By Kaveri Jain
For someone who had been given a lot of freedom by her parents from a young age and had built a successful career in the corporate corridors of Bengaluru, it was not easy for Somiya Khanna to adjust to the highly patriarchal society of small-town Alwar, Rajasthan. But she not only adjusted, she went on to establish The Soap Company, a venture that is out to empower local women with a sustainable source of income.
An alumna of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, Somiya was still in her 20s when she met her husband Pawan Ahuja through an online portal; their common interest in the field of education brought them together. She moved to Alwar after marriage, and started working him in his family-owned school, Pride Walk Academy, there.
Her previous experience in training teachers came in handy, and she helped create systems for the school’s smooth functioning. As is the case with countless Indian women, Somiya too faced a lot of challenges post-marriage. Living in a joint family system, it was a constant struggle for Somiya to balance her work and personal life.
It was due to all the pressures at home that she started spending more time at school, and her interaction with the students’ mothers and with the school’s blue-collar staff started increasing. The more time she spent with these women, the more the realisation hit her that just improving the education system or educating the girl child was not enough.
“I myself am an educated working woman, from a well-to-do background, yet I am treated shabbily at home,” Somiya mused to herself. How could just education then help these rural women? She debated with herself endlessly.
Finally, she decided to teach them some skill that would not just help them earn money, but lift their spirit and confidence and make them independent.
School became her saviour; a tiny room was converted into a shop floor where she started teaching rural women the art of soap-making, something she had learnt in Bengaluru. With some financial help from her husband and her own savings, Somiya launched The Soap Company India over a year ago.
It is a rural cooperative providing skill development to unemployed women, training them in soap-making, cutting and packaging. Her mission is to empower women and provide maximum employment, while also providing them a safe space to call their own.
The women-led brand specialises in natural organic soaps and body washes made using a combination of traditional and modern methods. Most of the ingredients used – for example, rose petals, lemongrass, and calendula – are grown locally in Alwar itself. Their famous White Musk soap (Rs 125) is made from pure goats’ milk, which they specially procure from Jodhpur.
Available on online portals Amazon, VanityWagon and Nykaa, Somiya plans to expand her beauty line range to include face creams, scrubs, body butters, face packs, hair masks and even baby care products.
“The fight against illiteracy, patriarchy, unemployment and inequality is a tough one, but what keeps me going are the smiles on the faces of the women I have helped empower, my beautiful baijees (women helpers),” smiles Somiya.
WOMEN SOAP-MAKERS ARE MAKING THESE TOO:
The Alanna Activated Charcoal and Green Tea soap is quite mild on the skin in contrast to its appearance. The activated charcoal acts as a magnet to absorb oil and dirt and functions as a deep cleanser and tan reducer. Green tea contains catechin (a natural antioxidant) with anti-bacterial agents that reduce acne. It also helps cure puffy eyes and dark circles.
Made in Kochi, Kenisha Handmade Soaps are pure organic, 100 percent natural, and made with ingredients that are safe for all living things including babies, and a joy to use. Try their Almond Rose, Green Forest and Calendula Sunshine soaps. You can also place bulk orders for any shape and size you need.
First published as part of the series ‘Soap Stars’ in eShe’s May 2019 issue
Syndicated to CNBCTV18