Child Psychiatrist Dr. Zabina “Zee” Bhasin, MD, is a diversity and inclusion expert and entrepreneur and the founder of In Kidz, a lifestyle brand dedicated to creating connections through culture and championing unity amongst diversity. Kidz creates kid-focused products that help children learn about cultures while inspiring them to create a world that embraces diversity of all kinds.
Tell us a little bit more about your mission and all about In KidZ.
Dr. Zabina Bhasin…
In KidZ is a kids’ product, cultural subscription box company. We are mission-driven and our mission is to teach children about one country, one culture and one tradition at a time. More than that, it is to celebrate our differences, instead of stigmatizing them. We know that all our children see each other, before the age of six years old, as just kids. Nobody looks at differences. Nobody looks at the color of their eyes or their nose or the skin tone.
I want to start teaching children and their parents that we are more similar than we are different, and our differences make us unique, but do not separate us. That is the ultimate mission of In KidZ. Through our kids’ products, through our toys, through our culture boxes, we want to give families tools so they can talk about differences and similarities. That’s really the important thing, is that we are similar.
Tell me about your childhood and how both parents being immigrants contributed to the creation of your company.
Oh, wow. It’s so funny because I just recently have been writing a little story about not only the way I grew up, but also how I named my children or how my mom named me. It really comes back to my mom is an immigrant and so is my father. My father came here for college. He went to Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and then he graduated. He was a mechanical and architectural engineer. Then he went back and married my mom, who came back here and did her master’s in education and special education. She did it at Cal State, Long Beach.
We were born in the city of Cerritos. Well, I was technically born in Santa Monica, but I was raised in the city of Cerritos. I’m a Southern California born and raised OG girl. That’s what I call myself. There’s not many of us left here. I’m of South Asian descent, so I’m Indian. I was raised in a Sikh home. Sikhism is the religion of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, where we have 10 gurus and we believe in … We are the warriors. We are the fighters.
We believe in five things, which is our hair, which is Kesh, Kara, Kirpan. We believe in these items as our culture and our religion are very different from Hinduism and Islam and all of that. Our identity is because of our hair. If you see the men who wear the turbans and have long beards, those are Sikhs. We represent that. There’s so much more about the religion, I can go on, but I was raised in a Sikh household, very much Indian, very much culturally Punjabi.
My dad was very involved within our gurdwara, which is our temple. He was the president. He also was one of the founding fathers of the Los Angeles Gurdwara here in Vermont, very well-known gurdwara back in the 90s and 80s. My dad also was very well-represented in the Khalsa Aid, which is now big Khalsa Aid USA, Khalsa Aid India, where he was one of the founding fathers of that as well.
He worked in that kind of a group, which was in Washington, DC that tried to … There was all these things at that time. I’m not really representative of it, but my father was very involved within the Sikh community. I was very young, but my parents also didn’t say, “Oh, you have to be Indian and you have to be Sikh and you can’t talk to these people.” I went to Catholic school. I went to an all-girls Catholic school.
My dad still opened up those doors for us. He said, “I want you guys to live the life. Why did I come to this country? Is not to … Yeah, keep India here. I want to give you that culture and that education and go to gurdwara and learn the language.” I mean, I learned to read it a long time ago, but I’ve forgotten, but I can speak it very well. My parents said, “This is one part of our life and then this is the other part of our life.” We were very family-based.
I had a lot of cousins who lived with me, who my parents brought from India, who established their lives here too now and my aunts and uncles. We always saw family around us, whether it was family or family friends. I saw a lot of that. When I hear my friends talk about, “Well, I was so Indian and I’ve tried to stay away from it.” Yeah. I did that too because I was so bullied, not only for my hair, but for my skin tone, for the food I brought, the clothes I wore.
But whenever I went home, I felt like I was at home. One of the things my mom did that really has established me to create In KidZ was as I started getting made fun of, and then my brothers, because they had long hair and they wore their turbans, which we call patkas and for younger boys they wear it in a cloth instead of a big turban. My brothers used to get made fun of. Not only even get made fun of, get beat up for having the long hair and for having our religious beliefs.
One time I remember, which has really hit home recently. There was an attack in the UK where a young Sikh boy was attacked. This was like a week or two ago, which has really hit us, me and my brother, at home really hard. Because when my brother was 10 years old, the same thing happened. Two, Caucasian boys. He was waiting for soccer practice to start. My mom dropped him off at the local park like we always did. They literally attacked him and pulled his hair out.
If one of the park people didn’t come to try to stop it, they would’ve tried to cut his hair. These were boys that my brother knew. Same as the boy who got attacked in the UK. This thing that my mom saw us grow up with and now I’m seeing, again, my mom did the amazing thing of going to our school. She didn’t go to our principal or our teachers and say, “Look, this is happening to my kids.”
You know what happens normally and kids are scared to tell their parents because they’re like, “Oh no, we’re going to get bullied more, or people are going to make fun of us more.” My mom went in. She went in to our teacher, and I was in first or second grade and said, “I want to have a open conversation with all your students about our religion, about our culture and about our traditions.” She did something amazing. She compared it to theirs.
She took what a little Jewish boy or a little Korean girl, or what another African-American boy would do in his home that we do in ours. Took that we are not so different. We’re actually really similar. Hispanic people eat food that are rice and beans. We eat dal and [inaudible], which is rice and beans, you know? She took those things and compared it. My mother is an educator. She’s a teacher. She’s been a teacher since I can remember.
She was a high school teacher. Then she went into elementary and then she became a special education, so she knew how to connect with children. The teachers and the principal and everybody was so impressed that my mom did this every year for about two or three years and then we started seeing other parents do it. Then we started seeing other parents come in and teach their classrooms about the Korean culture, about the Chinese culture, about the African-American culture.
This went beyond that. This turned, by the time I was in sixth grade, into an international month.
We saw kids dancing, but this was my first experience to saying, “Wow, we can change people’s minds.” This came from my mom and then me going into medicine and understanding the psychiatry of a child, the milestones of children and saying, “I have now had my own children.” Then I started seeing the same thing happen. My kids weren’t getting bullied, but I was seeing the world in the same place. I felt like we went backwards again.
The world we were living in, there was so much hatred, so much prejudice, so much … I’m like, “What are we doing? What are we giving the next generation? Where’s our kindness? Where’s our empathy? How do we grow to be better individuals and show that to our children?” Because guess what? In 20 years again, the same thing is going to happen. I will not allow this to happen. I’m not going to leave my kids in this world.
I have to feel like I did something. That’s where my dream and my vision came from, was where I grew up.
Tell us about each box. What goes into each box?
If you ask my husband, too much work sometimes. I got to say, when we first decided we were going to do this, and we sat down with all of the friends I have who were giving me advice in how to do this, the one thing I realized is I don’t know everything about everyone’s culture and tradition. I had to start looking for parent ambassadors. Moms and dads who were raised in that culture, who were from those countries, understood the traditions, and some of them are educators. Some of them have medical background, some of them are just parents.
That’s what they are. The other part of this is I had to realize … And I worked with a lot of educators, preschool educators, school educators, to see, what do I need to put in this? Not only to help the children, but it also be a learning tool for them, and also for their parents, because I’m pretty sure those parents, they don’t know everything about those countries as much as I probably do. If we’re going to teach a culture or a tradition, we have to understand what we do to educate children.
I got my mom involved. I got some friends of mine who are from the educational background. We knew that we needed certain items in there. We needed sensory items in there. We needed games in there. We needed crafts, and especially because I launched around COVID, which I wasn’t planning COVID to happen, I think it was partly like, “Okay. What do we put in this? We need books in there. We need flashcards in there.” One of my favorite thing is that we have language flashcards, that we put 20 flashcards that are basic words that every child can learn, so from every country.
That helps kids learn, “Okay. There’s a different language out there.” Or even a different dialect because that gives a kid to say, “Okay. English is not the only language out there.” These cards can be used all the time. A lot of the games, a lot of the books, a lot of the activities can be reused consistently. You can keep them in your home, so if you want to pull something out. I know one of my friends, she sent it to her niece who is five. Their nine-year-old needed to do a project on one of the countries and pulled out one of the books.
It became a use for everyone. That’s really what we did. We put that in there. We’ve noticed crafts are a big thing so I’m starting to look into more and more crafts from the countries to learn. I’m actually looking into a lot of crafts for the holidays right now that kids do in different countries, that are not the same that we do out here. That’s been really exciting because I’m in the holiday season when we’re talking right now.
I don’t know when you’re going to air this, but I’m trying to look at countries in Europe, countries in South Asia, countries in the Middle East, how do they celebrate the holidays? It’s not Christmas. It’s just the season and what do they do to inspire their children and do crafts with them? I see crafts there a lot too.
Is each box specific to a culture or it’s every box is multicultural?
Each box, other than our holiday bundle box right now, but each box is specific to a country and culture. We chose, let me say, for example, Guatemala. Guatemala is one of our boxes, which I really enjoy. It was specifically around their celebration and it’s not in Guatemala, but a lot of the Latin countries do it. It’s called friendship stay, which we have here too. I wanted to do something that was comparable to what kids celebrate here, but I took a lot of what their traditions are there.
What do kids do there? They play street soccer. They do jump rope, but there’s different names for them and there’s different ways they play it. We put things like that in the box. What is the craft that they do there that they learn since they’re a child? They do a lot of the weaving of the crafts. Like I said, it is specific to a tradition also, or a specific holiday, but then we put in stuff about their culture and then about the country as well.
We’re taking a piece of everything in there. Countries around the world have many, many, many traditions. I couldn’t even name you half of them. A lot of these boxes are going to get reprised again with a different tradition.
There’s so much culture to learn. You could add more things to it. That’s how we’re going to do this. We’re going to create-
I can only imagine given what we’re going through this year not COVID-related, social injustice at its peak, how has the response been to In KidZ?
It’s been great. People love the concept and idea. You just brought up that reason about social injustice. My brother is married to a black woman, who is my sister-in-law, who I don’t look at as a black woman, but as explaining it to you. She has three boys, so my nephews are half Indian, half black. When the social justice happened here in the United States and LA saw its first round of controversy and riots happening, my nephew who is the eldest is 22 years old. I called her and I said, “Monica, where is he?
Because my fear is they look more black than they do Indian, okay? I don’t look at them as black and Indian. I look at them as my nephews. They’re human beings to me. My kids don’t see them like that, but my sister-in-law and I started talking and we had already launched In KidZ and we had already put out two boxes, which was our India Raksha Bandhan box and our Turkey box, which was our protection box. She said to me, “Zee, are you doing anything for America?” I said, “I don’t know. I haven’t really thought of that.”
She said, “Do you know how many American/something culture we have here?” I’m like, “You’re right. We have African-Americans. We have Irish-Americans. We have Italian-Americans. We have Indian-Americans like me, who have cohabitated here and we’ve crossed cultures. I don’t know if there’s a real American culture out there because America is a melting pot. Our diversity here is because we’re a melting pot. That’s what it’s always been.”
She said, “I love …” She’s an educator herself. She a school psychologist, my sister-in-law, and so is my brother. She said, “I would love to see an America box. I’d love to see a box that-
Well, I did it. Immediately within two weeks of that span of her talking to me, I got on the phone with another friend of mine, Nikita. She has this amazing multicultural blog called Growing Up Gupta. You should definitely talk to her. She herself is black and she’s married to an Indian and her whole platform is about mixed-race children and mixed-race families. She’s created this amazing company called I Love Masala. I’m going to say the wrong name, but I will send you her link.
It’s amazing. She’s creating products that are for these multiracial kids who didn’t know what their identities were, like my nephews. We created the America box. She helped me with it. Nikita did. Her handle is growingupguptas. We created this amazing box for children. Now, this box was not about what we learn in school. This was beyond that. It wasn’t Martin Luther King. It wasn’t Rosa Parks. It was beyond that. It was ABCs of black history.
It was who was the first person surgeon? Our flashcards were actually not language flashcards. They were flashcards about inventors, scientists, politicians. They were like question flashcards. We had a coloring book in there. We had all of the items in there that were from companies that are black-owned businesses, but they were educational materials and they were games. We put checkers in there.
I actually learned the history behind checkers, which was African-American men took the game in World War II and taught it to the rest of the soldiers there. I didn’t know that story behind that. I had to learn all of this. There was so much history that I didn’t know that African-Americans have done in the United States. The signal light was invented by an African-American. Did you know that?
I didn’t know that. These were things beyond what our school teachers teach us, who are amazing and have already enough on their plate. That’s what I say. We have to take that responsibility in our homes now.
Can educators leverage your platform?
Absolutely. I have this amazing teacher ambassador program, which I have to market so much better and I haven’t done that, but I will learn. This teacher ambassador program gives teachers the option of involving themselves in our In KidZ program. What they do is, they get their boxes. Then they get a discount code for all their students to get and we can also work with the teachers. Like world history teachers who want to be like, “This is our lesson plan for the next six months.”
We’ll even curate boxes for them, for their students. This is something recently that I just came up with and they also can go back and get any codes for subscription boxes, for one-off boxes. The teachers will also be invested in this because I do a give-back to the teachers. The teachers, like my mom was one, I know how much they do and how much they struggle because they’re buying so much for their students that they don’t have the financial means to do.
What I do is, with this program, they get boxes as a teacher so they can teach their children. The students’ parents get discounts to buy the boxes and then like the code you get for influencers, it’s the same code a teacher will get. Then the teacher will make money off of it. Whether it’s a financial piece or they want Target gift cards to go buy stuff for their students. It all goes back into their classroom, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
Yes, there is an amazing teacher ambassador program. All the teachers out there, please come join. I will help you.
What are some key tactics you put into your plan to market this? It’s a new business. What did you do? Like, “How am I going to market this new company?”
I always say, when I launched In KidZ I had a lot to learn. I am a physician. I’m non-practicing right now and we’ve talked earlier about this. I say, “I wish in med school they would teach you two things, marketing and business.” Because doctors would be so successful, but they don’t. I had this idea and I sat down with my husband, who is my backbone and my partner in crime. He was so supportive.
He calls me idea queen, because I come up with a lot of ideas, but he just looks at me and he says, “Oh, that’s a great idea. No, we’re not putting money into that.” When I did come up with In KidZ and the concept behind it, he was like, “Yes.” We started planning 2019, probably summer of 2019, started coming up with ideas. I mean, there was a couple ideas here and there. We came up with different things. When it really came to fruition was early 2020.
We launched our social media a little bit before that. We were building our website and we said, “Okay. We’re going to do this right early March.” Then COVID hit. I had a lot of technical difficulties. I had some website issues. I had to relaunch my website a month after I had launched it first because there were so many technical issues. We crashed our website and you learned. Then I said, “Okay. Now we’re fully up.” It was probably mid-April, April/May-ish.
I started getting the website up. The first thing I did, that I learned was I sent a friends and family email out to everybody. You always think your friends and families are going to support you. They’re going to buy, right? No. That doesn’t always happen. It doesn’t always happen. Everybody supported me as much as they could and I understood that, but we started seeing a lot of people losing jobs.
The economy wasn’t doing well, people didn’t know where they were going to go for the next three months. Our first box didn’t do that great. We also realized we needed more than our first box. It was smaller. Our boxes now are much bigger. We understood what we needed to get. I got a lot of, like I said, people who had educational backgrounds. I got them all involved. Then I realized I was that tree that fell down in a big forest and nobody knew about me.
I had a really good friend come who had a little bit of a social media background and she started doing my social media with me, because I didn’t know the ABC’s of anything. For me, marketing in healthcare is magazines, billboards, other doctors telling each other and referring to patients and you just bringing the name in. You have a department to do that for you. I started seeing, “Okay. Social media is one thing.” Then I started realizing, “Okay. I needed to figure out who to help me to do this. What is Facebook? What is Instagram?”
Then reaching out to podcasts, like yours, reaching out to magazines. Then I also realized I had a different piece other than In KidZ. I’m an advocate for culture and diversity and inclusion. I know that companies and parents all want to hear about, how do we take steps to do that? Then I started writing. I started putting things out there and showing that, even though I don’t have all the information, I’m educating myself.
I’m working with people to give the communities and the people in the United States, different ways to help their children. Then I started doing that. There’s so much more obviously that I want to do, but those were the initial steps. We had our ups and downs. We’ve found our flow right now. Our Diwali India box did really well. Our holiday bundle box is out right now for the holidays, which is all of our boxes put together. That was another marketing step.
I said, “Look, we’ve been out. We have about five/six boxes. Let’s put them all in one box. Everybody who missed this year because subscription boxes go annually or bi-monthly, let’s put it all in one box and give the whole world to a kid. All the countries we’ve had and put it in a box for them.” It was different ideas we were putting together. I have a great team of friends. I mean, I’m one person. I have my niece who helps me with fulfillment and distribution because we do it all from home.
I have friends who are helping with social media. I have friends who are helping me with getting the name out, but it’s a small business. Let’s just take it on.
My son and daughter are four … or she’ll be five next week and my son is three, but he has a respiratory disorder since he was born so I can’t send them to school. I also take care of my in-laws who live next door and both of them were over the age of 75. We’re in the place where since March … My husband, hasn’t also … I mean, he has his own business and he has his own offices. He has not returned. He built an office out of my in-laws’ home.
I’m building an office basically, which is finally in construction. We were on hold because of permits and all of that. We’re hoping by the end of this year I’ll have my office so I can give my office right now in the home to my children as a school way so they have their space. Right now our home it’s chaotic, but we’ll get there. Yeah.
Have you at all leveraged influencers at this point to help create awareness?
I’ve been really blessed in that. Yes. I have come to a place … The South Asian community is quite amazing when they want to come together and help each other out. I launched our first box, which is the India Raksha Bandhan box and I had some amazing South Asians want to help me out. I met one of my other partners in crime, who I call my little sister, Jyoti Chand who is @mamajotes. We actually met through her doing one of my boxes and we created our own South Asian foundation as well for women.
I got to say, that way I’ve leveraged influencers. Now, slowly, slowly as I’ve been getting the name out, other influencers have been open to taking our boxes and just showing them off. I have been blessed that they’ve approached me as well, but I don’t have anyone who’s like … I think you guys call them micro and macro and large names. I haven’t really gotten to those large, large names.
There’s a few who have been very, very helpful. Love Laugh Mirch, Nisha, has been an awesome, awesome help for me. Ami Desai has, and these are some South Asian ones. Recently, Tara, she just came to us. We actually asked her and then she said yes. We’re sending her our holiday box. I think these are all within the South Asian world. Our community has come together. I’d like to step outside of it because the goal is not for only South Asians.
This is for all kids. I want this to be in that home in Alabama for that mom to say, “Yes, culture and tradition and teaching my children empathy and kindness is important. I need one of these boxes.” Because I know they do. I’ve done a whole customer analysis of it, but they don’t know about me. I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of influencers who would love their kids to see this. I haven’t hit that please yet, but I know you’re going to help me with that.
From your perspective, how do you think they could do a better job fostering inclusion, stopping bullying amongst our youth? I know a lot have stepped out on different fronts, but what advice would you give to influencers out there?
One is I think bringing diverse toys in the house, right? Like one of our boxes or working with diverse companies who have products that show diversity and inclusion and equality. Bringing those kinds of items into their grids and their platforms.
That’s really important because without those pieces then you’re not showing … I mean, even diversity in clothing. Do you know how many fashion designers are out there that are moms, that are stay-at-home moms that create these amazing clothes for kids that are from South Africa, from Guatemala, from Indonesia, but that are easy-to-wear clothes for kids to wear every day? I’m actually been ordering from them for my kids
There’s this mom who is from China. She basically makes these clothes and they’re Chinese western clothing. It’s a little cute skirt with a Chinese top and my daughter loves it. She’s like, “I need that color and that color.” I’m like, “Okay. Hold on kid. One, one. One at a time.” That’s the other thing, is working with brands that bring diversity into your home. If you don’t know of them, they’re out there. Look on your social media grids.
They’re reaching out to you. They’re reaching out to you and DM’ing you because they want to help you too. I know there are so many South Asian celebrities now who are helping South Asian communities, but I’d love to see other celebrities and other influencers bring those diverse toys into their home, not the community within the community. Does that make sense? I see Korean communities helping their Korean.
I want to see an African-American mom playing with a diverse toy from India. I want to see a Caucasian mom working in with a Latin brand. There’s this amazing brand out there, other than In KidZ, there’s another subscription box, Hola Amigo. They’re all about Hispanic and Latin American culture and books and teaching Spanish and all that. I just sent two subscription boxes to my friend who is Caucasian for her kids for Christmas.
I bring it into my own home. These are the things I would love to see, is influencers and celebrities working with other diverse brands. Not the big brands. They’ve got the money, guys. They’ve got the money. It’s us, these small businesses who are diverse brands who want to bring the name out. Watch, that first step right there will not only help their own homes, but we’ll also help them show that they have a diversity background.
Name an influencer you love to follow, but hate to admit that you do.
Mindy Kaling. I know she’s not an influencer, but she’s a celebrity. I mean, I think she’s an influencer too. I mean, aren’t celebrities in their own right influencers as well?
Yeah. It’s not that I hate to admit it. I think it’s one that I know everybody follows and especially South Asians. We’re like, “Oh we’re going to boost [inaudible].” I think I’ve seen such a change in her from the … I think we may be the same age also, but from the time she started as an actress and all of that, and now she’s become a mother and all of that. I’ve seen this major change in her. Initially, I was like, “Oh, okay.”
It’s the same thing we all South Asians deal with, which is trying to find our own identity within this American world. Balancing that, are we Brown or are we white? That whole thing that we’ve had to deal with since we were children. I think she’s really personified that so well lately from both of her books, from raising her children, trying to find their identity. It happens as a mom. We go back into ourselves as children, go back into our cultures, go back into that.
I have been following her a lot. I’d love to send one of my boxes to her and I’ve been trying to see how to do that because I think it would be great for her to show the world that there is a South Asian company, they’re embracing not only her own culture, but all of the other cultures out there. She’s doing that. She’s doing exactly that. Not only embracing her own, but she’s embracing all the other cultures out there to give that to her children.
That’s the one woman I would actually … I’d love to just talk to her and she’s met madam vice president, which makes me even more proud, okay? I know everyone’s like, “Oh, do you call her Auntie Kamala or madam vice president?” I say, “She is madam vice president. I give her some … She is my Auntie Kamala, but she is madam vice president right now.”