Beauty, Coco Chanel famously said, begins the moment you decide to be yourself. With the millennial generation keen to be their own kind of beautiful – and ensuring that they don’t ravage Mother Earth in return – the beauty industry is seeing a huge upswing in the demand for eco-friendly toiletries and cosmetics.
With a 2016 survey by research firm Euromonitor showing that over half of Indian consumers reported “natural or organic” features influencing hair and skincare purchase decisions, it’s clear that the market is big.
“Green” and “organic” are the buzzwords for numerous firms and labels these days. As they are for friends Uttara Ramkumar and Nishi Bhuvandas, who are in the business of chemical-free bath and body skincare formulations that help protect and nourish the skin. Their product line, SoulPure, is “100 percent handmade and rich in natural glycerine”.
Uttara (30) and Nishi (30) are civil engineers and have post-graduate degrees from NIT Surat. Uttara holds a post-graduate degree in environmental engineering while Nishi did a master’s course in water resources engineering. They met while doing their master’s courses in 2008, and traversed the distance from room-mates to besties.
Uttara was working as an assistant manager with GIFT Gujarat before she discovered her talent for handmade jewellery. She set up her own venture, Quillz and Curlz, when she moved to Bengaluru. Soon after, she was invited by Art’zire to join their team. The company is a one-stop place to make different personalised handmade products. That’s where Uttara learnt the art of soap-making.
Nishi, who works in Abu Dhabi, UAE, as a civil engineer, manages the entire operations of SoulPure remotely, handling different aspects – marketing, handling website orders, Facebook orders, and Accounts.
“Being loyal to our educational background, we have always thrived to be environmental-friendly beings, by giving our best to Mother Earth,” Nishi says.
A fascination for health and beauty products marked vegan, organic and herbal led the duo to explore processes of making handmade beauty products. Uttara took the plunge, making soaps at home and gifting them to her close friends in the course of a year. Armed with positive feedback, the duo took the next inevitable step, of converting a passion into a business.
SoulPure, purely self-funded, came into being in August 2016.
“SoulPure started with a single product and we added more to the line, organically, over time. Our core offering was soaps for specific skin types. Our USP is that all ingredients, including the oils used, are sourced from the US and are USDA-organic approved and IFRA (International Fragrance Association) compliant. Some of the butters are sourced locally from organic certified wholesale sellers,” Nishi says.
The colours used in the products are also sourced from the US; they are thoroughly tested and approved for use on skin and lips.
SoulPure also strongly stands against animal cruelty. None of their products is tested on animals and they also ensure that the raw material is sourced from cruelty-free companies and through fair trade distributors.
SoulPure’s handmade soaps are made in small batches by Uttara at her home in Bengaluru.
“Over time, we have extended to more artisan soaps like cupcake soaps and few other beauty regime products like spa bars, lip balms, body creams… we are still are expanding,” she says.
The business model
“We feel any handmade business is about: make, market, sell, and repeat. What is significant is how our customers take it. Their input and feedback is the key source of inspiration and motivation to come up with improvised recipes and minimise flaws,” Nishi says.
“There are lots of bright and coordinated colours, all aimed at the ‘woman on the go’ who is looking at soaps specific to skin types. We personally experiment with our products before recommending them to our customers. Custom-made products are made according to their needs and requirements,” she adds.
Their products are sold through a dedicated website.
The challenges so far
The duo’s initial challenge was to make people aware of the chemicals in most store-bought soaps.
“We had to make customers understand the benefits of using natural handmade beauty products. Another challenge was to source raw materials from the US while trying to keep prices as affordable as possible,” Nishi says.
The duo plans to extend SoulPure’s range of products by introducing new, unique soap formulations in luxury design soaps. They have introduced the store on souq.com (an Amazon company) and littlemajlis.com, two e-commerce platforms that mainly serve the Middle East.
“We would like to have complete collections of all our products on these websites just as we have on our Indian store,” Nishi says.
The “soul sisters” (as they like to term their friendship) are taking it slow and steady as they steer a business while educating people on “greening” their daily life.