Soap for the soul - Soapworks offers natural beauty productsMaya Kilpadi
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Soapworks’ natural bath and skincare products offer alternative to harsh chemicals we use daily
Beauty may be skin deep but the beauty products we use daily are absorbed and retained by our bodies, and could be adversely impacting our health. “Knowingly or unknowingly, we are exposing ourselves to chemicals at every stage of our lives - through the food we eat, the synthetic clothing we wear and the chemical-laden cosmetics we apply on our skin,” says Harini Sivakumar, the entrepreneur behind Soapworks.
Based in Gurgaon, Soapworks makes luxury bath and body products which are 100 percent natural, handmade and free from harmful synthetic chemicals. The products includes soaps, body butters, shampoo bars, lip balms, lipsticks and a range of other items for adults and babies - all made using pure ingredients. What sets Soapworks’ products apart is the use of natural, plant or food-based fragrances and colourants like spirulina, indigo, arrowroot powder and red oxide. Free of all preservatives, the products may have a limited shelf life of six months, but customers can be sure that what they’re putting on their skin is natural and non-toxic.
Most commercially available personal care products contain an oil base, often diluted with alcohol to cut costs. They also contain parabens, sulphates and other harmful chemicals. These products use preservatives to increase their shelf life, often for between 12-24 months. Ingredient certifications and regulations around cosmetics manufacture in India are often lax. They allow manufacturers to use ambivalent terminology and mask their ingredients, especially when it comes to labelling the products as ‘natural’ or ‘herbal’. This can deceive consumers into believing that the products they are using are natural, when in fact they contain harsh chemicals.
Sivakumar, a firm believer in the healing properties of traditional Ayurveda and old-school beauty remedies, is reintroducing forgotten ingredients like shikakai, besan (gram flour), methi (fenugreek) and hibiscus to her urban clientele in attractive, new forms. A unique product, Soapworks’ shampoo bars are a blend of natural ingredients in solid form that can be used as soaps but have the cleansing effect of shampoo and are available for different hair types.
Why natural bath and body care?
Sivakumar’s journey has not been an easy one. An MBA in retail management, she had a successful banking career until 2009 when her child was born with Down’s Syndrome. “My life came to a standstill,” she says, describing that difficult period in her life. Upon overcoming the initial shock and depression, the young mother gathered herself together, and set about getting to know more on how to deal with her son’s disorder. “I learnt that children with Down’s Syndrome are particularly susceptible to infections and ailments as a result of a weakened immune system,” she says. She began to examine ways in which she could make the food he ate and the personal care products he used as safe, natural and chemical-free as possible, to reduce the risk of infection. “I spent a lot of time studying the benefits of organic products for differently-abled children and discovered they were beneficial even for others,” she says.
From a home-run business to an exporter of handmade beauty products
“As a stay-at-home mother, I had time to try my hand at making soaps, a skill I learnt on a holiday in Canada,” Sivakumar says. Her first batch of 200 homemade soaps sold out in a month and orders from friends and family started growing. She also began customising products to suit different skin types and conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
Soapworks’ status as home-run business changed quickly and in 2015, Sivakumar moved to Gurgaon and opened a small manufacturing unit to keep up with growing demand. She also launched her website to receive online orders. Today, Soapworks receives orders from across the country and exports its products to Denmark and the UAE. Product prices vary from Rs. 200 for the soaps to Rs. 1,000 for the body scrubs. “The response has been great. People are very satisfied with our products and we have a loyal, returning clientele who suggest various ingredients and inspire me to try new blends,” she says happily.
“As a small entrepreneur, my primary problem was with setting up a payment gateway for my website and that’s when I heard about Sellfie,” Sivakumar says. The app has not only made it easy for her to collect payments online, it has also saved her the huge investment commonly associated with setting up a payment gateway. Sellfie has also reduced her marketing spend by allowing her to promote her products on various social media channels and making it easy for customers to view, buy and pay for products instantly. “The biggest advantage of Sellfie is that I can now share product details to a targeted audience on various WhatsApp groups. This has made it very easy for me to expand my reach and has increased my sales volume tremendously.”
Not all smooth sailing
While Indian consumers are becoming more health-conscious and aware of the danger of using harsh chemicals and synthetic ingredients, there is still a long way to go before people appreciate the value of organic and natural products, and come to terms with having to pay higher prices for them. Sivakumar says, “To ensure 100 percent safe and natural products, I import expensive, high quality raw materials from the US where FDA regulations certify the absence of any artificial additives and guarantee 100 percent natural and cosmetic grade products.” She regularly teams up with health bloggers to educate consumers about the contents of conventional bath and body products, the impact of chemicals on health, and also encourages the use of traditional Indian products like bhringraj, besan and hibiscus.
For small businesses like Soapworks, getting formal cosmetic licenses can be very expensive. However, to gain customer trust, their products undergo testing in government labs to certify that they are completely free of lead and mercury - toxins commonly found in conventional bath and body products.
They share these reports, listing all the ingredients that go into making the finished product, with clients upon request.
Sivakumar is optimistic when she says there is huge market potential for her products. “Very few brands, even internationally, can claim that their products are 100 percent natural. With powerful branding, they are able to convince us that what we’re getting is natural”, she says. She, however, is letting Soapworks’ products speak for themselves even as she continues to educate consumers about moving away from chemical-based products and towards natural, safe ones.