Candles for a cause: How this woman entrepreneur aims to drive social good through her D2C venture

Social entrepreneur Arushi Agrawal founded Seva India, which produces scented candles to fund social welfare initiatives. During the festive season, it is funding a cataract surgery for every 10 candles sold.
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Arushi Agrawal had a very sheltered life. She was born in Hong Kong, did her schooling there and in Singapore, and went on to pursue undergraduate studies at Babson University in the US. 

But moving to Mumbai after her wedding seven years ago, she says, was a wake-up call. 

"Coming from a first-world background and seeing, for the first time, the disparity that exists in India was a wake-up call," she tells HerStory

Hailing from a well-to-do business family with her father running a group of boutique hotels and her mother running a chain of restaurants in Singapore, Arushi wanted to leverage the resources and network available to her to launch a social venture. 

This year, she finally took the plunge as the pandemic only exacerbated the disparity and after a year of ideating, Seva India was launched a couple of weeks back. 

Starting up for social good

Based in Mumbai, Seva India makes luxury candles from soy wax that are sold via its website and Instagram account for Rs 1,400-8,000. Although profit maximisation is not the main goal, Arushi says the challenge at the initial stage is people’s apprehension towards quality products coming from India.

“People believe that luxury products have to be made in Italy or France, and not in India. And I am really trying to break the stereotype that the most beautiful candles and fragrances can be made in India” she says.

The venture has refrained from setting up factories with automated machines even though that would reduce cost and time to foster women employment. The entrepreneur claims to have opted for a humane approach to hiring women through word-of-mouth and the candle-making trainer who personally knows women in need of jobs.

“There is no cookie-cutter approach through agencies but a very personalised process and everyone knows everyone. One of the women working with us lost her husband to COVID-19 and has to support three children,” she says, adding that the 15 women working with her are called “Sevaiite”.  

Although Arushi is donning the social entrepreneur’s hat for the first time, she is no stranger to social service. Her father-in-law runs Mamta Foundation, which works with dieticians to take care of the nutritional needs of all the children undergoing chemotherapy at Tata Hospital in Mumbai. 

Going live during the festive season, every tenth candle sold by Seva India helps sponsor a cataract surgery for an elderly person in the tribal communities of Maharashtra through Samta Foundation, a Mumbai-based organisation founded by her uncle in 2012.  

With surgery costing around Rs 700, Samta Foundation takes care of about 3500 surgeries every month and Seva India will contribute all the profit at the end of the festive season.

“Each customer who buys the Seva candle will get the name of the person they have helped through the on-going surgeries. It is easy for one to donate an amount but to actually know where the money has gone and how it has helped certain individuals is way more powerful,” she adds.

Products by Seva India

Market and the way forward

Personally fond of scented candles, Arushi says there is a huge gap in the luxury market for candles in India and producing quality products with pleasing aesthetics and packaging sets one apart in the market. 

In the next few months, it hopes to diversify product offerings to include diffusers, car perfumes, and room fresheners, among others.   

While forming a team and operating during the pandemic still feels restricting, factory space is another challenge, especially in managing bulk orders it is receiving for Diwali. 

Other peers in the candle market include RAD Living, The Philotree, Applefall, and Joy Candles, among others. Currently focused on gaining brand awareness, the long-term goal, she says, is to put India on the map for luxury candles.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

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