In 1985, Sudha Pennathur was running the large computer Management Information Systems division at Levi Strauss & Co. with hundreds of IT professionals reporting to her. When they shut down her entire fashion team, she had to lay off dozens of people. “It broke my heart,” said Sudha. “I took some time off to reflect on my work and what I wanted to do in the long term and realized that I wanted to start something on my own with artisans back in India, my home country, even though I had no formal background in design.” That impetus, combined with her entrepreneurial spirit, helped her launch the House of Pennathur, a global design, and manufacturing company.
She has been at the helm of this immensely successful company designing and manufacturing high-end and branded gifts, jewelry, scarves, and home textiles that convey a sense of story and luxury with an east-meets-west design ethic created by master artisans in India. Her designs are sold in specialty department stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Harrods of London, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, The Smithsonian, The Art Institute of Chicago, and many more.
“I work with master embroiderers from Agra, silversmiths in India and Bali, silk weavers in Thailand,” said Sudha. “Our exclusive collections are crafted by award-winning artisans from around the world using sustainable resources and combining modern production technologies while still maintaining the aesthetic of old-world craftsmanship. Over the years, I have become close to all the artisans I work with and their entire families. I have ensured that the younger generation completes their education to be viable in the competitive job market with modern skills while also learning the family craft that is traditionally passed on from generation to generation. Hence, we are able to preserve this incredible talent.”
In the 35 years since its founding, House of Pennathur has employed over 2,000 artisans residing in developing countries worldwide, with a particular focus on India. “And over the years, we have never missed a deadline,” said Sudha. “Through riots, floods, or strikes. I am incredibly proud of my dedicated staff.”
Sudha joined the San Francisco Goodwill board in October 2020 as the mission to train and help people with barriers to employment, get the education they need to find economic stability is something she has been living for her entire career. “There is a symbiotic relationship with this venture. In the 35 years, I have worked with artisans from India. I had an unwritten code with all my employees that they had to send their children to school. Getting the right education is key to finding a better life, and I support that effort completely and am so excited to be a part of the San Francisco Goodwill board as it combines my career in retail with my passion for the mission.”
Sudha is hosting her 17th annual Sudha’s Treasures Benefit Sale, featuring exotic items from her collection at wholesale prices. The 2020 Sudha’s Treasures Sale has moved online this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic at Pennathur.com/shop, with 100% of the proceeds benefitting local Bay Area nonprofits: San Francisco Goodwill and Parks California. Shoppers will enjoy 50-70% off handcrafted holiday gift items while giving back. Through this benefit sale, Sudha has donated over $750,000 over the past 16 years to local nonprofits in the Bay Area.
Sudha emphasizes both profit and philanthropy in her business and personal endeavors. “Humanitarianism, when combined with commerce, can have a massive impact on both buyers and sellers; our mission is to create a better life for our artisans, our staff, and our community. Ultimately, I want to break the cycle of poverty.”
Being a part of a social movement where ordinary people come together to make a change is where real change always happens. We live and understand this ethic every day at Goodwill, where we believe our core values bring a sense of dignity to all people and communities that we serve. We are so excited to partner with Sudha to take our mission further.
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