Shakti Shunmugam is an entrepreneur, fashion designer, published model and also the crowned Miss Southern British Columbia World 2019 and Miss BC 2015-2016.
Although recently making headlines for her campaign against sex trafficking, it's really her Kalahari swimwear designs that has people talking (especially on Instagram). The concept is simple. $2 out of every Kalahari item sold, gets donated to Plan's International "Because I am a Girl".
From instagramming to traveling, entrepreneurship to philanthropy, here's my full exclusive interview with Shakti (@shaktiaroundtheworld):
What are key qualities to becoming an entrepreneur in your opinion?
When it comes to entrepreneurship, Passion is a fundamental, key quality. When you love your work, and truly passionate about what you are doing, in a sense this end goal becomes your purpose, the reason from which your drive and motivation stems from. Everything else falls into place after that. You're working towards something that fulfills you, lights you up and so you want to see it succeed because it holds value to you. You're sacrificing your own time, taking risks in order to see your vision become reality. When you love what you're doing, everything becomes so much more rewarding. There's so much more that you learn about yourself, you become more knowledgeable from the research you're doing, the network you're building, the in order to accomplish your goals, progress and improve your work. Determination is a powerful quality when it comes to working to accomplish your goals. Success does not happen overnight. Mistakes happen, things don't always go as planned and often times you do encounter struggles or even a few failures. Therefore, having a growth mindset and the ability to maintain a positive outlook are important qualities that will allow you to stay focused on achieving your goals. are what is important to improve and grow, it's what makes you stronger and pushes you to strive to do better, understand what the problem is and come up with a solution. Be willing to say and ask yourself "ok, maybe this didn't work, but what do I need to do to make it work? How do I improve? What's the next step, the next goal?"
How do you measure success?
The definition of success is unique to each individual. To me, success isn't something that is quantifiable. Nor is it something tangible. It's a feeling of fulfillment. Success is when you have a dream or a goal that you've work so hard for, you've spent time, money, work, emotions into accomplishing this dream. Success is that feeling you get when you achieve it, knowing that your vision or expectation for yourself has become a reality, despite what you may have gone through (obstacles, hurdles, downfalls). On the journey to success, there is so much growth that you experience, learning from mistakes, growing from failures in order to become the best version of yourself that you can be. For me, that feeling of fulfillment is when I know my work, time and efforts have been able to inspire or help others, so in a sense I measure success by the amount of genuine smiles I've created on the faces of others, whose hearts and lives I've touched. To me this is success and the fulfilling warmth inside, is one of the best feelings in the world. If you love what you're doing, you will be successful.
How did your brand Kalahari swimwear come about?
I launched KALAHARII in summer of 2018. It's an online active wear and swim store, the aim being to inspire others. Kalaharii core values are Unity, Vision, Love, Gratitude and Hope. Using social media as my main platform to not only promote the brand but to enlighten others, branding KALAHARII as a lifestyle, in uniting women from all walks of life, who share their own respective stories, as a means to elevate others around the world. $2 profit from every order supports Pratham in providing an education for children from the slums of India and Plan International's Because I Am A Girl Campaign.
The name is based of the Kalahari desert located in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is important to me because South Africa is my motherland, my country of birth and Africa is the birth place of human kind.
I've always had an entrepreneurial vision with the goal being able to positively make an impact in the lives of others. Growing up with my family background- a conservative, old-school, South African East-indian family, wearing a bikini or anything too revealing, is considered rebellious, controversial and frowned upon. Growing up, I was the girl next door and wasn't until finally leaving hope, that I took a leap out of my comfort zone was a little risky. I noticed there being a gap in marketing for swimwear of women of colour, shapes sizes and of different cultures.
Kalahari is meant to empower women, to be comfortable in their own skin no matter where they come from or what they look like but to unite women from all walks of life.
Also can you explain the importance of you working with NGO's/Non Profits and raising funds to support their causes?
From young, I have always loved giving back. It's the little things we do for others, that add up and create a positive impact in someone else's life. People always ask me what it is that I want in life. My answer has always been the same: to be and do what makes me happy, and to spread that happiness to others, so that they may genuinely smile from their heart. It's a gift that keeps on giving.
My journey in pursuing my aspirations lead me to being crowned Miss BC 2015-16, Miss Southern British Columbia World 2019 and finalist for Miss World Canada 2019. It's been a crazy couple of yours with life taking me in different directions, but my dream and work towards empowering others has not faltered and has become stronger than ever in wanting to inspire others.
I truly believe that we can be the first generation to END global poverty, diminish social injustices/inequality. It all starts with our willingness to uplift one another as children of the Universe. I'm grateful for the titles (Miss BC 2015 and Miss SBC World 2019) that I've been given, because it gives me a voice to continue working on my platform: Quality Education: made accessible to each and every child, to drive social and economic change and in turn break the poverty cycle, diminish social injustices and human rights violations (Global Goal #4). I'm grateful for my titles, which have allowed me to empower and inspire those not only in my community but also around the world, to be a voice for those who don't have one and to be a pillar in creating a positive change in society.
You love giving back to the kids. What's the one piece of wisdom you always try to instill into every child you meet?
I love spending time with children and I think it's important that they don't grow up too quickly. It's important that we guide them in pursuing their dreams and goals in life but it's also imperative that we teach them about love and gratitude and respecting all forms of life, because children are the future of our world.
In the summer before I started university, I had the opportunity to volunteer at SCDIFA Cheshire Home for Severly Disabled Children in South Africa. One of the most important things that I learnt from these children, is that "The most beautiful things in the world cant be seen or touched but felt from the heart." (Helen Keller) This Keller quote resonates with me; from waking up every day with a grateful heart, and on my journey in pursuing my aspiration: to be and to what makes me happy and to uplift/inspire others so they may genuinely smile from their hearts- to be a voice for those who don't have one. Often times we forget the blessings in our lives, all the things we already have, our surroundings, family friends, the simple things in life which we often times take for granted. My advice to children and adults alike: the more gratitude we have in our hearts, the more beautiful life becomes.
How did you get started in activism?
I have always been a strong advocate for human rights and equality, passionate about giving back. I think this sense of activism also stems from my family, where we came from as well as members within my family who were actively involved and played a role during the time of Apartheid.
From the 1860's to early 1900's, the British implemented a new form of slavery, the Indentured Labor system. Indians were taken to work in the Sugar Cane Plantations around the world. Majority of these Indians came from low caste, already treated poorly in India and now essentially treated as slaves for the British until 1911. I'm 3rd generation South African. My parents grew up during South Africa's Apartheid. This is where both Nelson Mandel and Gandhi began their social justice and human rights movements. Family members of mine played important progressive roles for people of color, from being educators as well as opening schools within their communities, in writing articles, plays, pieces of literature about ongoing issues and in supporting and participating in rallies and anti-apartheid movements. My uncle Saths Cooper, was a prominent activist during the time, leading his own anti-apartheid movement which lead him to sharing the same jail block as Nelson Mandela.
In India, many girls from lower castes, notably the Untouchables caste, are trafficked and sold into child prostitution from as early as 8 years old. It's sad of course to put yourself in the shoes of these children, but in order to empathize I have of course gone back in time to when my family was in India and the struggles each of the generations had gone through to get to where we are today. There has been so much progress, but to imagine what my life could have been like also puts into perspective everything I have to be grateful for. It hurts to think that there are millions of women and children who are trafficked on a daily basis, living in poverty, no food, no clean water and with no medical attention. I will forever be grateful to my parents for all of the privileges and opportunities they have given me. There are so many blessings in even the most simple things, out here in the western world, sometimes we don't realize that for example going to school for free is a privilege. Having a roof over your head, clean water, food…these are all privileges. I have so much to be thankful for and want to be able to give others the opportunity to fulfill their dreams, living a life that everyone deserves.
Can you explain the importance to you of ending sex trafficking?
This is an ongoing epidemic that exists everywhere in our world. It's a sad reality and violation of child and human rights. Sometimes it's easy to turn a blind eye but the only way to prevent is to learn to stand together. We live in a world of social media, connecting us globally. We need to use it to our advantage, create awareness, educate those around us and stop turning a blind eye, so that we can prevent and fight this evil. The world needs leaders, and united, our voices are stronger. I know that change doesn't happen over night, but history has also proven power of the people. By creating more awareness on this social injustice issue, by building a strong web of people to stand against this, overtime we would have better prevention systems and policies implemented and able to educate more people on how we can prevent trafficking from happening.
In lesser developed countries children are sold by family, friends and the like, in order to survive, make money. It's a poverty trap and yes governments hold power through corruption. Even as tourists, we have to practice eco-tourism, do research so that we are not feeding into traffick schemes, because it exists in so many forms. We need to create more sustainable development projects and Education is a key solution to breaking this unjust cycle of child labour, sex trafficking, child prostitution and other inhumane acts as a means of survival.
Activism is scary, social change is initially unpopular and insurrection always starts with disobedience. How do you keep a optimistic mindset when you know it's a marathon and not a sprint on subjects you fight for?
My motto is to live everyday to the fullest, with a grateful heart and open mind, striving to uplift others so they may genuinely smile from their hearts. I believe that as children of the Universe, together in unity and through acts of compassion and love, more can be accomplished together, to make a positive impact in shaping our world.
Change isn't something that happens overnight. Sometimes it can take years before we make it happen. But it takes 1 person to begin the chain reaction. Most people believe that you need power or money to make it happen, and while this may be important factors, it takes a leader to evoke change, to make a difference. Some of the most renown leaders endured hardships before becoming the brave, strong voices that they are known for. Despite the struggles they faced, they continued to persevere and in time garnered the support and power of people to push for rights, freedoms, social change ex/ Che Guevara, Malala Yousafszai, Nelson Mandela, etc.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- If you had asked me this question 5 years ago, I would have told you in med school. It was never my dream, just the plan. These past 5 years, I've had experiences I would have never thought possible, went on many adventures, travelled, met people and made new friends around the world. I hold 2 provincial titles and am a national Miss Canada World finalist. I have my own start up and most importantly have pursued my passion of being able to empower, inspire and help others around the world.
5 years from now I see myself as the person I aspire to be in this moment: to be a better version of myself than I am now, an empowered women who has made her dream and vision become a reality; and who continues to be a light and voice for those who don't have one, using my story and entrepreneurial vision to inspire others.
What are good tactics to train emerging activists to support a social movement?
Love is the most powerful and valuable tool at our disposal, in terms of reshaping the way humans connect with one another and in influencing our relations globally. As entrepreneurs, empowerists, influencers, educators and the like, we have the power to shape the minds of young individuals around the world and be a positive influence in their daily lives. In this sense I don't just refer to literate education from a book, but in being a role model and a leader, passing on our knowledge and experiences so that others may grow. Children tend to follow by example, so it is up to us to set the bar in opening the minds and hearts of our youth, so that they may create a better world, tomorrow.
Most people have a cause they support, weather it be ocean conservation, wildlife protection, animal shelters, poverty alleviation, sex traffick prevention etc. There's so many important issues that we face on a daily basis. Today one of the most important resources we have that connects us on a global level is in fact our use of social media. There are many influencers all of whom are given a voice and platform. Now imagine if each one of these influencers spoke up about a cause they support, the amount of people we could reach world wide in making a difference to positively shape our world.
It's also important to do your research about organizations. For example there are places claiming to be sanctuaries but in fact still practice methods that are harmful to the well being of animals. There are orphanages which encourage the practice of trafficking for the pleasure of tourists to post pictures with children. Although social media is an amazing place to enlighten others, it can also be dangerous in exposing the wrong types of organizations if research isn't done properly.
Your Instagram handle is @shaktiaroundtheworld. What's your favorite place you've visited and where is somewhere you'd love to go but haven't been yet?
No matter where you go to in the world, it's the people who can make or break the experience for you. There's so much to learn in our world and through my travels, there has been something that I've learned about myself or about the world we live in. South Africa is my country of birth and will always hold a special place in my heart; India is the motherland of my great grandparents and the most colorful country I've been to in terms of the amount of happiness and generosity amongst its people; Thailand where I have met the most humble, kind-hearted people; Japan where the people exuberate honesty and respect, El Salvador- the friendliest; Canada- the country I grew up in and is truly the land of the free. There really is something to learn from every country and I'm excited for my next adventure to Philippines and Indonesia, which are both places I've been really wanting to visit!
Which country to you has the best food in the world?
- I love experiencing new cultures and each culture has it's own unique cuisine. But of course home cooked food will always be the best and grandma's kitchen is in South Africa. I grew up with South African-Indian cuisine at home, but South Africa is a country with so much to offer with its abundance in nature and diverse culture, you can experience this in the richness of the rainbow nation's cuisine.
What have you learned about yourself running your own business?
1) Oftentimes there have been people who have doubted my dreams and ambitions or have put me down. But I've learned that the most important thing is to believe in yourself, even when no one else does. Don't ever let anyone get in the way of your dreams. Worrying about what everyone else says or thinks is not the key to your happiness and will bring you down if you let that negativity get to you. Focus on doing what you love and it will get you to where you want to be, surrounded by the right people.
2) Trust myself, go with my heart and gut intuition- the first decision, the first feeling, go with that, it's never been wrong.
3) That time is valuable and that I have to spend it wisely, mom was right.
4) I'm the type of person who likes to see the good in everyone and in every situation. Although this is a good thing, it can sometimes turn around, when people see this and try to take advantage of you. I've learned the hard way.
5) That for every failure, mistake or obstacle, I have become stronger and have also learned a certain truth about myself
6) That I enjoy taking on new challenges in order to grow and become the best version of myself that I can be
What have you sacrificed for success?
Time to me is the most valuable, precious gift that you could give anyone, for the reason that you can never get it back once its gone. It's never a waste when you spend time with people you love and so the biggest sacrifice would be losing out on time and moments that could be spent with friends and family.
You fit the description of exotic to a T. What is your nationality and what's the craziest guess you've heard from a stranger?
hahaha well I am ¾ east-Indian, my ancestors came from South India (Tamil Nadu, Andra Pradesh, Kerala), ¼ French and 3rd generation South African, living in Canada. I guess I'm pretty worldly haha
To be honest with you I've been around the world with guesses, from Brazilian, Columbian, Fijian, Sri Lankan, Thai, Mexican, you name it….but the craziest is actually being told by Indians that I'm not Indian haha now that's wild
Going with your gut or expertise? Which is more imperative and why?
If I had gone along with my 5 year plan from 5 years ago, I would be in Med School today, having completed my undergraduate degree. While getting my degree is something I want to still pursue, there have been certain influences in my life that have lead me down a different paths. Often times I've gone with my gut, with what feels right and tell myself that it's meant to be. I like to believe that things happen for a reason, and see the blessing in every situation. I'm a "yes" person, an opportunist and when 1 door in my life has closed, there has always been another that has opened. Somehow things have worked out and because I am so open to learning, I love learning, both in school and out of school, this has allowed me to become more knowledgeable in various aspects of my life. I truly do believe that Knowledge is power and to quote Nelson Mandela "Books are the most powerful weapon we have to shape our world. " Both learning from books and real life have guided me on my path and they go hand in hand. I mean you have to make a few mistakes sometimes to learn the hard way, we don't always know everything and that's why I also think its extremely important to have balance. Do what your heart feels, listen to your inner voice but also continue to learn and grow.
Hope you enjoyed the interview. Feel free to connect with Shakti @shaktiaroundtheworld @mykalaharii
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