A new wave of awareness is driving consumers to pay attention to the composition of products they have so far been blindly using for daily care, and check labels for ingredients that have gone into the products they are buying, finds out Navneet Mendiratta

Health is serious business. As people are becoming increasingly aware about their health in terms of diet and well-being, an increase can also be seen in the use of organic/natural beauty products. Several researches conducted over the past two to three years indicate that consumers now consider eating healthy just as important for appearance as physical health. Consequently, the markets have witnessed a rise in organic food-inspired beauty products that contain ingredients such as Vitamin C, seaweed, oatmeal, and honey. A new wave of awareness now seems to be driving this breed of consumers to pay attention to the composition of products that they have so far been blindly using for daily care, and check labels for ingredients that have gone into the products they are buying. A lot many are now opting for products that promise them a natural alternative, are not ‘nasty’ (don’t contain chemicals such as parabens, PEGs, sodium lauryl sulfate, and even artificial fragrances), are cruelty-free (not tested on animals), and use vegetarian base in composition. Shunning plastic, as no plastic movement gains momentum, is making them question the packaging, just as growing pollution is creating a clear demand for anti-pollution and protective skincare products. Awareness of the ingredients within routine beauty products, as well as an interest in better personal health is driving the trend of increasing sales of organic beauty products.

Rise of homegrown brands

Call it cashing in on the trend or personal quest for safe products for the skin, the trend has resulted in the emergence of new brands that promise to deliver quality and safe beauty and skincare product range. This is definitely not the first time that someone has thought of raising a brand that relies on natural and pure ingredients, but the quality and range is widening.

Recall the Ayurvedic product range by Shahnaz Husain or Aroma Magic by Blossom Kochhar? There is a lot more exciting happening in the beauty and personal care segment in India. Among the new entrants is a very conscientious breed that is thinking of both the consumer as well as the source it is acquiring its raw material from. The list of ingredients is no more a formality to be hidden and covered under the category of ‘key ingredients’ and is more to be revealed and discussed.

A lot of these new organic/natural brands are coming from really young entrepreneurs, who tried to search for but could not find a clean brand to use for themselves. “My brand, The Moms Co, was born out of a personal struggle of not being able to find good quality, natural, and safe products for my daughters,” shares 35-year-old Malika Sadani.

“I got introduced to the harmful effects of chemicals used in skincare products during my stay in London. Upon moving back to India, I realised that it was very hard to find great quality natural products that were safe and effective for our skin, and so, I ended up importing most products for my daughters,” she says. Her predicament, she soon learnt, was similar to that of many other mothers who depended on friends and family’s travel plans to stock up on their stuff. The others who couldn’t were on a constant lookout for better options for their kids. It was then that the idea to create a brand that can truly be a partner to a mom’s journey into motherhood was born. Today, Sadani proudly shares that hers is the only company in India that is ‘Certified Toxin Free’ across its entire range of products, from an Australian firm called Safe Cosmetics Australia. The Moms Co is not the only one. There have been several others, including Rubys Organics, Dot & Key, Pure Earth, Beauty Source and SoulTree that have attempted something different and unique to fill up a gaping void in the market.

Fair trade, not aid

Kavita Khosa — a high-flying corporate lawyer settled in Hong Kong, who always dreamt of doing something meaningful — is very clear when she spells out her purpose behind creating a high-end brand in organic beauty and skincare segment called Pure Earth. “I wanted to come back to my country, work with women and connect with earth. But I wanted to create something that was not charity, something that had a social aspect attached to it. That’s when I came across the concept of social enterprise and I was greatly inspired by that. What followed was going to the mountains, meeting people, CEOs, NGOs… and it all started taking shape. That was year 2011. From then, I narrowed it down to ingredients with food to ingredients that I could use to create skincare, and Pure Earth was born,” Khosa shares.

Today, Pure Earth is perhaps India’s only award-winning wild-harvested, ethical skincare brand that offers a premium range of products that’s immensely gratifying to the skin. Their range includes products for face, body, bath, and tissanes for wellness. “Ecosphere is key for me. And Pure Earth is all about bringing sustainable, ethical, dignified employment to women in remote areas, rather than taking them away and out of their environment. Proudly ‘Made in India’, 90 per cent of everything I source is from farmers in Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand, with whom I have established a direct relationship over the years and work very closely with,” she shares.

Organic versus natural 

“Lack of proper information and certification causes a lot of ambiguity in the minds of people,” says Vishal Bhandari, founder, SoulTree. For somebody who has been a part of the organic/natural space for over 15 years, he spells out the difference for an unaware consumer. “Organic products are made of ingredients from organic farming, sourced, and manufactured using sustainable methods, while natural products are the ones that do not contain chemical ingredients, such as sulphates, parabens, petroleum, or artificial colours. To avoid any confusion about what ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ means when used in skincare products, one should opt to learn more about common ingredients and their effects. A consumer should look for skincare products that are free of synthetic ingredients like parabens and SLS/SLES, which may cause serious health problems,” he shares.

His own brand, SoulTree, is a certified natural personal care and beauty brand and claims to be the first and only Indian brand to have passed stringent European standards and certified as ‘natural’ by BDIH Germany. SoulTree’s coloured kohls and lipsticks are fast gaining popularity among the younger lot. Like Pure Earth, SoulTree also helps in creating sustainable livelihood for farmers, their families, and communities, especially women farmers, on a large enough scale. Herbs are sourced from across India, engaging directly with NGOs that work with small organic farmers in Uttarakhand.

Read that label

“The best way to differentiate between natural, organic, and, for that matter, toxic, is to educate oneself, and read the label before buying any product,” says Ragini Mehra of Beauty Source, that was born out of the quest to segregate organic and natural in skincare from the existing bouquet of businesses dealing in related products in the food category. “If there’s an ingredient that one is not familiar with, the best is to look it up,” she says. Agree Khosa and Bhandari. Both claim to maintain complete transparency by listing on the label all ingredients that go into the making of each product, and question those who list only some. “These are the ways to establish if the brand is ethical, transparent, and willing to share all information with the consumer,” insists Khosa.

“Also, one must remember that consumers who come to us are well-informed, aware, and conscious of what they are using on their skin and do not hesitate to switch to something which is good for their skin,” says Rubeina Karachiwalla of Ruby’s Organics, another homegrown brand that specialises in beauty products. Positioned below the luxury and certain notches above drugstore brands, this Mumbai-based brand brings a limited but very conscious range of lipsticks, blushes, lightweight concealers, and foundation. “Our range is limited because we have certain limitations; we cannot create liquid lipsticks and eyeliners as they contain copious amounts of alcohol,” shares Karachiwalla, adding that they are, however, in the process of launching their eye pencils/kohls, which will be a “gamechanger” for them. And if you were wondering how important it is to mention the certification, Khosa clears the doubt: “An organic certification, honestly, is only an assurance. Customers now research and try and learn about what comes as a promise… about people behind the brand. It’s just that you would know the commitment.”

What’s this about the switch?

Consumers no longer have the lifestyles they had two decades ago; people are leading socially active lives with inadequate rest and improper nutrition, says Bhandari. This is gradually affecting the health of their skin and hair, causing problems such as pre-age wrinkles, acne, dark circles, and hair fall. The increase in awareness about the goodness of using natural and chemical-free products has surely helped these brands. People are more aware about what they are using and how it will affect them. The SoulTree natural organic hair care range, for instance, claims to use traditional Ayurvedic formulations, adapted to suit the modern lifestyle.

“The goodness of henna and shikakai is packed together in the triphala revitalising shampoo and the hibiscus hair conditioner, making it convenient for the customer. Each of the natural cleansing and conditioning products is gentle enough for everyday use,” Bhandari says. The customer appreciates the effort that goes into making each product, and understands the importance of using organic and natural ingredients for everyday use, he adds.

Avers Karachiwalla, “I was around 25 years old when I had this idea to create my own beauty brand. At that point, to me, it was more about finding a solution for a growing issue. We had a ready community of buyers, but we did not have a clean product to turn to, especially in terms of makeup. Forget the confusion surrounding organic and natural, we just wanted something that contained ingredients that were of good quality and safe for our skin.” A year and a half after she launched her brand, and four years of prior research and development, Karachiwalla is happy that she has been able to offer that solution. “I can’t say we have arrived yet, but the fact that 80-85 per cent customers are returning to shop more is a heartening indication,” she adds.

Out-of-the-box ideas sell

When Kolkata-based Anisha Saraf thought of doing something in the skincare line, she started her research with the category of products that were already available in the market. “It was then that I realised that there were only repeats in the market and that the brands were only coming out with the variants vis-a-vis ingredients that could be to do with body washes, soaps, and lotions. There was nothing different coming from them. And as an Indian woman who was suffering from issues such as underarm darkness, drying hand sanitisers, smelly feet, and chlorine after-effects on the skin, I figured this was something I would like to address,” says 27-year-old Saraf. And an indigenous brand Dot & Key was born.

Toxin-free, cruelty-free, and dermatologically tested to be 100 per cent safe, Dot & Key is a fresh take on skincare. “We believe that the most overlooked parts of the body deserve as much attention as the face. By focusing on them, by searching for underlying causes and lasting solutions, we have tried to create unique formulations that deliver on their promise,” says Saraf, who is joined by her husband Suyash in the project.

“Even before I got in touch with the product formulators in Mumbai or reached out to the labs testing to see if such products were possible, two things were very clear. One, these products would not use ingredients that are harmful for the skin, and two, I was going to create something very different and non-massy,” Saraf shares, adding: “These products are meant to cater to a segment that is niche and sensitive to issues concerning skincare. We just wanted to give them safe solutions.”

Months of research and development using ingredients that were cruelty-free, natural, and free of parabens, sulphates and all chemicals that were harmful for the skin, led them to some interesting results in terms of formulations that were further subjected to strong derma testing before the products were finalised. Launched only three months ago, but after a research of one and a half years, Dot & Key offers a niche range of products.

Big brands catch on

When American major Bath & Body Works opened its first ever outlet in India (Delhi, to be more specific), its Senior Vice-President International, Tony Garrison, said that this was one of the best times to come to India as the consumer is already aware and conscious of the products she is using. “Our strategy is to take on from what she knows and how we can enhance the experience she holds further.”

Brought to India by Major Brands India, Bath & Body Works, that has five outlets lined up to open in India, is speaking the “natural” language as well. As Garrison shared, “Our fragrances comprise ingredients with natural base; candles come with natural essential oils in the fragrance, and we have a special range that is parabens-free; cruelty-free, and environment friendly. Our natural body line has grown considerably fast in the past 18 months to two years. While 80 per cent of the line is consistent across the globe, 20 per cent is variable based on the local preferences. The idea is to have our consumer celebrate her fragrance.”

Another homegrown brand and fast becoming a major player in the Indian market (especially the online segment), Nykaa has also taken the ‘organic route’ through natural soaps, essential oils and, now, 100 per cent pure cold-pressed carrier oils using rare ingredients.

Says Reena Chhabra, CEO, Nykaa Beauty: “The ‘natural’ portfolio that started with essential oils last year has received a favourable response from our consumer base. They have welcomed the expansion of the portfolio with soaps and cold-pressed carrier oils that offer chemical-free and natural remedies for skin, hair, nails etc.”

The Responsibility

“There is a huge lack of awareness of what makes a product responsible and sustainable,” says Khosa. “To me, being a responsible entrepreneur means trying to reduce plastic from packaging, reducing carbon footprints, and buying directly from the source minus middlemen. There isn’t much awareness and people want instant gratification. How I see it is that you become a co-creator. You must know where it is coming from, who is growing it, who is cultivating it, putting it together; up to the point how much plastic is being used when they ship the product to you,” she says.

Mehra offers the brand perspective. “For the brand, responsible entrepreneurship requires exacting attention to be paid to the quality of ingredients used for the products and extensive R&D to make these products perhaps even more effective than their counterparts that currently rule the market. India has a huge dearth of products that fulfil these criteria, and at Beauty Source, we work to offer the customers products that use safe ingredients, as it was to offer them products that are very high quality, perform outstandingly well, and defy the stereotype that natural products are not glamorous or effective.”

Bhandari, on the other hand, puts the onus on the consumer. “Responsible entrepreneurship can be promoted only when more and more consumers are aware of the benefits of using natural and organic products. In today’s time, most corporates are restricting responsible entrepreneurship in areas that are easy and not innovating enough,” he says.

Rise in sales graphs

“Unlike fashion, to trust something with your skin takes time,” says Khosa, speaking for Pure Earth. “We began ahead of the time and, therefore, the progress was slow. A few years down the line, I am happy to share that the current response is amazing. We have won so many awards,” she adds, barely hiding her glee. “India is our biggest market. Whatever we make comes from this land, it is suited for the people of this land, and most importantly, our products are unisex,” Khosa concludes.

“The premium segment of baby care and child-specific product market in India is currently in upswing, and is growing 25 per cent year on year,” says Sadani of The Moms Co. “We aim to target the Rs 2,940-crore baby care and pre-and post-natal care market in India, which is expected to rise at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8 per cent by 2021. We expect the volume and value of orders to cross 150,000 customers across the baby care and mom care range by the end of 2018,” she says about her company’s target.

SoulTree, too, plans to expand its retail presence across India through more niche and lifestyle stores, both through exclusive counters as well as shop-in-shop format. The aim, Bhandari says, is to grow across niche lifestyle retail and modern trade extensively in 2018-19. The brand is also looking at adding products in the existing categories of personal care, and also building on the beauty category by introducing more products.

And it really does not end here. The journey onward is slow but full of conviction. At the same time, it is also the need of the hour. The skin too deserves to be happy and healthy. A little consciousness and awareness on what it is being slathered with is sure to bring a rewarding effect.

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