THE NINETEENTH INSTALLATION OF THE BELLEBOSS SERIES
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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 you to take a little bit of your 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.
1) Could you please give us an introduction to yourself?
My name is Rameena Balasunderam and I am 23 years old. I grew up in Spiez (Switzerland) which is a beautiful village and a well-known tourist spot. since it was a village near the lake and surrounded by a lot of mountains I grew up in a very quiet area.
Currently, I live with my family in in Bern City which is the capital of Switzerland. I am working as a department assistant for the Swiss government. before that, I worked for several NGO firms. and I love my job.
I started modelling when I was 16 for several saree shops in India. After that I participated in a beauty pageant in Switzerland: miss Tamil Switzerland. at that time I was 18 years old.
I was second runner-up. it was an amazing experience and I met a lot of lovely Tamil girls who are still my best friends another milestone was also the music video I participated on ” Kangel Rendu Pesuthey” which was unexpectedly a huge hit! People all over the world messaged how they liked my role (i was the villain haha). even in my holidays in India people recognized me. which was really overwhelming.
2) What inspired you to start Yathra and could you tell us a little bit more about the business?
My parents have a boutique and supermarket in Bern with the name Yathra. Since I love clothes and fashion and especially Indian wear it was just a dream for me to go to my parent’s shop every day after work and open all the boxes of clothes play around. I casuals posted my saree looks on my Instagram and people all over the world messaged me and asked me if they could order the saree I am wearing. so from there on, I used social media as our main advertisement platform. Now I regularly go on business trips with my parents and we design our own wear. I am so thankful to all our customers who supported us from day one.
I recently went to a birthday party here in Bern I saw almost 30 people wearing our collection in one room and I felt so blessed. Every year we plan a fashion show with our latest collection.
I did use a lot of my modelling experience to plan all of these shows. every time it’s very stressful and every time I tell myself I will never ever do a show again but to be honest, after two weeks the show is over I can’t wait to plan another one. one of the best parts about all of this is I met a lot of people all over the world which is amazing some of them have become like family.
3) How was your experience as a South East Asian growing up in Switzerland … is it a tolerant society or did you face racism?
When I was seven years old, and in grade one at that time it was very hard because I was the only Tamil Kid and the only foreign kid in the whole school. The teachers and the kids there never had interacted with a kid from another country. So until Grade 3, I found it very hard to fit in. I tried very hard! It was just the skin colour which made it so difficult for me. Where I lived was a very small village and most of the people were pure Swiss. But slowly thank God I began to fit in and the people started to accept me. But kids can be very mean.So it was hard at the beginning but afterwards, I was okay and I found more friends.
When more Tamil people joined the school, people started to accept it and then it became normal. I used to get questions all the time: Why do brown women wear the saree? Why do Tamil people wear a red dot on their forehead? ” But as I grew older, everyone became used to our culture. Since Switzerland is a very small country I think they just needed the time to accept it and to see how Tamil people are.
4) Could you tell us about your first modelling experience?
My first modelling shoot was at age of 16. The shooting was so professional and they were very well known Kollywood artists working with me. At that time it was Nayanthara’s personal makeup artist. The hairstylist did Sneha’s hair … basically all the top people in Kollywood, and there was I!So we did shoots in about 15 different shots and clothes.
At first, I had such a hard time because I did not know how to pose naturally. It looked so fake. However, the photographer helped me and I am so happy that they gave me tips and tricks. We had a big laugh. I have to say that my mother was the person who helped me the most. She would tell me to feel comfortable and to just behave normally. She was my biggest help everywhere.I am now the best version of me because of her.
5) Could you tell us about your job as a department assistant and what you enjoy about your job?
I work for the Swiss federal department of foreign affairs. I love working in an environment where people love to help people in need. At the moment a lot of people all over the world suffer a lot in war, or because of hunger etc and it breaks my heart to read all these sad news. That’s why I feel so blessed that God gave me a chance to be a tiny small part of an organisation who tries to help them. Most of the time all these news really get to close to my heart so I tell myself I want to be kind and nice to people around me and when everyone gives the kindness they receive to another person... maybe we can spread more love and happiness in order to have peace.
6) Who inspires you as a person?
Honestly, my inspiration is my Amma. she is so strong! she was the one who started Yathra my Appa always supported her without thinking twice. but my mom ideas are so unique.
Plus I feel like that she is so fearless. and she never waits for tomorrow. A lot of time I underestimate myself but my mother always has my back and gives great advice.
She always tells me not to think about what other ppl might think. as long I am honest with myself and I don’t hurt other people with my actions I should do what my heart says. My mom was an only child which was very rare at that time in Sri Lanka. and everytime someone asked my grandfather if he would have been happier if he also had a son his response was always the same
“I raised a lioness I don’t need a son.”
I have tears in my eyes when I think about my grandfather’s words I realize every day more how right he was. my mom is such warrior and I hope one day I will be as fearless as my mom is.
7) How would you describe your style and the clothing you like to wear?
During the work week, I like to wear comfy office wear. I usually wear all black because you don’t have to think a lot and since I love to sleep in the morning a little bit longer I am always late and I need to rush so black is mostly the answer. In my free time after work when k go out with friends or family, I love to wear dresses with tight but when it comes to saree. when it comes to saree I love bold colours! Especially royal blue, dark green and red are my favourite.My best shopping partner is my mom she is the person who is always honest and tells me when something doesn’t suit me at all.
8)Could you tell us more about the fashion show and what you have to do to prepare for it.?
The fashion show is amazing. I watched the Bollywood movie fashion over and over and dreamed of organizing such a show... and some dreams do really come true. the first opportunity I got to present our clothes was a the Sarithram show. its an award show for Tamil artist in Switzerland. and it’s a huge show here in Switzerland and I was so happy that they asked us to present our clothes there.
One of the challenging parts is to find experienced models in Switzerland and a lot of girls who would love to do modelling have parents who won’t let them participate. Unfortunately, even though we are presenting traditional clothes in the most beautiful way…after selecting models I choose from our collection the most beautiful pieces. Walking elegantly in a saree when thousand of ppl are watching can be a bit stressful hahaha that’s why we try to practice a few times before the show.
I always had the luck to work with amazing models even when they haven’t had any experience they rocked the ramp.
In my opinion, selecting the right song for the fashion show is as important as the models and clothes. so I do spend a lot of time looking for matching songs or melody
9) What are the future plans for Yathra?
A website for Yathra… so our customer can order everything comfortable from home with one click.
That is all for this interview. But there are so many other inspirational South East Asian Girls who’s interviews can be found on this website. Scroll down to follow