After living the corporate life for eight years, Rashi Bahel Mehra launched Alanna, a vegan brand that started with 20 orders per month in 2015 and has now grown to 2,000-2,500 orders per month.
You will never be able to make it. How would you even survive in the male-dominated FMCG industry? How would you deal with manufacturers? Who would take care of the logistics?
There were question s galore, but Rashi Bahel Mehra knew the answer to them all lay in working hard and making a success of Alanna, her two-year-old skincare brand that’s walking the 100 percent natural and vegan path.
Finding a gap
Currently based in Mumbai, Rashi spent much of her early life in Bhopal. Raised in a business family, she was first-hand witness to the hardships in the life of an entrepreneur.
“There are a lot of ups and downs in the life of entrepreneur; the path is never steady. I have seen my father facing challenges but he was never disturbed by them; he took the problems in his stride. This made me strong when it came to dealing with problems,” she says.
Academically, she had a knack for marketing. Following her area of interest, she pursued an MBA degree, Alliance Business Academy, Bengaluru and got a great launch pad with an internship at Perfetti Van Melle, an Italian-Dutch confectionery brand. It was here that she got an exposure to the FMCG industry.
In 2007, Rashi joined Tata Communications where she headed product launches in cloud services.
“Tata Communications was one of the first few companies in India to operate in this domain. Handling significant responsibilities, I felt as if I owned a small business in a large organisation,” Rashi says.
She went on to Lenovo as a brand manager, and later Samsung in retail marketing, handling Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Beauty lies within
Rashi was always passionate about beauty and FMCG as an industry always attracted her. Two years ago, she realised a big gap in the industry - there were no safe vegan and natural product options available.
“Even if there were such products, they were expensive. Natural beauty products were considered a luxury and customers were expected to pay a premium just to get access to chemical-free safe products,” she says.
So, after building a steady career in the corporate world across three companies for eight years, Rashi started up in her kitchen.
She recalls her first few experiments with a charcoal soap.
“It was 2015. I was in travelling Europe where charcoal products had become the rage. At that point in India, charcoal was not a known ingredient; none of the brands offered it,” Rashi says.
“I had to ask a chemist who was known to me to procure the charcoal for the soap. After that, I started out,” she adds.
She tried the product out herself and could see it worked. But to make sure, she roped in friends and family to try her products.
“Initially my friends and family were hesitant as it was a black soap; I told them I used it and it made my skin brighter. They tried and loved it,” she recalls.
This gave Rashi the confidence to pursue her passion. She began to sell her product on Facebook and built an online shop. Within a period of two years, Alanna has had an organic growth - it started in 2015 with 20 orders per month and has grown to 2,000-2,500 orders per month, for all products. The team has refused to share the average basket size details.
Affordable and natural
Alanna’s products are priced between Rs 150 and Rs 600. The online store stocks a range of personal care products, including lip balms, face packs, moisturisers, under-eye gels, scrubs, toners and body mists, hair oils, SLS-free shower gels, cold-processed soaps and shampoo bars. The products are sold offline in various flea markets.
An Alanna product typically contains essential oils, fruit and nut extracts, and fragrances obtained from natural ingredients only.
However, the products are natural, not Ayurvedic.
Rashi says, “Organic as a terminology didn’t exist until 2015. I did use a lot of Ayurvedic, but soon realised that most Ayurvedic products would still have chemicals. Ayurveda by definition doesn’t need to be 100 percent natural; it has a proportion of chemicals.”
To ensure that the customer is getting what s/he thinks s/he is, Alanna’s products are certified by FDA, QMP, ISO and PETA.
The many challenges
In just two years, the brand has grown from kitchen to a warehouse, but the journey has not been easy.
Rashi recalls, “To have a recipe and to grow it, have a proper formulation was taking it to another level. I had to think of recipes that would work without refrigeration, without preservatives, how to make them sustainable.”
Therefore, after many experiments, Rashi replaced water with oil in her composition. Oil increased the shelf life of the product without any preservative.
Rashi began Alanna with her own savings, which she refused to disclose. Even though demand was significant, scaling up was a slow process.
“Figuring out a good logistics partner was a slow process; it took me six to seven months. Also, I couldn’t work out of my kitchen, and had to shift to a warehouse,” she recalls.
There were many naysayers, keen to tell her all that could go wrong.
“There was scepticism, as FMCG is perceived to be a male-dominated industry due to the involvement of hard-core sales. People asked if I would be able to manage the logistics, the manufacturing,” she says.
“There were many who thought this sector was not suitable for women. We are in 2017, but still, these perceptions do exist even though things are slowly changing,” says the Founder of Alanna.
Word of mouth
In the initial phase, Rashi used to feel low when the sales numbers did not meet her expectations, but her strong and loyal customer base kept her going.
“Conversations with customers showed me they really like the charcoal range. Many of my customers had acne issues and had visited dermatologists many times, but they could see a reduction in acne and tanning within a week of using our products,” Rashi says.
“We began with stalls in flea markets. Customers would buy Alanna’s products with scepticism on day one as they had already tried many other products. Two or three days later, they would return to buy more products as they could see benefits in just two days,” she adds.
“Eighty percent of my customers are still with me from the first year; this gives me immense confidence.”
The company did not disclose their revenue details.
With an intention to generate more employment for women, Rashi says, “ My staff has on-roll and off-roll employees; 90 percent of them are women. I also try and deal with women business partners because I share a sense of similarity with women entrepreneurs, be it their enthusiasm or ambition.”
Speaking about her plans for Alanna’s future, Rashi reveals that she is keen to expand offline with boutique stores. But she’s in no hurry and is keen to take one small step at a time.