[00:00:00] Jackie Ferguson: Thanks everyone for tuning in to the Diversity Beyond the Checkbox Podcast. My guest today is Avantha Arachchi. Avantha is the Chief operating officer of A-Frame Brands, a portfolio of brands developed for underrepresented groups founded by celebrity talent, bringing more than a decade of building and scaling startups, and CPG fashion and tech.
[00:00:21] She is a former behaviorist, current data nerd, and has won accolades for thought leadership and talent. Reported fastest growing companies, and blazing trails as a trans woman of color at the forefront of business and innovation. Avantha, thank you so much for being here.
[00:00:39] Avantha Arachchi: Thank you for having me Jackie.
[00:00:41] Jackie Ferguson: Of course. I always start every show by asking our guests to just talk a little bit about themselves, your background, your family, your identity, whatever you'd like to share.
[00:00:51] Avantha Arachchi: Yeah, absolutely. So, I, I, as you mentioned, I am trans woman of color. I think that's where my identity starts. it's the way that I exist in [00:01:00] the world. It's the way that I, I, it colors so much of how I experience things. and I think part of it is also because I, it's actually, fairly rare that, like I transitioned later as I was already in business.
[00:01:12] And so, I experienced the world when I identified as male, and then now I experience the world identifying as female. And like just the things that kind of changed in my life, because of that, struck me to my core, which then wanted, like, I'd talk to somebody who, like, her favorite question is like, what radicalized you towards what you wanna be able to build in this world?
[00:01:32] And like, that's what did it for me, realizing so much how different the world is when your identity is different. And that created a passion for me and being able to, to build spaces and build things for people that, that are underrepresented and that not, might not be part of the conversation. I am a lover of all things decadent.
[00:01:51] I'm a maximalist. I, as opposed to a minimalist, so, I love food, art, beauty, everything like that. So, and I think everyone deserves, [00:02:00] all of those things. and the joy that comes with it.
[00:02:03] Jackie Ferguson: Love that. Thank you so much for sharing that Avantha. You know, one question, and certainly I've done a little bit of research, on some of your other podcasts and things, right? But one of the questions that I do love to ask is, what did you think you'd be doing in your career when you were young?
[00:02:21] Avantha Arachchi: Originally, I, I wa, actually wanted to be in the CIA. that's what I spent, a lot of my, like teenage years through college training for, I did all of the, I did everything right, I did. I studied counterterrorism with a double in French and a minor in physics. Cause I wanted to focus on nuclear counter-terrorism in Europe.
[00:02:40] I had a mentor that was previously in the CIA, and so, he trained me on a lot of things that you don't learn in school, like close quarter combat and like, like bomb defusal and like, like other, all of those different things to be able to go in theater. I like read every book that was out there. I did everything right there.
[00:02:58] Even, before I graduated, I [00:03:00] started the interview process for it. and it, it, the interview process was a year. and I got through to almost the end. and at the end of it, they told me because of my gender presentation and because I, the way that I exist in, in this world as a queer person. Um. I wouldn't be able to be accepted into, move forward, which was a huge, jarring aspect for me.
[00:03:23] it was everything that I wanted to do in my life. It was my dream, and I had to kind of take stock of things and figure out what my new dream was. and so I took a lot of thought into like, okay, what did I actually love about this? Why did I live, love this? And a lot of it's because I wanted, I loved understanding things.
[00:03:41] I wanted to be able to, everything was a mystery. Everything was like, oh, how do you want, like, what do you uncovering as it's coming about? a little bit of like, it's, time sensitive because things are popping up and you need to address it while also like diving in and uncovering it and getting your hands dirty.
[00:03:56] And I mean, that is startups. and that is operations. [00:04:00]
[00:04:00] Jackie Ferguson: That's right.
[00:04:01] Avantha Arachchi: That's early-stage things, early-stage things where you're, you are trying to solve a problem in this world and you don't quite know if you're, how to do it, and you don't quite know whether even you're, what you're doing is right. and so...
[00:04:12] Jackie Ferguson: There's no playbook, right?
[00:04:14] Avantha Arachchi: There's no playbook, there's a, it's all experimentation and you've gotta just get your hands in and figure it out. And so, I, I shifted gears into that and, and, and have been here ever since.
[00:04:25] Jackie Ferguson: I love that. And you know, one of the things Avantha, that so many of us experience is that, that life shift for different reasons, right? And so many of us are stuck with now what, what do I do? How did you go from, this is my path, right, CIA, to they're saying no and then make that shift emotionally, first, right?
[00:04:56] And then how did you make that shift? And what advice do you, do you [00:05:00] give the rest of us for what happens when you experience a real roadblock in your life to your goals? What do you do? How do you make that shift?
[00:05:09] Avantha Arachchi: Yeah, of course. and... you're right. We all experience those things, especially as underrepresented groups of being, counted out for who we are. and I think for me, I, realized that, there wasn't a pathway for me to be able to move to own here and that it was out outside of my control that like, there was literally nothing that I could have done differently done, better done in a different way that would've gotten me across this finish, other than like pretending that I was someone else.
[00:05:36] Jackie Ferguson: Right.
[00:05:36] and I wasn't gonna do that. And so, like, I think my advice to folks whenever they face that sort of like rejection, pushback, anything like that is recognizing like there are things that you can be able to go against. There are things that you can be able to, to advocate for. There are things that you can be able to push.
[00:05:52] I can't push the US government to do something, completely different as one person. it takes a wave of things and I [00:06:00] think, I'm hoping that things obviously are, are shifting gears now. But like, I wasn't gonna be able to, especially as a, like someone who's graduating college, needed to get a job. I wasn't a, like didn't have a safety net.
[00:06:12] Like, I couldn't spend my time running wheels on something that wasn't gonna get me traction. And so I had to say, okay, where am I gonna get tractioning to stop back, sit back and think about, okay, what do I actually want, and how can I be able to get there.
[00:06:27] Jackie Ferguson: I love that. You know, that's, again, that's, that's just good advice for all of us because we experience roadblocks and, and like you said, especially for those of us who are underrepresented, how do we create those shifts in our lives that, that allow us to move forward and do something amazing like you have, right?
[00:06:49] I'd love to talk about your experience in navigating life and your career as a trans woman, and what that transition was like making that, [00:07:00] after entering into your career. Will you share a little about your experience with us?
[00:07:04] Avantha Arachchi: Yeah, of course it was, so the only word that I can characterize it is jarring. because imagine at like, like walk, walking in this world one way and everyone is treating you in a certain way, everything exists in a certain way. And then, the next day, everything is completely different the way, like the way the world is different around you, so it's like you go to sleep and you wake up in a different world.
[00:07:29] And, nothing about me changed, but the world around me changed,
[00:07:33] Avantha Arachchi: which was so, crazy to me. Like I would do the same things. I would be, I would present, ideas in the same way, present even the same ideas. and it was completely different. And I always, I, the metaphor that I give is like, it used to be like all lights green.
[00:07:50] It was like I, whatever idea I wanted to be able to do whatever a pitch I could create cuz I was doing a lot of pitching. That was, the type of work that I did was impact work to say, how can I, like, here's a [00:08:00] problem, here's how we can be able to solve it. And, before I transitioned, it was always great, go ahead, do it.
[00:08:05] And like no real pushback, no deeper dive into it, we trust you, you know what you can do, go ahead and accomplish it. Afterwards, it was, always push back. It was all lights red. It was all, I always say every, needed to pull up every bit of data, every book that I could be able to showcase why I wanted to be able to do this this way. Why I deserve to be in rooms that, that I was in before I transitioned. Why I was even part of the conversation.
[00:08:32] and, it's, it's tiring to make that change. And I, I think that, what's interesting, people who identify the same way always throughout their life, they kind of get used to the way that they exist in this world and it just is a muscle that is part of who they are. But someone who changes their identity, which only really happens for folks that are, are transitioning.
[00:08:56] It's something that you go from not having to do, have that muscle [00:09:00] to now having to build that muscle really quickly to be able to try and, keep your head above water. yeah.
[00:09:08] Jackie Ferguson: You know, I, that's so interesting because, we, we all kind of understand what our privileges are and what our challenges are, right. And having made that shift and seeing how the world changes around you and how. That privilege changes, right? It's got to be really interesting and you know, it's just, again, for people that don't acknowledge that in the world, right.
[00:09:36] Or acknowledge that within their organizations, that's such a great example of that it exists, you know, bias exists. And, and the way that we treat people, whether consciously or unconsciously exists. And, and I appreciate your sharing that. Avantha, let's talk about A-Frame Brands. What is the mission of your company [00:10:00] and what types of brands do you represent?
[00:10:02] Can you share that?
[00:10:02] Avantha Arachchi: Yeah, of course. So, A-Frame Brands, we're a portfolio of companies that are focused on building products, building solutions for underrepresented groups, for people who have been left out of the conversation. We came to the I guess realization, and it's a realization that really. We all should have is that majority of the products that are out there, people under, under people from underrepresented groups haven't been part of, the conversation in developing them.
[00:10:26] In creating them and, and, and, building them. And so what has happened for, for most of the time, most of, history is that these products have been made without people, these people in the rooms. And so, they've pushed towards the, what, the, what we might say the majority needs as opposed to what, what the rest of the world needs.
[00:10:45] And what we've realized is that, that one size fits model of saying like, okay, this is a solution that maybe fits everyone, doesn't actually service everyone equally. it, it services everyone that's in those room and, and is talking about what they need, [00:11:00] the most. And so, we are focused on, particularly building our teams to be as representative of the world that we wanna be able to create of the consumers that have been left out of these industries, left out of its conversations so that we can be able to build products that are, functional to these consumers that, that look like us and feel like us and, and come from the same roots as us.
[00:11:20] Um and tell stories that resonate with them. and so right now we have a couple of brands that are already in market, but a couple of more that are under the hood that we're developing, as well. the first is, Kinló, which is a sunscreen brand with Naomi Osaka, that launched last year. The second is PROUDLY, a baby care line with, Gabrielle Union and Dwayne Wade.
[00:11:40] and then we just also announced a recent partnership with John Legend, that we'll be going live at the beginning of next year.
[00:11:47] Jackie Ferguson: Awesome. That's very exciting. You know, one of the things that I love about your organization, is that you know, representation really does [00:12:00] matter. If I think about Kinló for example, I, I can't tell you how many times I've applied sunscreen in a hurry to run out to the beach or to the pool, and realized how white, right, my face was, because sunscreen is white, right?
[00:12:18] And, there haven't historically been enough considerations, and even recently, enough considerations for the fact that our society is more diverse than ever before, so, how do we create products and messaging that resonate with people who are different? And, you know, I, I love that. PROUDLY, is, is really interesting because, you know, I have, I have a daughter, she's almost 21 now, but I do remember when she was a little one. And, I never even thought about products that were for, you know, [00:13:00] melanated baby skin.
[00:13:02] Avantha Arachchi: The babies actually have higher rates of eczema, have higher rate of moisture loss, so their skin gets dryer faster, babies of color. so, they need products that are different that actually service their skin in the special way that they deserve.
[00:13:17] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I love that. And you know, one of the things I learned recently, Avantha, just as we think about all products, right? All the things that are part of our lives and, and I learned something about, seat belts and that, there's a, a higher rate of women being injured with seat belts cause they're tested on men.
[00:13:42] Right. Seat belts are tested on men and not on women, not on a variety of genders, right. And so.
[00:13:51] Avantha Arachchi: And that's actually for a, a lot of the medical community too. There's a lot of medicines that are based on. The weight, the size, everything of a man.
[00:13:59] A lot of [00:14:00] the research done on particularly like heart issues, focus on the beginning. They were created by men and it was tested on men. And so, a lot of even the signs of what a heart attack looks like are based off of how it operates in men, which there are slightly different ones for, for people who are born, assigned female at birth.
[00:14:19] and so there are, and you can go even further to like, accessibility areas. There are folks who have accessibility needs where the world is not made for them either. and we can be able to build products for them because they deserve good things too.
[00:14:33] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. Absolutely. And your brands Avantha, focus on products as we talked about for underrepresented people. Let's open the conversation and talk about why representation is so important in general.
[00:14:48] Avantha Arachchi: I firmly believe that like representation matters regardless of what type of company you are, what type of thing you're building, because this work, because, this world is different than it was before. And you're [00:15:00] leaving so much on the table, you're leaving so many people out of the conversation.
[00:15:03] So, ethically, like it matters. It matters to be able to, to, to speak to people that that deserve to be spoken to. But also, like honestly, from a business standpoint, diverse teams do better. They have higher acquisition prices, they have higher stock prices, they have higher levels of collaboration and creativity, and they just, genuinely do better.
[00:15:23] And so, it behooves all of us, to be able to make sure that our teams are as representative as possible because we will do better.
[00:15:31] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, I think about, you know, I'm, I'm almost 50. And so I think about when I was young, right. And, and what the, the Disney storybooks looked like and what the, you know, the people that were in the magazines looked like. And, what I saw on TV and none of them looked like me. Even now with the, you know, the, the controversy for whatever reason [00:16:00] around the new Ariel, right?
[00:16:01] Avantha Arachchi: Right.
[00:16:02] Jackie Ferguson: And, these little adorable videos of these underrepresented babies that are just looking at this and saying, she looks like me, she has my hair, right? And, and what that means for young children and that development, early development of self-esteem, because they can see themselves reflected. And even as adults, if I'm looking at clothing that's on a size two model.
[00:16:30] That's 20, right? That that's not how I'm gonna look in the clothes, right? I wanna see someone that looks like me. Right? And so, I love that there is more now of a focus on representation and, you know, certain brands are, are doing great with that. And then now a focus on creating brands specifically for, people who are underrepresented that [00:17:00] haven't been considered in those conversations, in those rooms where, where they're creating those new products and things. And I, I think that that's so important for our society, as we become more diverse, right. But also, there's a, a, more of a, an expectation on inclusion. Which I think is, is so beautiful, especially for these younger generations that are coming up and, and they want those brands to align with who they are with, who their friends are, with their values, and I, I think that's, that's amazing.
[00:17:35] Avantha Arachchi: And I, I talk about that all the time too, that I believe that the next wave of ethical sourcing has to do with, has to do with teams that exist at, at, that are as diverse as the world that people wanna live in. That for a long time that that level of ethical sourcing had to do with sustainability of like being. Does this a, company believe in like carbon neutral and like, do they have recyclable products and all of those different elements?
[00:17:57] I think that the, we're starting to see [00:18:00] people want to buy from brands and identify with brands that look like them, feel like them, that they know that, the people, behind them have the same values that they do. And so, even at like being, that's even another check in terms of representation because as we continue to, to progress in this world, people want that, contingent of people that are, are aligning with those values is growing and growing.
[00:18:24] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. Absolutely. And you know, and for organizations that, don't believe that, don't realize that, are kind of doing this, you know, let me just not pay attention to it, if I don't, it'll go away. It's not going away. People are, have more expectations, stronger expectations for the brands that they're, they're patronizing, the organizations that they work for, to look like them, to feel like them, to embrace them, and, and I love that.
[00:18:55] I think that's, that's amazing.
[00:18:57] Avantha Arachchi: Yeah.
[00:18:58] Jackie Ferguson: Avantha, you know, many [00:19:00] retailers have pledged to support and sell more diverse brands, which is great, but why do all organizations need to have a stronger focus on appealing to diverse people?
[00:19:12] Avantha Arachchi: I mean, I think the answer's pretty easy cuz diverse people are people too. They're consumers. And so, for any business that wants to survive, they need to be able to grow their portfolio. And actually, the Census showed in 2015 that children on the, the age of five, more than 50% of them had at least one parent of color.
[00:19:31] So they would identify as a person of color themselves. And so, that was in 2015. We are seven years later now. so that's under the age of 12 now. and you know what, in, what is it, six years, they're gonna be 18. so in six years, the, the tilt is gonna start shifting. And so we're gonna have such a, a, a more diverse population in the U.S.
[00:19:56] And so, you're like companies that aren't, thinking about, [00:20:00] people of color, aren't thinking about underrepresented groups, aren't thinking about, those consumers are like not thinking long term about their strategy. They're not thinking long term about how they can be able to, to ride the wave of what's, what's going to be the future.
[00:20:15] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. And you know, I love how you said, companies that want to survive, because that's exactly right, for sustainable business, you've gotta know what's happening and, and the trends and not the trends on what's cool, but how our, our world is trending, how our habits are trending.
[00:20:33] Avantha Arachchi: It is also a piece of what's cool because companies also need to attach themselves to what, what the wave of the future is. And part of that is, is, culture is built by underrepresented groups largely. It's built by queer culture. It's built by black culture, it’s built by, by immigrant culture. and that is what the future is, and that's what leads, leads, people to want to be a part of it.
[00:20:56] and so it, it is the wave of the future strategically for their [00:21:00] consumers, but it's also the way to make them make sure that they're relevant.
[00:21:04] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. I totally agree with that. That is, that is so true. Avantha, you were named to Fast Company's 2022 Queer 50 List. Let's talk a little about that recognition.
[00:21:16] Congratulations, by the way.
[00:21:17] Avantha Arachchi: Yeah.
[00:21:17] Thank you. it was such an honor, especially to be amongst the, the people that were on that list. I, it literally was some of my, heroes, some people that I model my career after. Some people that I, I hope to, to grow, to become. And so, being on that list was of people who are, are queer, proudly queer, and driving innovation in business and tech was, such an honor.
[00:21:45] Jackie Ferguson: I love that. And, you know, let's talk to Avantha about, you know, how can we best support our friends and our colleagues and our, our family, our coworkers who are transitioning? [00:22:00] What advice can you give us there?
[00:22:02] Avantha Arachchi: Of course. So, I think one of the easiest ways to kind of think about it is that it is a life change, just like anything else. If you have a friend that, that was pregnant, that's, similar life change. It's their, that their, their world is changing too. And so, I al I've been asked before more, more so in office settings.
[00:22:20] Like, I think someone is transitioning in my office. Like, do I talk to them about it? Do I ask them about it? And I have to tell them, like, it depends on how close you are to them. Just the same way that if you were close to a woman and that you thought might be pregnant, whether you would ask her or not.
[00:22:35] Because if you're very close to that person, then maybe you would, but for the most part, you probably wouldn't. And so, I think being able to, to identify it as a life event the same way that any other life event happens, and being respectful of both someone's privacy, that also want them likely, potentially wanting to be able to share and maybe even being nervous about sharing it.
[00:22:56] that's, that's, I, I think the best advice that I [00:23:00] can be able to give.
[00:23:01] Jackie Ferguson: Awesome. Avantha, tell us something about you that not a lot of people know.
[00:23:09] Avantha Arachchi: You know, I don't know that there's not, that, there is that much that people don't know. I like to live my life out loud. I like to live my life vibrantly. I am very public about everything that exists. for me from being a maximalist and liking, liking fashion and liking art and beauty to like being a nerd and reading comic books and things like that.
[00:23:31] and, I honestly don't know that there's anything that I, that I can say that, people don't know about other than maybe some concepts that we're working on under the hood. (laughing)
[00:23:45] Jackie Ferguson: And you know, I love that about you, Avantha. Living life out loud, but you know, so many of us aren't comfortable with that and you know, are a little afraid to do that. What advice can you give us on kind [00:24:00] of embracing all of who we are and just being ourselves and being comfortable sharing that and showing that?
[00:24:07] Avantha Arachchi: Yeah. So, I think a, for me, I, it was very important to me. There was a, there certainly was a time where I was less vibrant and best vocal. and it, there was a switch for me when I realized that I was talking to people that had never met a trans person before. and so making sure that like I can, be more visible so that, because visibility creates normalcy.
[00:24:29] and so being able to make sure that people, it's not as scary to folks that people can say that they've seen someone talk to someone, whatever that is tra, that is trans, makes it something that is less like the, the boogeyman, right, or less something that's intangible. Because if they're also at the voting box, they can think about me, as opposed to thinking about the intangible, whatever, whatever might exist.
[00:24:50] but I think personally, for me, it was, it was also about realizing that my, part of my value is my vibrancy. The reason why diversity is [00:25:00] value when we talk about organizations particularly is that, when people bring themselves to work and bring their perspectives to work and it, and, and are actually, outspoken around it, it enables folks to kind of bounce ideas back off of each other and come to a better solution at the end of the day. And so, if I'm not bringing myself to work, if I'm not bringing myself into this world, then I'm not actually achieving my value. I'm not actually showcasing all of the great things that I can be able to say, do and help with.
[00:25:27] And so, I it, and I'm, I'm a, I'm an optimizer, so, I wanna be able to, to, to do things as best as I can. so I'm gonna bring myself there.
[00:25:38] Jackie Ferguson: I love that I'm writing that down. That's (laughing) that's awesome. You know, if, if you're not bringing yourself, you're not bringing your value. I love that, like I love that. That's so important. Avantha, you are blazing a trail for professional trans women. [00:26:00] What's next for you?
[00:26:01] Avantha Arachchi: There's a lot that we're doing at A-frame, which is very exciting. I mean, it's, it is crazy. A-Frame is only maybe a yearish old, and we've already launched two brands, both in retail. A third is on its way, at the beginning of next year, and I'm actually, we're actually also developing a new brand that I'm spearheading, that's focused on women as an underrepresented group.
[00:26:22] that's actually kind of based off of my realization of, of an industry that treated me really well when identified as male and didn't really think of me at all now that I identify as female. and so I, there's a lot of opportunity for us to be able to build new things.
[00:26:38] We're also looking at places where, we can be able to build in other categories and create new things and work with great people to be able to lend our expertise so that we can be able to, to, look at multiple multipliers so that this world can, can have a, see change. at the end of this stead.
Marker (I believe, stead was said here, but I'm not sure.)
[00:26:56] Jackie Ferguson: So Avantha, my next question [00:27:00] is a, a little tea about some of the celebrities that you've been working with, engaging with. What can you share?
[00:27:06] Avantha Arachchi: Yeah, I would say Gabrielle Union is probably one of the fiercest advocates for the type of work that we do. she is actually one of the people that I think, started even talking about, I mean, everyone talks about FUBU, for us by us, but she was one of the folks that was talking about it in the context of the type of work that we're doing.
[00:27:25] And really enabled us to kind of hone in on, on that messaging so that we could be able to really, know how to speak to folks about the type of, about what we're actually doing here. and I think that, I've loved seeing her, seeing Dwayne, seeing Naomi, and John talk about social advocacy. And they're really passionate about what we're, what we're building.
[00:27:46] And I think that they're also, they're very, all, very hands on. They all love being able to create things. and they all have really great business sense too. they, they want, they wanna understand what the consumer needs, what the people want, [00:28:00] because they, there's a realization that we can be able to, to create something that hasn't been created for them before.
[00:28:05] Jackie Ferguson: Mm. I love that. You know, and it's, it's so important. One of the things, again, that I love about A-Frame and also was very clear on the PROUDLY site, was the diversity at the highest level, right. And, and often I, I have conversations with organizational leaders that are so proud of the d, their diversity, but it's really only gender diversity, or, you're right, it's, it's, culturally diverse males, but not real, and multiple kinds of diversity. The higher and higher you get up that ladder, right on that webpage, you see less diversity.
[00:28:47] But one of the things again that I, that I just think is so great about A-frame and also, with PROUDLY specifically because I, I went through that and saw that on the website is the diversity [00:29:00] at every level. And that's so important in creating spaces for people to share and participate and create real innovation.
[00:29:09] And I think that's so important in business. So, I just wanted to call that out.
[00:29:12] Avantha Arachchi: Well, thank you. And I think it is, it's a hallmark of what we truly believe is that, I mean, diversity means, diversity, it means like having lots of different things, lots of different perspectives, lots of lenses that exist. And I think for us it's, it's even taking that lens of like the startup methodology of experimentation and utilizing it for the way that we think about diversity in our team and saying, okay, we're building this team here, like what are we now missing, and what do we actually need to.
[00:29:39] We need to add to this because it's a perspective that's valuable that, we wanna be able to make sure is at the table. And so, being really intentional about the growth of our organization so that we can continue to, make sure that we're culturally relevant to the, the populations today.
[00:29:54] Jackie Ferguson: Absolutely. And Avantha, you know, as we think about [00:30:00] diversity, equity, and inclusion for organizational leaders that know that it's important but aren't sure where to start with the conversation with, with how to start to incorporate a DEI practice within their organization, what advice do you give them about getting started.
[00:30:18] Avantha Arachchi: I mean, hire someone to start, hire someone and give them the resources they need. Maybe not even just hire one person. Hire, hire... because, if you hire one person and you don't really give them the opportunity to, to make change, you don't give them the strategic inputs, the, the, the resources. They can't really do things.
[00:30:36] And so, I always say like, things need to be intentional. And that is, and, and you need to actually walk the walk and put things behind it. And for things to be that intentional, it needs to be attached to your strategy. And so just the same way that a company who is obsessed with customers, and obsessed with our consumers might hire a chief customer officer and they have an org behind them, they have, they're building a [00:31:00] company strategy.
[00:31:01] They have the ar, they have the ear of the, the CEO, those sort of elements. Like you likely want someone that is in that C-suite that is at that executive table who has that perspective as well. because if it is truly that important to you, then, it should be as important as everything else. And so even particularly with, startups, cuz I do a lot of advising and have conversation with startup companies, it's actually even a, as boiled down to, like, you need to hire your first people person. If you're hiring a product person, you hire a people person because that's, that's equally as important to the growth of your company. And that people person should probably have a lens on how to be able to build diversity from the ground up because it's so much easier to start from the ground up just like we have, as opposed to trying to steer a giant ship in a different direction and end other things as we go.
[00:31:48] Jackie Ferguson: That's exactly right, Avantha. And you know, I say something very similar. And you know, with startups a lot of times because they're wearing so many hats, and I'm sure you know this, right? [00:32:00] Number of hats, the things that you're doing, the busyness of just getting that business off the ground. A lot of startup leaders and, and founders, don't understand the importance of diversity and inclusion from the ground up, but you're right. It's, it's so much easier to start there to make that important from the beginning than it is to try to write the ship. So I, I love that. Anything else that you would add around advice for startups specifically and, and founders around, their DEI practice.
[00:32:36] Avantha Arachchi: Yeah, I would all say that it is okay to A, realize that what you're doing is not moving you in the right direction. It's okay to be able to rethink things. It's okay to be able to, like assess where you ... great to assess where you are to do that data poll to see where, where your organization looked like right now. so you can see where it have an intention towards where you [00:33:00] wanna be able to go.
[00:33:01] And I also, part of it is gonna be a lot of doing things, not the way that you might have done it before. I say bias is a lot like gravity. It's like, it's something that you, don't really see and you can't really control.
[00:33:13] but you can build things around you to be able to help you fly. You could, like, we have airplanes that help us fly, but it takes a lot of work and intention and a lot of, science to be able to do it, but, you can be able to get there without, with all of that work. but all of that work might not be as traditional as what you might have done at your companies before.
[00:33:32] Jackie Ferguson: Yeah, absolutely. Avantha, what is your guilty pleasure read or TV show or movie?
[00:33:41] Avantha Arachchi: I guess I don't, I'm not really guilty about anything. Um,
[00:33:47] Jackie Ferguson: That's right.
[00:33:47] Avantha Arachchi: Is that bad?
[00:33:48] Jackie Ferguson: That's right.
[00:33:49] Avantha Arachchi: Is that bad?
[00:33:49] Jackie Ferguson: No, no. Not at all.
[00:33:51] Avantha Arachchi: I like. I, like I said, like I enjoy everything that I do, and if I wasn't enjoying it, then I wasn't gonna, do it. And [00:34:00] I, I guess I don't really even have a lot of shame around a lot of, which is bad, I, that I think is probably bad.
[00:34:05] but I don't have shame attached to things cuz I don't know that shame is often actually, constructive. I think it can hold you back and it can, keep you from doing things that you actually should be doing. yeah, so I like, I take a lot of pleasure, and a lot of things that may be nerdy or maybe, less cool, but they're not guilty to me.
[00:34:32] Jackie Ferguson: I love that. So, then what's your, what's your thing? What's your favorite read, your favorite nerdy read or watch or.
[00:34:41] Avantha Arachchi: Yeah, I mean, like I, I'm a huge X-men nerd, so I like have a stack of X-men, comic books, next to my bed that I, I am like going through and just fi, finishing up, which is nice. I have a huge stack of comic books there, so like, that's probably about the biggest nerd cuz I, I would say my bedroom is [00:35:00] probably fairly stylish and immaculate.
[00:35:02] but then there's a stack of like multicolored, comic books, next to my bed too. That kind of puts it a little off. (laughing)
[00:35:11] Jackie Ferguson: I love it. I love it. Avantha, what's the message that you want to leave our listeners with today?
[00:35:18] Avantha Arachchi: Yeah, I would say that like I, you are valuable, and you need to be able to show your value. I would say that, every single person that's out there has something to contribute, has something, both in terms of their perspective and, and their skill set, but then also about who they are and where they've come from, because that perspective is valuable and can be able to get things, get things that much further.
[00:35:43] Jackie Ferguson: Awesome. Avantha, thank you so much for taking some time with us today and for sharing. So many amazing perspectives, on your business, on how to show up in the world. I think that's so important and I appreciate your time [00:36:00] today.
[00:36:00] Avantha Arachchi: Well, I appreciate you having me. Thank you so much, Jackie.
[00:36:03] Jackie Ferguson: Thank you.
Avantha Arachchi had done everything right, and she was one clearance away from achieving her life-long dream of joining the CIA when she was rejected because of her transgender identity. In response, she built her career around encouraging others to be their authentic selves. As COO of A-Frame Brands, Avantha works with celebrities—including Gabrielle Union, Dwayne Wade, John Legend and Naomi Osaka—to develop personal care brands like PROUDLY and Kinló that create products for culturally diverse consumers. In this episode, hear why representation matters and why you don’t have to compromise who you are for your work.