It’s a common question to ask a kid: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
For Jaya Iyer’s then 3-year-old daughter, the answer was “astronaut.”
But when Iyer went looking for astronaut-themed kids’ clothing, she was surprised she could only find it in the boys’ section of most stores.
With a background in fashion with a science flare (she formerly worked as a buyer for the now shuttered retail brand ThinkGeek), the local entrepreneur launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the creation of a STEAM-themed clothing line.
This article originally appeared in our November 2019 issue. For more stories on locals doing amazing things, subscribe to our newsletters.
She raised $30,000 and launched the brand, Svaha USA (tagline: Smart Apparel for Smart People), with six T-shirt designs.
That was in 2015. Today, Iyer’s Chantilly-based startup has six employees and offers hundreds of original STEAM-themed clothing and jewelry designs (think everything from wind turbines to bioluminescent jellyfish to particle physics) for both kids and adults. She launched backpacks and swimwear this summer.
“I believed in my idea and I had the right background to start this business,” says Iyer of what gave her the motivation to launch her own company.
The original line of six T-shirts grew into the range of designs Svaha USA has today, says Iyer, because parents began requesting the styles in their own size (a mommy-and-me apparel option for the science set, so to speak). Teachers also caught wind of the new clothing brand and started wearing Iyer’s designs in the classroom. With that in mind, Iyer also carries designs to cater to English, history and other liberal arts disciplines. Think books’ spines, sheet music and even ancient cave drawings. One design that crossed all disciplines? The structure of a caffeine molecule.
Despite now offering literally hundreds of designs, Iyer still dreams up the concepts for all the clothing. She works with a graphic designer to refine the designs, and the clothing is then manufactured in India.
Iyer says she gets inspiration from museums, STEAM current events and considers her kids (she now has two) her littlest design consultants.
And although she originally made the line for her daughter, she says, more broadly, she’s determined to break down gender barriers in kids’ fashion.
“Our whole message is that our clothing is gender neutral. So girls can wear T-shirts with astronauts on it and boys can wear T-shirts with butterflies on it as examples,” adds Melissa Teague, the brand’s marketing manager.
While you can now find the clothing at some local museum gift shops, Iyer is focused on growing the business online.
“Our goal is to be this one-stop shop where, if you want to buy anything with a STEAM-theme, you should be able to get it,” says Iyer.