From being passionate about the environment to starting a successful organic brand: a homemaker’s journey

Sunita Jaju is the founder of Rustic Art, a sustainable lifestyle brand that specialises in organic and chemical-free soaps, oils, shampoos and laundry soaps.

Soon after she completed her Master’s in Marketing and Sales Management from Kanpur, Sunita Jaju got married to Hemant Jaju, a businessman from Satara, in 1990.

Post marriage, her husband and in-laws encouraged her to pursue her education and a career. “I don’t think I ever did anything conventional. I tried my hands at silkworm rearing for a few years, but discontinued for ethical reasons. I consulted and was running a waste segregation, composting and recycling project in Satara. As a business-oriented family, I was also working with the family business,” she says.

In 2006, after a long break from education, and on her daughter’s insistence, Sunita enrolled for a Master’s in Sustainable Development, a decision she says changed her life forever.

A new calling

Rustic Art products

“I was always an environmentalist, and this course changed my approach towards what we use for our body and home. I found the purpose of my life,” she shares.

“The toxins from commercial products like sulphates or synthetic colours and fragrances not only have a negative impact on our health but also on the environment. The more I read, I understood how our food, soil, and water are all contaminated with everyday items – for example, how a simple shampoo or detergent impacts our wellbeing and health. Hence, I decided to look for solutions and couldn’t find any. That’s how Rustic Art was born after four-five years of research,” she says.

Rustic Art was started in December 2010 and the company was incorporated on March 4, 2011. The company offers personal care, home care, beauty, baby care, men’s grooming, menstrual cup and a newly launched category – pet care.

All the products are manufactured in Satara, Maharashtra in two facilities that are FDA-GMP certified, have QA and QC departments, and also comes with in-house microbiology labs and expertise. It is run on solar power, is a zero liquid discharge unit, and over 80 percent employed at the facilities are women.

Sunita says prices range from Rs 75 to Rs 1,500, depending on what goes in the making of the product, and are available on all major ecommerce marketplaces.

For social good

The company also aims to impact the lives of women in Satara district through various initiatives.

“Our first initiative is always to create awareness among our staff about sustainable practices by teaching them about composting and recycling, connecting them to the right agencies, and guiding them about healthy habits. Our second initiative is towards the females of menstruating age, to whom we speak to at different levels, conduct menstrual hygiene sessions, make them aware of sustainable menstrual options etc,” Sunita says.

To this end, she is also working with NGOs like Rnisarg Foundation and Project Amara, who help to educate and create awareness about importance of period positivity, sustainability and are on a mission to make sustainable menstrual hygiene accessible for all. It uses Rs 50 from every menstrual cup sold through Rustic Art to make a menstrual cup available for those in need through these NGOs.

Recently they donated menstrual cups to the Aarey tribal area, women police officers in Thane, and to frontline staff in hospitals like Sion Hospital, Kaushalya Hospital and Trauma Hospital, Jogeshwari.

Sunita tells us the story of a young girl, barely 20, who joined them as a daily wage staff, but her attitude and educational background made them wonder if she could be better at some other job. “She was offered to manage and control raw material storage. She now independently takes account of stock, raising purchase orders and managing the dispensing of the ingredients,” she adds.

The team comprises mostly women – unskilled workers are hired and trained and Sunita says, today, they take care of the work allotted independently without any fear or hesitation.

In the family

Sunita’s core team, among others, consists of her daughter Surabhi Jaju, who takes care of marketing, business development, and testing out new formulations, and husband Hemant, who looks after legal and financial matters.

All the formulations, be it skin care, hair care, or home care, are formulated by Sunita. “I have been experimenting since 2015, testing and thinking about new concepts. I love to break the norm and create unique products like shampoo butter, or concentrates like face wash or hand wash. All the ingredients we use are plant based, natural, organic and vegan. We use organic cold pressed oils, super critical herbal extracts, organic essential oil and other COSMOS certified ingredients,” she says.

Her biggest challenge till date was to create awareness about the concept behind the products and make them acceptable in the market.

Sunita initially invested Rs 10 lakh in 2011, and took a loan in 2016 to expand into manufacturing. Completely bootstrapped, the company has achieved 5X revenues after its manufacturing facility started operations in late 2018.

Since January 2019, the company has introduced over 125 SKUs and ventured into many new categories. Post lockdown, it launched 10 new products, and plans to expand the portfolio into new categories and products within personal hygiene and self-care space. The company is currently exporting to Mauritius, Saudi Arabia and Nepal, and plans to enter the Middle East, South Korea and the American markets.

“Men or women, in business all are equal. We go through the same hardship they go through. I believe if you have the will and passion to do something, no one can stop you irrespective of your gender,” she says as a parting shot.
Edited by Anju Narayanan