How an 85-year-old naani inspired these women entrepreneurs to start a natural, self-care line

Hibiscus Monkey offers a range of self-care products that are deep rooted in Indian tradition and curated from all-natural, chemical-free ingredients.
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We have all benefited from our grandmothers’ home remedies at one time or the other, and swear by them for all kinds of ailments. But this mother-daughter duo went a step further and converted an 85-year-old naani ke gharelu nuskhe into an all-natural self-care line under the brand name Hibiscus Monkey.

Mona and Roshni Mehta calls Hibiscus Monkey a “new-age millennial self-care brand” comprising products passed down by Roshni’s grandmother that are deep rooted in Indian tradition and curated from all-natural, chemical-free ingredients.

From naani with love

When Roshni was working with the Central government, she stayed with her naani in New Delhi. “When I had severe hair fall, naani insisted I apply her homemade hair oil regularly. I experienced its effects first hand. My hair started getting its golden brown shine back, which was a gratifying change from the dull grey overtone I had developed from being in Delhi. I also loved that her oil wasn’t ‘chip-chip’ and sticky,” she recounts.

It was only when Roshni joked to her grandmother about bringing her homemade product to the market did she actually realise there was a potential in bringing all-natural ways of care back into the picture.

Twenty-five-year-old Roshni was raised across four countries - including the UAE (birthplace), Bangladesh, the Philippines and the US. After completing her undergraduate studies at Cornell University, she worked as a management consultant in New York and returned to India to pursue a role in the Government of India. She is currently pursuing a dual MPP-MBA in the US at Harvard Kennedy School.

To start Hibiscus Monkey, Roshni roped in her mother Mona Mehta, a former consultant and corporate banker. Since moving to India, she has been freelancing as a mentor and is also on the board of Project Mumbai that aims to make Mumbai more liveable and lovable.

“Growing up in a society, where traditionally Indian women have been expected to put others ahead of themselves, we want to tell them to embrace their self-care and to be absolutely shameless about it,” Roshni says.

Curated from family recipes

Incubated at the Harvard I-Lab and Atal Incubation Centre, Mumbai, Hibiscus Monkey provides high quality, premium products that are all-natural and non-toxic. They use no chemicals, parabens, mineral oils, artificial colour, or fragrance. Currently, the founders provide the blend and ingredients while manufacturing is outsourced. The products are packaged in a family-owned unit.

“Our family recipes have been passed down to us by our grandmother, our naani. Rooted in ethnic Indian care, our body care and hair products rely on the science of traditional self-care for the young Indian woman,” she adds.

The brand’s target audience is the millennial women between the ages of 22 and 35, pan-India. It works on a D2C model, where the products are sold online via Insta-shop and Facebook.

Its best-selling products include Hibiscus Hair Oil, Cuddles – Elbow & Knee Balm, Comforter – Period Cramp Soother, and Velvet – InShower Body Moisturiser. Using direct-to-consumer distribution, Hibiscus Monkey had sales in over 90 cities across India in just four months.  

The hair oil is packaged in glass bottles to follow an eco-friendly route. “As a millennial brand we believe if you aren’t conscious about your environmental impact, then you don’t have a soul. We reached out to a dozen shipping companies that refused to ship our product because it was oil in glass bottles. We run into many day-to-day challenges with our glass-based packaging. However, we are resolute in finding solutions without compromising. So far, we have ensured all packaging is reusable; we don’t have single-use plastic,” Roshni says.

Loyal community of consumers

The entrepreneurs believe their brand has been catapulted by a growing loyal community of consumers called the #HMTribe.

“Apart from voluntarily putting up stories and reviews on social media, many of them have taken it upon themselves to buy products for their sisters, mothers and friends to get them hooked to Hibiscus Monkey and bring them into our Tribe. Our #HMTribe has become the backbone of the brand and they have become self-appointed champions, propelling Hibiscus Monkey forward.”

Do they find it difficult to be women entrepreneurs in India, especially in a market teeming with competition?

“Hibiscus Monkey is for women, by women. Being women entrepreneurs has been our biggest strength – it allows us to engage with our consumers more intimately and understand their core issues. We know that it isn’t enough for a woman to have hair that just looks good; she wants hair that feels good when she touches it, runs her hands through it. As an owner of the brand, I have sought to be as much a consumer of my brand as my consumers! I not only use my products, but I share that experience with my consumers,” Roshni says.

Giving back

For the founders, naani is the life and inspiration behind the whole brand. “She is 85 years old and for years I have witnessed her take honest, disciplined care of her body. She simply says – if I don’t look after my body, who else will? In this day and age of chemicals, FMCG products, and quick fixes, irrespective of her age, she continues to plant her own herbs and flowers and creates her own personal care products. The dedication to her own body and self-care is something both my mother and I look up to,” she adds.

The founders’ plan to launch a series of self-care products and are also looking forward to setting up their own manufacturing unit in a village in Kerala, which is native to many of the ingredients they use. “We also want to adopt the village and its socio-economic wellbeing into our ecosystem, while sustainably sourcing our ingredients from local farmers.”

(Edited by Teja Lele Desai)