actively engaged in initiating social change. We did two things:

  1. We did a giveaway by encouraging people to complement and share good thoughts on social media. The amount of appreciation and positive energy on Insta was pure magic! 
  2. We gave away two Mahala boxes as a gesture of thank you to Marian Muhammad (founder of Money Girl) and Suki Bee (visual artist), which provided an amazing opportunity for these stellar South Asian women to share their incredible work, inspiring young women of colour to follow in their footsteps. We simply wanted to say a big thank you to them!
mahala gift box

What are your plans for Mahala in the coming years?

I am so excited for Mahala! I think our immediate goal is to be a certified social enterprise and get support from the community of social traders. We are also trying to extend our client base to corporate businesses as we thoughtfully curate our boxes to truly demonstrate diversity and inclusion. 

 For a long-term goal, I’m currently holding exciting plans to scale up to a stage where we can offer employment and entrepreneurial training to women of colour and extend it to women from migrant and refugee backgrounds.

And even further along the journey, hoping one day, Mahala could hold a strong physical presence in product and community spaces to ignite social change. Representing my sisters and creating a social change isn’t just a business; it’s a way of life. I feel so empowered through Mahala and excited for the journey to come!

Follow Priyanka and Mahala

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