Love for nature led this woman entrepreneur to quit her job and start an organic bath and body line
Ashwini Gaikar’s love for nature was so overpowering that she decided to live far away from the city, among the wilderness near Calmshet, a hamlet in Lonavala, Maharashtra, when she was pregnant with her daughter.
Ashwini Gaikar - Founder, Surprise Elements
She had quit her nine-to-five routine and decided to explore organic and natural ingredients to produce handmade soaps. This led to the launch of her brand Surprise Elements in 2018 with a vision to create luxury, hand-crafted products – a limited edition range of artisanal soaps, body butter, body butter, body scrubs, and aromatherapy candles. These products do not contain any artificial blends or fragrance oils and support sustainable living with eco-friendly packaging.
The call of nature
Long before being pulled away by nature, Ashwini had a fulfilling career in mass media marketing and worked in various industries. Her goal was to earn enough money to start on her own.
“I started my career as an assistant director at Yash Raj films and it was exhilarating to be behind the camera but had to quit because of the odd working hours that were taking a toll on my health. Later, I worked in advertising, music, events, entertainment, and the last one was retail before my maternal break,” she tells HerStory.
Despite working in various industries, she still found time to work on her products, though on Sundays only. She says she heeded her own advice to not to juggle two jobs at the same time, and gave up her job to become a full-time entrepreneur.
After moving with her husband to their farmhouse in Calmshet, she wanted to give time to her baby and also work on Surprise Elements.
Homemade is best
Ashwini says she has always preferred homemade remedies for skin and bath.
“During my pregnancy, I really had a tough time with skin pigmentation and rashes because of harsh soaps, and luxury products were not giving any good results and it was getting expensive. And that's when I realised organic products are so important to lead a sustainable life. Also, research has shown that mass-produced products with so many chemicals in it can actually harm the development of the fetus, which so many women are unaware of, or rather they don’t have better options to choose,” she says.
According to Ashwini, Surprise Elements is a “one-woman” show – from designing the products, producing them, packaging, marketing, and creating content for YouTube and other social media platforms, she does them all.
“In fact, my experience in digital marketing helped me in writing copy, understand Google Adwords, media spends, etc. It’s a fun and creative exercise,” she adds.
Customised according to requirements
All the products are made in small batches, with every soap recipe and design given a personal touch. Ashwini says the soap bars have unique designs and the soap batches are mixed with natural additives.
“The best part is, we can customise according to our consumer’s needs, and to grab their attention, we have come up with some unusual names here like Soo-Tea Tree-Ing as tea tree oil soothes sensitive skin; Express, Yo!, coffee body scrub; Chocoholic body butter, a chocolate body butter for mainly working women to keep their mood uplifted by smelling like chocolate,” she adds.
Surprise Elements started with artisan soaps and aromatherapy candles and added other bath products like body butter, body scrubs, and aromatherapy bath salts. All the products are handmade at the Calmshet studio by Ashwini and a few other women from the area, ready to be delivered to its Mumbai warehouse.
The products are available only online on www.surpriseelementsshop.com and prices for soaps range from Rs 200 to Rs 350 for a 100-150 gm bar butter and scrubs, that are priced between Rs 400-Rs 800.
Ashwini started the company with Rs 1,50,000 from her savings. Last year, they recovered close to Rs 1 lakh, but the COVID-19 outbreak has made running the business difficult.
“The making of the products was just fine initially as I had mostly everything but then later, getting my raw materials and other supplies were difficult and are still so. But we are managing with what we have started pushing for bulk customised orders. Plus, I have my rural women's superpower to support me,” she says.
In the future, Ashwini plans to add 15-20 more products to the range in the next three years.
“I want to also concentrate more on rural women empowerment so that women can be self-sustaining, make interesting recipes/designs, tutorial videos to share my knowledge, and create creative content for everyone,” she adds.