They say there’s nothing more memorable than the sweet smell of success.
Sapna Venkat knows this all too well as it was fragrances that changed her life. It’s a journey that traversed the stuffy boardrooms of an ad agency to the more serene environs of Mother Nature, and led her to start her own line of organic beauty products called Embar.
A graphic designer by education, Sapna was working at a Bengaluru-based ad agency, first as an Art Director and subsequently as a Creative Director. After five years, she realised that corporate life, with its long hours and tedious routine, was not her cup of tea. So, she did what many others in the rat race only dream of doing: quit her job to do some soul-searching.
“After I got married and moved to Pune, I took a six-month break to find out what I really wanted to do. I’d thought that if I couldn’t find my calling, I would update my CV,” she recalls. “Those were stressful times. Interestingly, I visited perfume stores every time I was stressed!”
That’s when Sapna discovered that fragrances make her come alive and help her focus. It was a quick and easy decision after that. She did courses in perfumery, Ayurveda and herbology and experimented by infusing herbs into oils and butters.
“The question was: how I could use those healing herbs in my daily regime as I did not have time to infuse and powder them every day? I decided to incorporate them into a bar of soap and make it smell like a perfume. My family and friends loved it, as did I! Soon, more people started asking me for soaps, and I decided to sell them.”
This was back in 2012. Today, Embar’s range of herbal handmade products includes body butters, face masks, lip salves, and soaps. The fragrant and artistically packaged products are all-natural and don’t contain any preservatives.
Sapna’s brush with fragrance was not a chance encounter, but something she’s grown up with.
She attributes her keen sense of smell to a childhood spent on her father’s six-acre farm in Chitoor in Andhra Pradesh. “I grew up with herbs and alternative medicines. My father would pluck a blade of grass and massage my forehead with it when I had a headache. It took me a while to realise that it was lemongrass! We would walk around and smell a root and wonder about its aroma! I was the first to detect a smell in a room. The downside was that I became the official dead rat finder at home!” chuckles Sapna.
So, for her, foraying into herbalism was like revisiting an old haunt and deciding to settle down there.
More than just a product, Embar has deep connections with the community from where the raw materials are sourced and is linked to their lives and happiness.
Explaining this, Sapna says that her father, who she considers a role model, worked full time, but kept his farm alive as he did not want the workers to lose their jobs. “The farm was an expense, rather than an asset,” she says. “But we have happy families, their children are in college now, and I hope to generate more employment for them.”
The raw materials are sourced from her own farm or from nearby ones. “The guava leaf soap centers on our farm and the life around it. As do the wild-crafted honey products. But I source the essential oils and butter from a certified supplier.”
She elaborates on the danger of counterfeit products. “Certification is important. There is always a danger of contamination, people sell chemically-mixed raw materials for a cheaper price. One has to really know the science, or get duped into buying the wrong stuff,” she says.
She works on her own, and has someone help with the cleaning. She also manages her sales and orders single-handedly, without any heavy-duty advertisements. The fact that Sapna’s products are in great demand and have been sold out at all open markets speaks volumes for their quality. “Our Facebook page and word of mouth channels have worked well until now. It is a great encouragement. My customers know that I will not cut corners when it comes to quality, which boosts my confidence,” she concludes.
But it’s not all easy. According to her, “The biggest challenge is the pricing. Certified organic products come at a premium, and generally people are used to buying cheaper products. I spend a lot of time explaining the reason for the prices. The challenge is to find the niche and get better at it.”
On a lighter note, she mentions how her fragrances, which attract people by the droves, drive her supportive husband out. “Ironically, he is allergic to scents, and would have these sneezing fits. But he has been very supportive all through,” Sapna laughs.
She says, “I am not following the investor model, but plan to steadily grow and launch a full- fledged online store soon. I hope to give people all natural alternatives and create more employment.” A step in this direction is her new product line of body and facial oils called Abhyanga, which have just hit the market and are doing well.
Sapna credits her transformation from a shy and socially awkward person to the confident entrepreneur that she is today to her belief in her dream and her abilities. “It’s all about lessons and more lessons; you learn as you go. Don’t be shy,” is her message for aspiring entrepreneurs, encouraging them to follow their passion.