Sana Javeri Kadri is the kind of role model I wish I had when I was young. As a South Asian woman, I rarely saw myself reflected in the media or at the forefront of groundbreaking businesses when I was growing up; seeing Javeri Kadri’s interviews inVogue or hearing her voice onSecond Life would have been life-changing for this little brown girl. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to chat with her about her fair-trade spice company,Diaspora Co., but also about our shared experiences—from living at home as adults, to the role that spices play in comfort.
Working from home isn’t new forJaveri Kadri—at one point, she was bottling the fragrant spices for Diaspora Co. in the basement suite of the co-op she lived in. You could say she was a natural at it by the time the pandemic came around, although by then she had upgraded to a new home with her partner, Rosie Russell. For Javeri Kadri, feeling at home in her space means taking the time to make it beautiful and set the mood.
“During the pandemic, there’s often this feeling of, ‘Who cares, nobody’s coming over anyways,” she says via video. “But during the pandemic, I wanted it to be a beautiful space.” As the child of architects, Javeri Kadri’s childhood home in Mumbai was under constant renovation. At 16, when she moved out, she felt that “making spaces pretty, that’s their thing. I can live on very little.” Over a decade later, though, she’s come to realize that she loves aesthetically-pleasing spaces just as much as her parents do.
Still, they weren’t always within reach. Three years ago, Javeri Kadri—who is now based in the San Francisco Bay Area—moved with Russell into a one-bedroom apartment with only two forks, one bowl, a hand-me-down dining table, and a mattress. Suddenly, they realized they had to furnish a whole home from scratch. So they got inventive, driving around wealthy neighborhoods in the Bay Area, looking for free furniture and home goods. At one point, everything they owned was sourced from the side of the road—but it all served a purpose. While they’ve moved into a new place in Oakland since then, they aren’t in a rush to replace their roadside treasures just yet. “We have slowly been replacing pieces that were cute and from the side of the road with investment pieces that we know we’ll want for a long time,” Javeri Kadri says. “We refuse to buy a nightstand until we love it.”
While Northern California is home base, Javeri Kadri spends half the year back in Mumbai, meeting with farm partners for Diaspora Co. For her, true home is about where her loved ones are—not where her things are. “When I’m in Mumbai, I’m living in my childhood bedroom, with my parents,” says Javeri Kadri. “I’ve realized I feel most myself there. I don’t need to have my stuff there; it’s where I was raised and where the two most important people to me are.” Although Russell also represents home for Javeri Kadri, she finds that America still feels like a foreign country to her in a lot of ways. Which just means paying extra for heavy luggage and physically bringing Mumbai to Oakland. “I find it important for our home to bring in as much of India as possible,” Javeri Kadri explains. “Usually, I’m filling my suitcases with everything I can. I’ve carted everything from stainless steel rice boxes to a huge wooden head from a demolished temple.”
Home isn’t just the physical space, either—it’s also the atmosphere. Working from home means Javeri Kadri prioritizes taking the time to relax and shut off her brain in the evening. “Part of becoming an adult is not being able to sleep like a baby anymore,” she notes. “It’s challenging.” I think we can all relate to this. Her evening wind-down ritual begins by filling her vitruvi Move Diffuser in Terracotta with Nightcap Blend and settling in with a book. “It cues my brain to stop thinking about purchase orders or who I’m going to shout at tomorrow,” Javeri Kadri reflects. “It makes my brain focus on relaxing so I can fall asleep.”
Scent can be so important in a space. Growing up, I remember walking into my Nani’s house and immediately smelling a melody of masala, no matter the time of day. Funnily enough, Javeri Kadri has similar memories of scent and spice. In early 2020, she spent a three-month stretch at home with her parents—the longest she’d been there in years. She remembers the smells of the family cook building flavor using spices, which always provide her with an immense sense of comfort. “When I moved to the US, it never fully felt like home because it didn’t smell right. It’s only now that I know if I want to make myself feel good, the smell of Biriyani or fish curry in the kitchen will immediately set my mood right,” she offers. “It’s not even about eating it; just that smell wafting through the house. Similarly, I love very spice-forward stuff from vitruvi, and newer South Asian candle companies. I think they’re helping us recreate some of those smells of home, and I think it’s exciting.”
Not many people turn their foodie passions into thriving businesses, but Javeri Kadri is a force to be reckoned with. And speaking of food, I need to know one last thing: if she could only cook one dish for the rest of her life, what would it be? “Rice, yogurt, and bindi (okra),” she says. “I could eat bindi every day.” Like I said: my dream role model.