TENTH INSTALMENT OF THE BELLEBOSS SERIES
I hoped that with this series, I would find a way to appreciate the incredible South Asian women of our generation, who are breaking boundaries and paving new paths for themselves. Moreover, I would like other people to take a little bit of their time to realize how incredible the women around you are. Especially if you are a woman! I know that at least one woman’s story in my #BelleBoss series will inspire you to follow your dreams, your vision and most importantly your heart. Even if that means breaking a few rules and many societal prejudices along the way.
It has been one long year since I interviewed my first Belleboss Rochelle. We are now at the tenth interview! Can I just say, I really loved interviewing Tia. I felt so connected to everything she said on a personal level and talking to her felt very re-affirming for me. While I couldn’t include our whole conversation (one LONG conversation)– I know you all will love the interview I did with her. Her personality is true and as vibrant and vivid as her Cancansarees ❤
Could you give a little introduction about yourself?
My name is Tia Bhuva. I was born in Sri Lanka, grew up in Toronto, did my undergrad in the UK, taught English in Korea for 6 months and moved back home to finish my MBA. Although I loved travelling in my early 20s, I’m loving being home nowadays and enjoy occasionally travelling for work or pleasure. I currently work as a Food buyer during the day and run a small business with my husband in our free time on weeknights and weekends.
2) How did the move to Toronto influence you? Was culture a big impact on you or did that influence you later in life?
I didn’t find fitting in at school too hard. Toronto is very multicultural and I had children in my class who came from all parts of the world. My parents insisted on speaking in Tamil at home and sent both my brother and I to Saturday morning heritage classes. This paired with the Karnatic violin and Bharatanatyam classes meant I was pretty connected to the Sri Lankan/ Tamil community growing up.
3) What motivated you to study business?
I was afraid of choosing the wrong career and wanted to keep as many doors open as possible – I knew studying business would allow me to do that.
I’ve always been one of those people who get obsessed with something (whether it’s an idea/food/hobby) and then quickly gets bored so I knew specializing in one career for the rest of my life wasn’t for me. Since graduating, I’ve worked for companies in many different industries across very different roles.
I think it has also helped a huge part in starting our business – when you’re a small business, you (and your partner) have to be marketing/finance/legal/customer service, etc all in one so it definitely helps when you’ve had some experience doing all of those functions in some capacity. My current day job is in retail for the food industry and I love it – I didn’t expect to fall in love with retail (I’ve been with my current company for almost 5 years) but it’s so fast-paced and no two days are the same, so right now I’m loving it. Some days are hard – juggling a full-time job, a business, social life etc but Tony and I have both promised ourselves that as long as we’re having fun, we’ll keep doing it
4) How did you meet Tony? What’s your story?
Tony saw a pic of me tagged on a friend’s Facebook account. He asked the mutual friend (Prathib) about me and Prathib said he’ll introduce us the next time he’s in town. Prathib lives in Washington and grew up with Tony in South Africa. Anyway, every time I came to a party Tony wasn’t there and every time Tony was there, I wasn’t. A year later, Tony was like just give me her number (to Prathib) and I remember Prathib messaging to ask if I’m interested. My first question was: how tall is this guy. We spoke on the phone and Tony is NOT that great on the phone (to this day our conversations on the phone are probably the shortest any couple has)… so I wasn’t really interested.
I cancelled on our first date, and was thinking to cancel our second but was afraid of getting in trouble with Prathib so went. And the rest… is history!
5) I know its hard to pick but was there any special moment from your wedding ceremony/tradition you particularly loved?
Our Hindu ceremony was so hectic and I was pretty stressed the whole day. So both my fav moments are from our Catholic ceremony/Reception the week after. The first moment was when we had just exchanged vows and before exchanging the rings –
I remember Tony and I had a silent moment just looking at each other, smiles on our faces like “WE’RE FINALLY MARRIED”.
We chose the walk-in song the night before at 2am (Easy Love) and I don’t think we could’ve picked a better song if we had picked it a year before. It was perfect, surrounded by so much love, walking in with my husband, to an amazing song. I wish I could recreate that moment but looking back to pictures and videos makes me so happy. And hearing that song takes me back to that moment. I think, like most brides who have two ceremonies, I enjoyed the second one so much more because I knew that things would go wrong but that my #1 priority should be to enjoy the day instead of stressing over the little things.
6) You got married relatively recently. Do you have any tips to women on how to balance personal life and work/handling a business?
I don’t have the answer to balancing work and personal commitments – For me, I don’t approach anything as 50/50. Sometimes work will take up 70% of your time and your personal life will have to take a back seat. And at other times your personal life will take up a lot more time (like when we were planning the wedding!) and work will take a back seat for a while.
It’s important to find environments and people who will support the way you work.
If that’s not your situation right now, strive to find it. You spend 1/2 your waking hours at work so the health of your personal relationships depend on a lot on how healthy your work relationships are. My current boss/team is amazing and I wouldn’t be able to do everything I do without the flexibility I get from all areas of my life whether it’s Tony, family, friends or work.
7) Please tell us about your time in South Korea, why you went there and what you learnt from it?
I remember when I told my friend in Dubai I was moving to Korea, she sent me a how to survive your quarter-life crisis book – and looking back, I think it’s pretty accurate- I was probably going through a quarter-life crisis. I graduated university and worked 3 very different jobs at 3 very different companies all in 3 years – started my MBA and basically had life figured out on paper but I wasn’t fulfilled or happy.
I remember thinking to myself, is this it? Is this what I had worked all my life for?
So I put it all on hold and decided to move to Korea.
Why Korea? I wanted to teach – both my parents were teachers and I didn’t really want to commit to teaching by going to teacher’s college so teaching English in an Asian country where there’s a huge demand for English teachers seemed like a good idea. Korea also sounded more exotic than Japan or China – both of which we hear about all the time. I’d also heard that there were a lot of mountains in Korea and I love views so I imagined hiking every weekend (that happened the first 3 weekends and I quickly got tired of it) I also just wanted to move to a country where I knew no one (I feel like Sri Lankans have family ALL over the world)
And a new country where I didn’t know anyone, the customs or the language equated to gaining a fresh perspective on life in my mind.
Korea was supposed to be this new and exciting experience where I (as cliché as it may sound) was supposed to find myself and figure out my passion, my purpose.
I figured if moving to the other side of the world doesn’t inspire me to figure out what I really want to do with my life, nothing will. That was an ambitious goal. And by ambitious, I mean unrealistic.
Because that didn’t happen. What happened was I changed. I became a totally different person. I believe one of our most important core needs as human beings are the need to grow. And I can say Korea definitely allowed me to grow in more ways than I could’ve ever imagined. Would I do it again? No. But I also wouldn’t change my experience for the world.
I remember coming back and feeling even more lost than ever! I did a few jobs here and there… and finally, luck/opportunity whatever you want to call it landed me at my current company in retail. And I think I finally felt like I could do this for a while, and enjoy it.
8) Where did the idea for your clothing brand arise from?
I had no plans of ever starting my own clothing brand. I’ve always wanted to start my own business but not necessarily in fashion. I wanted it to be something very low touch, online and requiring very little input from me. But I guess life had other plans. I started posting the cancan saree looks in Feb – my first post was actually on Valentine’s day this year using my Koorai and the royal blue skirt. The response to that post was amazing and it totally took my mom and me by surprise.
We started experimenting with different sarees and drapes. That month, after every post, I’d get at least a couple of inquiries on where to get the skirt and the messages kept growing. I also wanted to make a few changes to the skirt – to make it more sturdy/comfortable to wear with a saree and get it in different colours. I started off by working with a few people who were already in the business but wasn’t happy with any of the samples I saw.
That’s when Tony was like… ” Why don’t you just design and create your own line?”
9) What were the challenges you faced starting your business?
I think the biggest challenge was finding good suppliers. If I was going to put my name on a product, I wanted it to be something of quality, something I would be proud to put my name on. We looked for suppliers who could not only make a quality product but also had great attention to detail and great communication skills. We started off with 15 and narrowed it down to 3 over many iterations of samples. In the process we learned a lot about fabrics, manufacturing processes, basically everything we would’ve known had we had any experience in the apparel/clothing industries. But I think we made up for lack of experience by asking a lot of questions and never wavering on quality or the vision we had in our minds of what our finished product needed to be.
10) So what advice would you give to any female entrepreneur who may not have your business background but is thinking of starting a business?
Don’t give up. There will be SO many problems, challenges, hurdles – whether you’re just starting out, 2 months, 2 years or 2 decades into the business
You have to find ways to be excited about the problems and challenges that are thrown at you. They never go away – they just evolve and get more complicated as your business grows. So starting a business can’t just be about money. You have to have a bigger reason for it- whatever that is for you. For me, it was being able to fulfil a need that so many of my followers on Instagram were looking for AND being able to work with Tony – it was a way for us to spend time together, grow together and learn more about each other while building a business together
Get a mentor – whether it’s a real live person who has been through the same issues you’re going through or books/podcasts. My current fav is How I Built This- it’s a podcast that interviews the founders of businesses like Instagram, Reddit, Toms, Spanx – hearing their stories and the struggles they went through to launch their businesses/ keep their businesses afloat reassures me that what we’re experiencing is nothing new, that I can get through it.
In this day and age, no one can say I don’t have access to the right people. They are at your fingertips if you are willing to put in the time and effort to educate yourself.