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Q&A With Creators Of Happy Bellies

As we all know, I love super cute foods in any shape or form — but even better if it’s for a good cause. Essmart has launched the Happy Bellies Kickstarter campaign to benefit the social enterprise organization AND give the world cute plush toys in the shape of Indian food. It’s a super adorable way to contribute to a good cause, which will help increase access to technologies in rural India with every toy sold.

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Avantika, Diana, Jackie, Aron and Daniel are the team behind Happy Bellies, which includes cute characters like “Dozing Dosa,” “Superstar Samosa,” “Jolly Jalebi,” and more. Diana and Jackie are the founders of Essmart, an organization that helps village-level mom-and-pop shops sell life-changing products. They aim to raise $60,000 through Kickstarter and the campaign has already gotten a considerable amount of buzz with a feature on BuzzFeed

The team was nice enough to answer a few questions for me about the campaign, Essmart’s work, and the story behind all those adorable plushie Indian foods.

Kickstarter Promotion

What is the inspiration behind the Happy Bellies campaign for Essmart?

About a year ago, one of Diana’s college friends came to India for a visit. They spent about two weeks romping by plane, train, and bus through the country, hitting up a new destination on a daily basis. Sometime during a breakfast in the middle of the trip, Diana’s friend exclaimed about a trio of idlis, “Aw, they look like little pillows!” Hence, the idea of making idlis into pillows was born, and progressed into what would become Happy Bellies.

What are Essmart’s goals? Which of the organization’s accomplishments are you proud of the most? 

Essmart’s goals are to make life-improving technologies available to all people, no matter where they are or where they’re from. We’re doing this by working with rural mom-and-pop stores to provide advertising, last-mile distribution, and after-sales service available for products like solar lanterns, water filters, smoke-reducing cookstoves, agricultural tools, and low-cost gadgets. Since August 2012, we moved over 12,000 pieces of technologies, have worked with over 1,100 rural retail stores, have over 65 products in our catalogue, and have touched nearly 50,000 people with technologies.
Diana and Jackie in Shop

What will the Kickstarter funds go toward?

All of the Kickstarter funds will go toward Essmart’s operations. We’re considering Happy Bellies as an alternative revenue stream. he hope is to make them like Airbnb’s Obama O’s — slightly ridiculous, a lot of fun, and a source of funding for the start-up.

What has the journey been like leading up to launching the Kickstarter?

After Diana’s friend had the epiphany, we sat on the plush toy idea for nearly a year. We only started talking about it again in June of this year, particularly as a way to fundraise. In Bangalore, Diana and Jackie met a designer named Avantika at a meet up for alumni from universities in the US (the three of us are alumni from MIT, Harvard, and Stanford). We’ve been working with her to finalize our designs for Happy Bellies (which involves exercises like measuring foods with rulers and calipers), and she helped us look for a local manufacturer. We found a manufacturer in Bangalore who makes stuffed toys, and we made two rounds of prototypes so far. The materials are all soft and touchable, with either felt or embroidered facial features. To promote the toys before and during the Kickstarter campaign, we’ve been doing a food tour of Indian restaurants and food trucks around the world, since the campaign overlaps with our international travel.

Happy Bellies Characters

On you website, there are characters like “Superstar Samosa” and “Dozing Dosa.” How did you decide to assign certain personalities to dishes?

We thought that having just toys without personalities would be pretty boring. We chose the personalities based on the food and our experiences with Indian culture. For example, Superstar Samosa is a renown movie star because the samosa is a famous Indian appetizer all around the world, and cinema is a HUGE part of Indian culture. The ‘Lil Idlis are children because their taste is very bland, and, like children, they’re “impressionable” in the sense that they take on the flavors that they’re eaten with. It goes on like this for all six of the current Happy Bellies characters.

What are some of the team’s favorite Indian dishes?

We all have different favorite dishes. Jackie loves idli for its slightly fermented taste and its accompanying chutney. Avantika loves dosa, as she’s from South India, and dosas are the best there. Diana loves something that’s didn’t become a Happy Belly — chicken kothu parotta. It’s this chopped up delicious flat bread mixed with masala, chicken, onions, cilantro, egg, and other tasty goodness. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look very appealing as a plush toy. Aron love aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower), and Daniel’s is saag palak paneer (a spinach-based curry with Indian cheese).

Street GangBe sure to visit Happy Bellies’ Kickstarter, Website, InstagramFacebook and Twitter

Photos courtesy of Happy Bellies

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