"I knew that if these fresh ingredients were made a part of your skin care routine, it would not only benefit the user but also the farmers growing the fresh produce." #SmallBusinessesOfIndia #womenentrepreneurs
They say what we put on our skin should be good enough to eat (not literally, but you get the flow; it should be healthy). Shantal Mujumdar, an entrepreneur from Bengaluru, wanted to go two steps further in this regard — she wanted to enable people to use skin care products made of ethically-produced, in-season, all-natural ingredients. But not just that. In the process, she also wanted her customers to be able to empower farmers who grow the raw materials going into her products.
And that’s the vision with which she founded Rasalila India: A Harvest Co, a sustainable beauty brand that handcrafts its formulations using in-season ingredients.
Someone with a deep interest in skin care since the very beginning, Shantal saw the potential of such fresh harvest in a two-pronged way and was struck with the possibilities of a nature-friendly skin care range. “I have always been a nature enthusiast and I love connecting with local communities wherever I go. I knew that if these fresh ingredients were made a part of your skin care routine, it would not only benefit the user but also the farmers growing the produce,” she says.
Rasalila began operations in 2017, and currently works with farmers in states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra, Manipur, Sikkim and Jammu and Kashmir, impacting the livelihoods of over 300 people. They have 25 varieties of products, of which Rasalila has sold over 10,000 units.
To buy Rasalila’s range of natural skin care products made using fresh harvest ingredients, click here.
Life in the Natural World
Shantal’s professional life is in huge contrast with the kind of work she is presently doing. Soon after graduation, she founded an IT company in the field of project management and product lifecycle management services. Here, she was in charge of business development.
“This job took me to the US and I would travel all across the country for my work. But soon I realised that I wanted to start a family. Once I returned to India, I got married and had my son who is five years old now,” she recalls.
Over this time, her interest in, and love for nature never diminished. During her childhood, Shantal would often visit her grandparents who would constantly grow things. This, in a way, made her feel close to the natural world. “I was intrigued by plant chemistry and what nature has to offer from a very young age. If I spotted something interesting, I would quickly jot it down in my notebook,” says the inquisitive soul.
Growing up, beauty care products and how they are made using traditional and natural ingredients is also what fascinated Shantal. “Whenever I was on the move for work, or otherwise, I would always be on the lookout for skin care products that used natural ingredients. There was one time when I was so interested in Korean beauty products that I actually travelled to the country to deepen my understanding,” she recalls.
This sense of inquisitiveness actually helped Shantal in not just identifying the right ingredients from different places, but also in collaborating with farmers on the field. “If you ask me how long it took me to build this network of farmers, I cannot really point out a specific date. This is something I have been working on for years just like the research which was an ongoing process,” says Shantal.
Farm Fresh Formulations in a Bottle
In India, farmers incur post-harvest losses of upto Rs. 92,651 crores per year due to poor storage and transportation facilities. So, by working with farmers and procuring these ingredients, Rasalila is ensuring farmers get a fair price and their harvest is not wasted.
And to do that, she doesn’t just source harvest products from farmers. Shantal actually visits these farms personally and stays as long as 15 days a month. She teaches farmers about soil ecology, ways to harvest fresh produce and how to avoid chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides in their agricultural practices.
They also discourage the farmers from using genetically modified (GM) seeds as much as possible and supply them with heirloom seeds instead. This ensures that the natural goodness of the ingredients is not compromised.
The freshly harvested ingredients in Rasalila’s products include coconut oil sourced from Kerala, cocoa pods sourced from Tamil Nadu, sesame sourced from Rajasthan, among others. They also use jojoba oil and avocado oil in their formulations.
Eco-Conscious All the Way
When it comes to packaging, Shantal has been very conscious and wants to minimise waste as much as possible. For that, she organised a group of six to seven women near the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border. These women make jute bags for the company.
“What we do at Rasalila is beyond just a business. Promoting traditional farming practices is what we believe in at the core. I started out with the will to create an awareness, understand nature better and promote community farming,” states Shantal.
Shantal’s efforts seem to have reaped results with happy farmers instilling trust in her. The founder recalls an interaction with a farmer which helped her realise the magnitude of change her work is creating. It was when she apologised to a farmer for a delay in payment but he dismissed her apology.
“The farmer told me that when he has to sell his produce to other organisations, they often end up bargaining. I told him in response that when he is giving us something as pure as gold, how could I ask him to lower the price of his hard work,” she asks rhetorically.
Sailing through the Rough Seas
All the groundwork that Shantal does is not a walk in the park.
“I think one of the biggest challenges I faced when working with farmers is ensuring my instructions or suggestions are taken into consideration. In the rural context, there might be a kind of pushback that comes from a farmer’s end due to the cultural context where following instructions from a woman, especially someone who doesn’t belong to your region, can be looked down upon,” she states.
However, through persistence and hard work Shantal has been able to turn the situation around. “This trust was not built in a day. I had to seamlessly fit into their lives and ensure they profited from associating with us. Once they saw our efforts and the difference it made to their incomes, working with them became easy,” says Shantal.
Another challenge comes from the customer’s end where they are unable to understand the nature of these products.
“Most people would ask us why a certain cream, lotion or shampoo contains different ingredients than what they had previously purchased. But, this is the nature of harvest products where we only use seasonal ingredients. This is sometimes difficult to put across to our users,” says Shantal.
A Day in the Life of the Entrepreneur
When she is not working with farmers on the ground, she keeps herself busy with operations in Bengaluru where Rasalila is based out of.
The first thing that she does on waking up is to spend time with her son and send him to school. Thereafter, the hands-on mum and passionate entrepreneur commutes to her workshop and office in JP Nagar where she tests all the beauty formulations.
Once that is done, she looks at orders that need to be packed, checks the inventory and speaks to people in the media team. With a small team of five people in the operations team, Shantal herself manages all the social media accounts.
Once she is done with all of this, she goes back home and spends time with her son. “People often ask me how I manage my professional and personal life so efficiently. The answer to that is simple. When I am doing one thing, I am completely present in the moment. It’s just being as efficient as you can be in the limited time you have,” she states as a matter of fact.
Words of Wisdom
As an entrepreneur who has been able to juggle her work and family life with pizzazz, Shantal has a few pointers for anyone who wants to start a small business.
“Being an entrepreneur is a learning curve. You have to constantly be on your toes and ensure that each aspect of operations is managed efficiently. There might be some things that you just don’t know but you must learn them. Work hard and remember that things change really fast in this world. The only way to navigate through this ever-changing plane is to innovate and I cannot emphasise this enough. Never do anything with haste and always stay true to your core values. That’ll help you attain your ultimate goal,” stresses Shantal.
So, what does Shantal aspire for Rasalila now?
“If you work in a particular industry and cannot understand what the gaps are in terms of catering to the customers, you have basically failed. We never want to be in this situation. We strive to understand what the customers want with the changing times and deliver them at a good price. Reinvent to stay relevant is a motto we are going to follow,” she says signing off.
* An entrepreneur you admire.
Ans: I really look upto Indra Nooyi for all that she has achieved.
*One value that can help small businesses thrive.
Ans. Constantly reinventing and innovating
*In my free time I ____…
Ans. …love being around nature and spending time with family.
*New tech that can transform the future of small businesses
Ans: Artificial Intelligence I believe can really bring about a big change
*Your favourite book on nature.
Ans: Being in nature physically is the best teacher
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)