The idea behind SoulTree, the natural personal care and beauty label, was to create a product that contributes to sustainable living, while also supporting the livelihoods of women farmers in Uttarakhand.
“These were women who had taken up organic farming. They were given certain grants and aids by the state. However, they didn’t have a market, they were not sure what to grow. I felt there was an opportunity to partner and build a market for them,” says Vishal Bhandari, SoulTree’s CEO and founder, who took to entrepreneurship after a stint in the merchant navy.
In the beginning they were only growing and supplying Ayurvedic herbs under Vishal’s guidance, which they later found was more susceptible to market fluctuations.
“That is when we decided to create a product line of personal care and beauty products. We felt this is a space where we can use these herbs. When I started looking around, I found that while there were Ayurvedic products, there was nothing in the Indian market, in the natural or organic segment.”
The idea posed several challenges. One of the biggest challenges was to find the natural base ingredients needed to create a completely natural product such as soap or a shampoo. “There are several loopholes in the system that the manufacturers exploit for a typical organic product. For instance, if they say they are using a fragrance, even if it constitutes just 0.5 %, it can be harmful if it is a chemical fragrance,” he explains.
Since it was to be a completely natural product, even the foaming agent had to be natural.
“We had an understanding of Ayurvedic herbs, their processing methods and their use. What we had to do was understand how to formulate the product using herbs while also keeping the other ingredients natural,” he explains.
Any beauty product has two parts – active ingredients which contain the herb or essential oil that lends the product its healing properties and the host ingredients which makes those herbs usable in the form of a shampoo or a soap. The second part of the formulation generates foam.
“When we had started operations, nobody was working with such ingredients in India. We talked to several chemists. Finally after working with a team of Ayurvedic doctors and chemists, we were able to achieve this over a period of time. The foaming agents we use are a made with a combination of natural oils (weak fatty acids such as coconut oil) and sugar that together generate a gentle, cleansing foam.”
Chemical foaming agents, on the other hand, he adds, strip the body or hair of its natural oils and degrade hair quality. “Ayurvedic herbs found in most brands are simply extracts bought from vendors, they are not processed in the Ayurvedic way. We wanted to stay true to the Ayurvedic tradition so we decided to process the herbs in-house and we still do it. That has been another challenge for us. We also audit our suppliers and we have documented each process to make sure that our product is GMO-free and is not tested on animals. We ensure there is no environmental degradation in the processes through which the ingredients we use are made.”
Even their kajals, unlike the conventional eyeliners that are labelled as kajals by most cosmetic brands, are made the Ayurvedic way with camphor, ghee and lamp black, with minerals (natural) as the pigments. SoulTree also claims to be the only brand in India that is formally certified, annually, by a European Certification Agency — BDIH of Germany. “A lot of work needs to be done on certification standards in India for natural, organic cosmetics. In European markets, brands cannot use the word ‘organic’ unless they are certified. There is a process for the certification of organic food, in India, but not for organic personal care products.
“Indian law, in the segment, is changing. Initially, it was imperative to list only the key ingredients, but now manufacturers have to list all ingredients. Even within that there is a grey area.”
That means that companies could still hide the use of harmful chemicals such as EDTA, DEA, fragrances or pigments under generic titles. “Internationally, it is clear that all ingredients in personal care products have to be listed in the descending order of percentage with technical nomenclature so there is no ambiguity.” The best way for consumers in India then, he adds, who seek a genuine organic, natural, or Ayurvedic product is to look for certification.
For more information on SoulTree’s skincare, haircare, bathcare, and cosmetic products, visit soultree.in.