By Shweta Bhandral
Natural, organic, herbal, Ayurvedic, vegan – these are the terms you often see in connection with beauty products these days. In fact, these products are driving growth in the personal care and home care market in India for the past several years.
With global demand of these products also expected to rise in coming years driven by people above 30 years of age, it is a fantastic opportunity for Indian beauty brands, which have the added advantage of a rich history of natural healing therapies and regimes such as yoga, naturopathy and Ayurveda.
Triggered by problems they had faced personally, these women set out to create beauty products that would not only be beneficial for human bodies, skin and hair, but also those that took a minimum toll on the planet.
THE MOMS CO.
Malika Sadani’s journey started in 2012 when she moved to India from London. Her daughter was a year old. Malika narrates, “When my daughter had her first skin reaction, I realised it was so hard to find great quality natural products that were safe and effective. I would often ask friends and family members to bring natural products when they were coming to India from abroad.” Malika soon realised that she was not the only one facing such issues.
Discussions with more than 200 moms revealed the shortage of natural mother and baby care products in the Indian market. “That was when the idea to create a brand that can truly be a partner to a mom’s journey into motherhood came alive in the form of The Moms Co.,” says Malika.
Launched in 2017 to address this gap of toxin-free products in the Indian market for pre-natal and post-natal consumption, and baby care, The Moms Co. works with experts across India, Australia and Switzerland.
In three years, this homegrown startup has increased its range across categories. They have face care, hair care, baby care and several other products. They also recently raised US $8 million in Series B funding from Indian and international venture capitalists.
Last month, they launched Ageless Expressions, a natural age-control range with actor Kalki Koechlin as brand ambassador. The product uses bakuchiol, a vegan alternative to retinol, for its anti-ageing properties.
Malika says, “People have become conscious of what they use and what is in their products, especially after Covid-19. Organic products in India, especially in the space of personal care products, have seen a resurgence.”
Most brands, even those that claim to be 100 percent natural, mix chemicals in their products if they are producing the product on a mass scale, says Tuba Siddiqui. This market situation inspired the Lucknow-based entrepreneur to carve her career in the field of natural products.
After doing her Master’s in alternative medicine, Tuba wanted to develop products that were completely natural and vegan. Her family initially resisted the idea to start a business.
“My father was in government services; nobody ever did business in our family. Initially, there were questions, and they were sceptical about it. My sisters were my support system because they knew the scope of natural products,” says the 35-year-old.
In 2012, Tuba set up a production unit at home. She grew several medicinal plants and made her first product, a floor cleaner. She tells us, “I took the product to exhibitions. People showed interest in it. Family and friends gave good reviews and encouraged me. I aimed to create products from the earth that can go back to the earth. That’s how the name Mitti Se came about.”
Faakhra Siddiqui, Tuba’s elder sister who now handles strategy and social media for the brand from Hyderabad, adds, “We used a lot of natural things at home – reetha, shikakai and natural oils were not new to us. I appreciated Tuba’s idea because I supported the philosophy. I too used to think a lot about the increased use of chemical products. That’s why I decided to join Tuba in marketing Mitti Se.”
By this time, marriage was on the cards for Tuba. But that did not deter her from her dream. Her husband supported the project, and the Mitti Se range grew to include oils, soaps and home care products. The sisters wanted to be environmentally friendly as much as possible, even if that meant facilitating change in consumer behaviours.
Mitti Se products are minimally processed hence generate zero waste. All cleansers are low foam producing, so they use less water and the grey water is reusable and safe for plants. The packaging of products is biodegradable and can be recycled.
The founders have taken a social enterprise approach. “We hire mostly women from underprivileged socioeconomic backgrounds. They help us in making our products, filling, bottling, labelling and shipping,” Faakhra, 45, tells us.
Until Covid-19 struck, Mitti Se was selling its products via its site, organic stores and a few online portals. They continued to be part of trade exhibitions that helped them take the products to newer markets.
The pandemic, however, disrupted their production for a month, but now the brand is back on track and has started selling on their website once again.
The brand is now aiming to launch a baby-care range. “We plan to keep our range lean while making the products multi-functional.”
Having worked for 15 years in Spain, Dubai and India and after travelling to over 50 countries, Mumbai-based investment banker Sonia Sahni decided to start her own company of natural skincare products.
The idea of Ethiko was born in 2017 when Sonia had some skin issues while she was in Spain. The doctor prescribed steroids. Tired of short-term relief, Sonia took charge of her wellness.
She tells us, “I formulated serums and started using them. The difference in my skin was so evident that friends and family started asking about the products. They then started ordering for their family and friends, and that is how the business started growing.”
Sonia came back to India in 2018. She immediately began working on her brand Ethiko. By January 2019 she had the manufacturing and operations in place.
“It was tough finding suppliers of high-quality organic ingredients who would want to support a startup and supply small quantities. I got lucky as I found a supplier who turned out to be an IIT Kharagpur alumna, which is my alma mater too. It helped us trust each other,” she narrates.
Soon, she zoomed in on a plant in Ahmedabad to manufacture the products. Once operations and logistics were all set, Ethiko started selling its products online on their website from August 15, 2019.
The products are unisex and inspired by ancient civilisations. For instance, the skin-brightening range uses rosehip oil inspired by the Mayans of South America who used it to counter the harmful effects of the sun on their skin.
The oil-control range uses peppermint as used by the ancient Greeks for cleansing, while the age-defying range contains geranium, which was part of Cleopatra’s beauty regimen.
“I source my ingredients from all over the world – argan oil from Morocco, tea tree oil from Australia, and so on,” says Sonia. “Also, we launch products when our existing customers ask for something new. For example, our next product is pure almond oil, which was a customer demand.”
Ethiko is a bootstrapped company with a team of only three people, including Sonia. She is optimistic about the future despite pandemic-related challenges.
In fact, these past few months of Covid-19 lockdowns have helped her digital-only organic skincare startup with improved sales and a level playing field.
Caroleen Gomez had been happily pursuing her dream to be an investment banker. But while studying abroad, she noticed that the sudden weather change did not suit her hair.
This troubled her and made her look for solutions in nature and Ayurveda. Once she returned to India, her interest in natural products gained momentum but she kept it to herself.
“Parents generally get worried when you tell them that you are interested in starting a business instead of taking up a job. So, I took up the job I was trained for and started working in the finance sector,” shares the 30-year-old.
Along with her job, Caroleen started training with labs researching on organic and natural products. She studied the manufacturing process and understood the market.
She launched own beauty brand Rêvées Clive in 2018 with a range of haircare products, body oils, facial oils, handmade soaps, moisturisers, face mists and ubtans.
The brand uses ingredients like micro algae, seaweed, marine water, mud and marine plants, and turns them into clean, sustainable beauty products with biotechnology and encapsulation technology.
Their products, which are eco-certified and provide long-term protection, are priced Rs 800 onwards. “Anything natural, vegan or organic takes more effort to produce. Consumers today understand this and are ready to pay the price for a quality product,” avers the Delhi-based entrepreneur.
Originally from a small town called Surendranagar 125 km away from Ahmedabad, Manisha Gadani is a graduate in food and nutrition. The homemaker turned into a businesswoman only after moving to Ahmadabad for the education of her daughters.
Finding herself with a lot of free time, the mother of two took up a course in cosmetics and skincare, researched various oils and learnt techniques to create natural products.
In 2016, Manisha participated in her first exhibition with a range of soaps, lip balms, scrubs, lotions, and moisturisers. The response encouraged her to create a Facebook page for her brand Aarish, a name derived from the names of her two daughters.
“I found there was a lot of scope on Facebook, so I posted on groups and started getting orders from all over India. Locally, I continued with exhibitions too,” narrates the 44-year-old.
Manisha runs her business from home and makes all products herself. Her husband helps with brand promotions. The soaps are reasonably priced, starting from Rs 80. During the festive season, her gift packs are much sought-after. She shares, “Consumers, friends and family always pre-order, so my work is based on bookings and is customised.”
Her sales plummeted by over 25 percent during the Covid lockdown but Manisha is confident of gaining her market back. The Aarish website is in progress, and she hopes to sell her products on Amazon soon.
First published in eShe’s December 2020 issue