[Startup Bharat] After losing her mother, this engineer built a Rs 15 Cr organic skincare brand
Kruthika Kumaran lost her mother to a complication arising from a skin condition. The 32-year-old engineer felt a strong need to build and create products that are chemical free and suitable for all skin types.
“My mother had sensitive skin and suffered from skin problems for more than a decade. The products she used on her skin made it even worse. My late mother is the reason I started creating my own natural soaps. It was her wish for me to use safe products that inspired me to learn and do what I do today,” says Kruthika.
To start with, Kruthika completed an online diploma in natural cosmetology and began experimenting with soaps, and this led to the birth of her startup Vilvah Store, an online organic skincare brand, in Coimbatore.
The bootstrapped startup was started in 2017 with an initial investment of Rs 10,000, and is today seeing a turnover of Rs 15 crore. Its products are available on most popular ecommerce websites such as Amazon, Flipkart, and Nykaa to name a few.
Starting from her kitchen
Kruthika’s initial experiments started in her kitchen where she made cold-pressed soaps. She was later joined by her husband Kumaran, who is also the co-founder of Vilvah. He has an MBA from Sydney, Australia.
Since Kruthika’s family owned a farm (Vilvah Farm) in a village called Kasipalayam near Coimbatore, she started experimenting with goat’s milk to start with. Kruthika says,
“After many experiments, we perfected a recipe that we originally created for our family, and this is what we sell to our customers. We started with two or three goats on our farm, and now there are herds of goats. After obtaining fresh milk from them, different goat milk products are made”.
She says that with Vilvah, the team aims to bring the right mix of agricultural produce, carrier oils, butter, and essential oils. According to Kruthika, the produce is obtained in its purest form, without any harsh chemicals, additives, synthetic oils or perfumes. All the products are made in-house and R&D is done for months before launching a product.
Some of Vilvah’s products include hair, skincare, and other beauty products. The team has also come up with a mosquito repellent containing citronella and lemongrass, which makes it safe for children.
The startup also used to make cosmetics like homemade mascaras and lipsticks, which it has now discontinued. It has orange-cinnamon and rose-vanilla scented deodorants as well, says Kruthika.
While most of its products are chemical free, the team does use a preservative on eye creams and body polishes, which are safe and has a lesser shelf life.
Kruthika says the startup are careful about sourcing essential oils, and ensure they are completely organic. The moringa oil is sourced from Erode, lavender oil from Kashmir, basil, peppermint, lemongrass oils from Kerala, bee’s wax from Punjab, and so on.
Currently, the team has a small facility at in Coimbatore, and will be soon moving to a brand new green building – a 40,000 sq ft production facility.
Building the vendor base
Kruthika says, “Initially, we found it difficult to find the right vendor for our needs. But now the vendors are approaching us by themselves. The oils used in our products are organically grown from local farmers, and we harvest many locally grown ingredients in our farm, which are native to south India”.
Few other products are sourced from farmers working in neighbourhood farms. This has also helped Vilvah solve the vendor problem, which was a big challenge.
After the startup realised its products had a certain appeal, the team first began with an Instagram store in 2017. For the next two years, the team worked on setting up the website, distribution, and logistics. It also partnered with top delivery and logistics networks for the same.
In order to get more customers and build awareness about their products, Kruthika set up a store at the local gourmet bazaar to ensure footfalls. The team now has a flagship store in Coimbatore but isn’t looking for other offline stores at the moment. At present, 80 percent of its business comes from the online store.
The market and future
The need for organic and chemical free products is fast growing. According to RedSeer consultants, the beauty market in India is estimated at around $7 billion, and is seeing healthy double-digit growth. Apart from Vilvah, Mumbai-based Plum is a 100 percent Vegan brand. There is also online vegan cosmetic brand Disguise, which is also natural and chemical free.
The bootstrapped startup claims to have seen 100X growth in the second year, and this year it claims to be seeing over 300X growth. The team claims to be seeing over 8,000 orders per month, and an average of Rs 1,500 per basket.
“We are looking to launch more innovative products that will be suitable for all skin types and great for the environment to adopt more sustainable practices. We want to be a pioneer in goat milk skincare,” says Kruthika.
(Edited by Megha Reddy)