"For any South Asian, this is your planner."

Meet the founder of the Desi Planner, Aastha Madaan! Our interview involves her personal process as a South Asian creative who founded this wonderful product that emphasizes and honors the South Asian diaspora. Read our insightful interview now!

Erina Chowdhury

1/30/2022 9 min read

Introducing the Desi Planner!- 

Website to buy the Desi Planner and other stationery products created by Aastha Madaan: https://desiplanner.com/ 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/desiplanner/?hl=en 

I had such a great time speaking with the founder of Desi Planner: Aastha Madaan! She is the creative and overall spectacular person who has founded this brand that specializes in a Desi-specific planner and other stationery products available on her website! Starting off as a vision, and eventually into this creation, she has created these wonderful pieces to highlight Desi culture in this mostly white-dominated business. Overall, it was a pleasure speaking with Asastha as she is someone you can truly learn from and gain valuable insight from. I hope you all can buy her planner and we will now start the interview below!

Explain briefly what you have created and talk a little about who you are:

I’m Aastha Madaan and I live in Southern California. I’ve lived here since I immigrated from India when I was a teenager with my parents, and so I haven’t really lived anywhere except Southern California! I am a lawyer in my day job; I’ve been practicing for 10 years now at a health care company and I also have the Desi Planner. I created that and I do everything for the Desi Planner— from creating it every single year to coming up with the design, coming up with the logistics, coordinating with the manufacturers, actually getting them printed and shipped, working on collaborations, and I also package every single order on my own! That is who I am and what I’ve created, which is the Desi Planner!

What makes this planner different from other planners?

The Desi Planner is different from other planners because it really honors the heritage of the entire South Asian diaspora. When we have planners found in Target or Amazon and things like that, they mention a lot of White-American holidays since that’s the lens through which they’re created. You’ll see Easter, you’ll see Christmas, and all the other federal holidays, but I think they often fail to recognize that the American people aren’t a single homogeneous group. I’ve been a big planner person ever since I can remember, and one of the things that I used to do was (especially as an immigrant) at the beginning of every year when I got the planner, is I would go in and search online when the festivals were going to be for me so I can plan my day around that. It was always important for me to not forget the holidays, but really to be able to plan my life around them a little bit, so that I can continue to participate fully in my culture and heritage. I would get a commercial planner and make it my own. I did that for 18 years before I decided to make the Desi Planner.

When I shared the idea with people about doing the Desi Planner, everyone I knew was really enthusiastic about it because it wasn’t something that they heard about or even imagine or visualize at the time because there wasn’t a product like that on the market that would actually make your life easier (especially for first-generation people). You get used to depending on your parents to let you know when things are coming up, and it becomes “their” holiday that you’re peripherally participating in. The other thing was, when I created the Desi Planner, it was important for me to differentiate it from other commercial planners. That meant that not treating South Asians as a homogeneous group, like how Americans treat people when creating planners. It was important for me to respect and acknowledge and be inclusive of the entire diaspora of South Asia.

When I decided to create the list of holidays, I made sure that all the major holidays were included. The holidays are three different columns with over 85 holidays. They range from India’s Republic Day, to Pakistan’s Republic Day, to Nepal’s Republic Day, and in general, all the countries in South Asia and religions and regional festivals (as many as I can find and fit in here) are on this planner.

This is the third year of the planner with 2022. The first year was focused on what I just talked about, but as the planner grew a little bit and I received feedback (it’s important to expand what you think of South Asia since we have people apart of the South Asian diaspora that are Caribbean Americans), so I eventually started incorporating Asian American, Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Caribbean American Heritage Month, and much more. Since the planner was going to be inclusive, we also started to include Black History Month and Native American Heritage Month because those are not things that are honored in commercial planners. 

For any South Asian, this is your planner, to feel like you are a part of day to day American society as well as, without having to compromise your own heritage. Every month there is a recipe or DIY with a South Asian creator or creatives. For the 12 months of 2022, 12 South Asian creatives sent me recipes, DIY’s, etc.  For March, we have a “DesiPlannersReads” which is by another South Asian creative, and it’s for National Read Across America Day because I know that’s an important thing in our country since our families start to encourage for us to read books, and continuing that for our adult lives is important. We also have writing prompts about the books you're reading. So those are some of the things that make the Desi Planner different from other commercial planners!

What inspired you to create a Desi specific planner?

What inspired me was one: the need of the market and two: I really think that there is a lack of inclusive planners in the commercial market. Planners are a over a billion dollar industry and yet there’s not many inclusive planners available commercially, so I think that was what inspired me to say, “okay, we’ll take the charge,” because South Asians are one of the biggest and fastest growing populations not just in the world, but also in the United States. So, just the fact that nothing exists to honor us or even acknowledge we were in this space and we’re spending money on commercial planners, I think that was a big inspiration for me. The space needs to be filled, and hopefully I am able enough to take charge for that.

What has inspired this year’s planner cover design?

As I mentioned before, inclusivity in the entire South Asian diaspora is really important, so this year’s planner the design is called: Flowers of South Asia. Every South Asian country has a national flower, so this year’s planner includes the national flower of all the South Asian countries! I think that was one of the best ways to honor that this is a South Asian planner, and we’re not just one type of people’s planner. So that was the big inspiration for this year’s planner!

Since you’ve stated that you do all the manufacturing of these planners by yourself, so I was wondering what the process of producing them (the covers, the recipes, etc.) entails? 

I’ll talk about in two parts: one is my part, which is the creative side to get the planner actually ready, and the second part is the manufacturing part. The planner takes months to actually put together before it can get sent to manufacturers for manufacturing. This is the first year where we collaborated with other artists and creatives, so that added a second layer in the creative process.

For the creative process, I’ve never from day one done this by myself. If I come up with an idea for the cover of the planner (or anything included in the planner), I have always included community in that. First year when nobody knew of the planner, I included my close families and friends, and I would put up polls on Instagram of different designs, different color palettes, like choose between A or B, and then narrow it down to B and C, and things similar to that. I’ve never tried to do it myself since it wasn’t just my planner, it has always been a community planner. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, “design A is amazing and is my favorite design” and then I’ll say, “you know what, I’ve always included community, let me put it up on a vote,” and then 1% of the people will vote for design A (the one that I liked). So it tells me I really don’t have the ability to mind read people, so I better include everyone in this process because very often, it’s the opposite of what I would choose. That’s a big part of the creative process. The other reason why the creative process takes just as long as the manufacturing process is because the dates change every year, and that is not the case for commercial planners. Christmas, Veterans Day, Martin Luther King Day are all on the same day every single year! For me to have to make sure (to the best of my ability) I’m getting correct dates, it really has to be a community effort. I have put up lists in the past for a small group of people to ask if certain holidays are okay for a specific religion, or area, or if I should include more, or if I missed something important. That process will take about 3 months.

At this point, I have my manufacturers already set. They know they’re expecting a design sometime in early Fall or usually late Summer. We get samples made to make sure everything looks good and how we want it to look; quality check is really important because it’s a product you are going to use for an entire year, so you don’t want something that will start falling apart in June. I’ll use the planner for a couple of months, and put it through the ringer, like kind of throw it down a couple of times, or spill something on one page after the sample is made. If there’s even a hint that it’s breaking apart, then we go back to the drawing board to get another sample with better quality. It’s like a 6-7 month process to get the planners ready, and then they have to be here by October because people will start to order them in October to November. That’s the whole process!

What have you learned from creating this planner, and what were some of the best things you gained from this project? 

This goes back to what I was talking about before, but I learned that because this planner isn’t just my planner, that community is the most important thing for us South Asians, whether it’s in real life or virtual experiences. There have been so many people that I have met through the Desi Planner that I consider close friends, that I’ve never met in person. They will tell me the truth, they will give me tough love, and they will say “Hey, this design didn’t work out, go back to the drawing board.” I really appreciate that. I learned that I have to put my ego (especially my creative ego) aside when I’m working on the planner every year because a lot of times when I put up polls for people who are helping me, the thing that they pick would be the opposite of what I would spend hours working on that I absolutely loved and had finalized in my head.  Without community, the planner would not be where it is now, and it wouldn’t be as successful without the people who take it upon themselves to be real with me and take their time to actually give me feedback before the planners are printed.

This is professional for me, and this is something that I spend a lot of time and effort on, so I realized, I can still disagree with people personally with my personal life, but agree with them and listen to them in my professional and Desi Planner creator hat. It goes against your instinct to put your ego aside and acknowledge that you might be wrong, even if it’s my own personal project, and acknowledge that I still might be wrong.

How can people buy the Desi Planner and other products you sell? 

I am really proud of the planner since it’s the thing that I spend the most time on. I am going to tell you my favorite products that we’ve created this year.

This is my third year collaborating with a South Asian creative (@thewriteaesthetic on Instagram), and she does hand lettering. She creates these beautiful washi tapes that you can use in the planner.

One of them has the flowers of South Asia one (which is the cover) and another one with the words “study”, “appointment”, “organize”, and “self-care” with her handwriting! She creates these, so I am biased because we come up with the ideas together, and she’s one of the people who would give me really good feedback through Instagram. That’s one of my favorite products. We also created some of these magnetic bookmarks. Since I’m so passionate about reading, this is one of my favorite products! We also have other notepads and sticky notes and things like that too.

They’re available on: https://desiplanner.com/ and they’re also available through Facebook, our Instagram account (@thedesiplanner), and on the Modern Desi website (https://www.moderndesi.com/search?type=product%2Carticle%2Cpage&q=desi+planner), which is a marketplace for other South Asian products! 

What would you tell other South Asians who want to create a business similar to yours, but are afraid of doing so?

If you are creating something to sell to people (that is specific to the South Asian-Desi population), my biggest advice would be not to do it alone. I think our instinct is to keep things secret until they are successful, and then celebrate them. I think there’s a lot of value in including people and making a project a community project so that you know there are other people interested in the business, and they will give you ideas on how to improve it. Besides the financial part of it, I think it prevents you from second-guessing yourself, and from letting imposter syndrome creep in because you know that these other people agree with you or disagree with you when you’ve taken their feedback into account. Especially for e-commerce products, I think there's a lot of value in making sure who your target audience is, and the people that actually use that product are 100% onboard with the end product.

I hope you all enjoyed this interview conducted by me (Erina)! Please support the Desi Planner, and continue reading from Brown Girls Reunite! Thank you so much.