How an 80% women workforce is the backbone of this Rs 500 Cr agarbatti company
As the Director and Head of Perfumery Divison of her family business, Mysore Deep Perfumery House (MDPH), Amita Agrawal handles the perfumery production and management of its 80% strong women workforce.
Friday October 28, 2022,
5 min Read
In 1992, Prakash Agrawal, an Indore-based entrepreneur, startedin the garage of his house in Indore with its flagship brand, Zed Black.
Thirty years later, the company processes three crore incense sticks every day at its 9,40,000 sq. ft manufacturing space in the city comprising five factories. It has five factories, 35 regional sales offices, and a kitty of 1,200+ products that are exported to over 30+ countries across six continents. Fifteen lakh packs of Zed Black are sold in a day. In FY21, MDPH clocked a turnover of Rs 500 crore.
It has a range of 1,200 SKUs across agarbatti, dhoopbatti, hand sanitisers, hand wash, edible oils, essential oils, packaged tea, mosquito coils, natural hair colour, Henna, soya chunks, and confectionery. Zed Black agarbatti claims to be amongst the top three brands in its category in India.
At the heart of MDPH is its 4,000 plus workforce, of which 80% comprises women who are involved in all aspects of manufacturing--from perfume making to packing.
Leading from the front is Amita Agrawal, who took charge of the perfumery department 22 years ago, and is now managing the MDPH workforce.
Women power, throughout
Speaking to HerStory from Indore, Amita traces the journey of MDPH since she began actively participating in the business, and the role of its women workforce in its success.
“When I got married and came to Indore, my mother-in-law, Mohini Agrawal, was handling the management aspect of the business. My husband was solely handling the formulations and production of the fragrances and urged me to take an active interest to learn it,” she explains.
She shares that the “formulations of fragrances” for the incense sticks being a confidential part of the business, and only the family was privy to it. Amita began learning from Prakash, who chose to focus on the marketing and distribution side while she slowly took over.
Today, Amita continues to head the perfumery and fragrances department and oversees a small team that experiments with 50-70 fragrances each day to arrive at the unique formulations that make the incense sticks. The company has over 170 fragrances that go into the making of the agarbattis and produces 700 kg of perfume every day.
It was a conscious decision to have a workforce dominated by women.
She elaborates, “I had a great role model in my mother-in-law. Right from the beginning, we decided to employ underprivileged women who hailed from areas near the factory. We have women who have been working with us for the past 30 years,” she says.
Most of them are either semi-literate or illiterate, but the work is an easy one, Amita points out.
“There is no heavy lifting in the factory and most of the women have individual tasks, and the environment is pleasant with a fragrance wafting through the factories across all times. They are provided training for 10-15 days and they pick up on the job easily,” she adds.
The individual processes work in this order. First, the bamboo sticks are coated with masala (joss and wood powder), and then dipped into the fragrance, mostly manually. The incense sticks are then packed for distribution. MDPH has the world’s largest raw agarbatti-making unit with 650 machines under roof, all operated by female labour.
“Our women workforce is diligent and hardworking. They quietly go about their jobs. They work their complete shifts without any distractions, come in by 9am and leave by 6pm,” she says.
The job, she says, has brought them self-respect and understanding and is a means to contribute to the family income. In some cases, the women themselves are the sole earners. They are also directly on the payroll of the company.
Prior to demonetisation, Amita points out that women were given their salaries in cash. But the sweeping digital revolution in India has changed their lives for the better.
“Now their salaries go directly into their bank accounts. Earlier, the day they received their salaries, it would be snatched by alcoholic husbands or family members who had no jobs. Now, with their own bank accounts, they have complete control over their income,” she adds.
Apart from all the benefits mandated by the Factory Act, which includes medical benefits and maternity benefits, Amita says she makes it a point to talk to them every day to understand if they face any challenges or if they require any additional help or support.
Apart from their presence at the factory, MDPH’s accounts and finance department and its legal department are also run by women.
Fifty-two-year-old Anita Chauksi has been working at the MDPH factory for 3o years.
“I started work here with the packaging department soon after I got married. Today, I am a supervisor. I feel secure financially and emotionally,” she says. Rukmini Kushwaha (55) joined the company 15 years ago as a labourer and currently heads the quality check department in MDPH’s Dewas unit.
Amita’s mother-in-law has retired but still drops in at the factory sometimes. She says a quick, shy hello and waves at the screen during our conversation.
Clearly, she’s an inspiration for Amita and all the women at MDPH. It’s women power, all the way!
(The story has been updated to correct a typo in a name)
Edited by Megha Reddy