Despite disability and challenges, Sangita Desai inspires with her entrepreneurial spiritRekha Balakrishnan
She is the co-founder of Raw Nature Company that offers a range of safe, botanical grooming solutions for men, which are cruelty-free, vegan, and free of any artificial colours, artificial fragrances, and harmful chemicals.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going may be a cliché to some, but for those who have faced challenges at every step on their way to the top, it is a mantra to live by.
Whether it is on the road of life, or the journey towards entrepreneurship, challenges have never been new to Sangita Desai. The first Indian woman entrepreneur behind a line of grooming essentials for men, was born with Symbrachydactyly (a deficiency where fingers of one hand are missing since birth).
With one functional hand, she managed a career as a fashion designer for 25 years, and turned a shortcoming into success with a strong sense of positivity. “I guess when one has a shortcoming, that one cannot control or change, it is left to be resolved within. And surprisingly, it becomes stronger with adversity,” she says.
It is interesting to note how her entrepreneurial spirit rose above many challenges to make her venture Raw Nature Company what it is today.
Born and raised in Bengaluru, Sangita moved to Mumbai with her family in 1971. While pursuing her degree in English Literature from Sophia College, she realised her passion for fashion, and later went to study fashion at the American College of London in 1989. She was one of a handful of Indians who came back with a degree in fashion from an international institute.
Her debut as a fashion designer in India coincided with Malaika Arora’s modelling debut. “My collections sold out at India’s most premiere fashion stores - from Melange in Mumbai, Ogaan in New Delhi, Elahe in Hyderabad, Folio in Bengaluru, and Elan in Ahmedabad. My dream to get into the international market was realised when I successfully started exporting to the UK. I designed costumes for The Vareli ad campaign for Aishwarya Rai, Ms Asia Pacific Shweta Menon, and Manpreet Brar - a Miss India contestant who represented India in the Miss Universe contest. I also dabbled in some movie costume designing and did some ad campaigns as well,” she says.
However, things took a bad turn in 2006 when the horrific Mumbai floods washed away her entire studio with her entire life’s work.
“That’s when I made a 180 degree switch and joined my father’s essential oils business. I started from scratch and went on to build the export division of the company and front-ended client relationships with Dabur, Reckitt Benckiser, Paras Chemicals, Ranbaxy, ULL, and Cipla. A lover of all things natural, I started to export all-natural Indian essential oils such as Peppermint, cedarwood, lemongrass, and Palmrosa, and under my guidance, the essential oil business saw a multi-fold increase and also saw the business attract large multinational players as customers,’ she says.
In 2017, Sangita coupled her knowledge of aesthetics, natural essential oils and business management to launch Raw Nature Company.
Raw Nature is a range of safe, botanical grooming solutions for men that gets to the root of male-specific skin and hair conditions. The brand harnesses the curative powers of ancient superfoods - naturally derived active ingredients hidden in folktales. The next-generation grooming essentials for men delivers high performance and safety, and is one of the first brands in India to introduce products for men.
The products are cruelty-free (not tested on animals), vegan and free of any artificial colours, artificial fragrances, and harmful chemicals like SLS, Parabens, MEA and DEA.
“We work with three development labs across the country, and all our products were developed from ground up with a very firm product brief with respect to both what we want to use as actives, and what is the final product delivery we want to ensure. We use social media and social influencers to create awareness and acquisition and online advertisements to reach out to target groups. We have a very powerful rewards program and a subscription service, which helps us to retain our customers. We also chose the route to be omnipresent, and are available on Flipkart, Nykaa, Amazon and some strategic retail groups,” she shares.
Raw Nature Company raised its initial capital through a seed round with some strategic investors, as well as from friends and family. Its plans for the future include taking the brand to international markets and opening exclusive Raw Nature boutiques.
Sangita is aware and proud of the fact that she is the only woman in India on the board of a men’s grooming brand. She also knows that the challenges are far from over.
But her indomitable never-say-die spirit towers over them all. “Remember, from adversity comes success. When you are faced with insurmountable challenges, know that you are being honed for something great,” she says.