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“I have always been interested in finding out the different components that go into making a skincare product and would first read the ingredients label on the back. This especially intensified when, in college, I found that skincare products contain harmful chemicals like parabens and phthalates which act as endocrine disruptors. This increases the risk of breast cancer,” says Pritika Singh, a biotechnologist and founder of the natural skincare brand, Tvakh.
Fresh out of college in 2013, Pritika secured a job as a trainee in cosmetic research at a company dealing in the manufacture of health and personal care products. Working here helped Pritika understand formulating and manufacturing skin care products.
Naturally, the ever-curious Pritika started experimenting with formulations in her mother’s kitchen.
“I have big skin pores so naturally, one of the first things I experimented with was a skin toner that I made using rosewater, aloe vera, and lactic acid derived from sugarcane juice. The results were phenomenal as I could see that my skin became smooth. This really built up my confidence,” informs the 29-year-old.
Pritika then went on to formulate numerous other products like sunscreen using a natural base, baby massage oils, vitamin E serums and flaxseed gel. In 2016, she quit her job and launched Tvakh in November 2016.
Now, the brand has about 30+ skincare and haircare products in the range which include face cleansers, body butters, shampoos, lip balms, and lip tints. These products are free from parabens and sulfates and are made using natural oils like castor, sunflower, and olive among other naturally-derived ingredients.
Pritika informs that Tvakh sells about 300+ units of products in a month through e-commerce channels. On the other hand, the skincare brand also fulfils B2B orders where they make unique formulations for other skincare brands. She informs that this segment gets over 10,000+ orders in a month!
“No one who has used my products has ever complained about a negative reaction. I don’t want women to believe that skincare and haircare should come at a cost. They shouldn’t be preparing for side-effects. This is why I launched my brand,” says Pritika who is based out of Chandigarh.
The Journey from a Biotechnologist to an Entrepreneur
With a keen interest in Biology, Pritika pursued BSc in Biotechnology from Punjab University. She then pursued her Masters in Biotechnology from Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology in Patiala.
She worked with two cosmetic brands where she gained knowledge about formulations with natural herbs and how to package products.
“Working in these cosmetics departments, I learnt how to formulate compositions for beauty products, the type of ingredients that are required and their use, and the consistency of products. I was guided into understanding the world of cosmetics and how the ingredients used can have a debilitating effect on one’s health,” she says.
What Pritika is saying is not untrue. Several studies prove this and also add that chemicals like parabens and phthalates affect developing reproductive systems, cause hormonal imbalances, and disrupt mammary development.
While working and learning her way through the behemoth beauty industry, Pritika knew that somewhere down the line, she would want to start a skincare brand with result-driven products that were not harmful to women’s health.
In 2016, she realised her dream with Tvakh.
Beginning of the Operations
Pritika began Tvakh with about 15 products and got in touch with a local distributor who sold the products at salons across Chandigarh. This idea worked really well because it helped her bag her first big order.
“The Aloe Vera Gel that we were selling was a big hit and I got an order to make about 50 kgs for Cleopatra, a Chandigarh-based salon. I made that huge batch in my mum’s tiny kitchen. I earned about Rs. 13,000 from this order and hardly made any profit margins but it was precious for me,” recalls Pritika.
With the goodwill she was earning, orders started pouring in from other salons too, and Pritika knew that she would need a unit with the right equipment to meet the demand. So, she set up an 1100 sq. ft manufacturing unit in her father’s office and began manufacturing face masks, body butter, and oils.
She also set up a very basic website and started retailing her products online. But, there was a big roadblock just as she began her company – Demonetisation.
“It really hit us hard. I struggled with keeping my company afloat, and my father suffered losses in his business. It was just a really bad time for us. We hadn’t even advertised our products properly and there was absolutely no cash inflow,” shares Pritika.
However, the entrepreneur was quick on her feet and managed to keep her business afloat. She stopped selling her products online and decided to expand on her B2B vertical, a move which bore fruits.
“Although we did not have the necessary cash flow, I was working with several large scale manufacturers. I was formulating solutions for them which they were selling under their brands. These orders luckily did not cease with demonetisation. I supplied them and this was a blessing for us,” says Pritika.
The young entrepreneur says that her training bailed her out during these tough times.
“Whenever any brand would come with a requirement, I would never say no unless I have tried to make the product at least a few times. I love experimenting in my lab and I feel like I can make anything for anyone now. Since we kept on getting recurrent B2B orders, there was no looking back for us,” she smiles.
For almost two years, Pritika worked to fulfil B2B orders until her financial condition was stable enough to weather market disruptions. She then launched her website to cater to individual customers in March 2019. This period gave her ample time to market her products and come up with creative packaging to appeal to the masses.
Pritika mentions that some of her best selling products include the Vitamin C+E Antioxidant serum, 5 per cent Vitamin C Glow Boosting Acne Control Cleansing Foam, and the Radiant Illuminating Cream which comprises bamboo sap.
These products are ISO and GMP certified and dermatologist- approved. In fact, some even recommend her products, especially the ones that target skin problems like acne.
“I do not claim to be an expert in the beauty space. Each of my solutions includes natural components and my approach is scientific. I want my products to show results and luckily, we’ve never had a client who has complained of an allergic reaction. In fact, the response has been quite positive,” says Pritika.
Take 25-year-old Kanwal Kaur for example. The Chandigarh-based economist and independent researcher had been looking for natural products when she first discovered Tvakh online.
“My skin was acne-prone and I would tan really badly every time I stepped out. I started looking for products online and discovered their website. Usually, I am very apprehensive about trying new products as I have had really bad reactions before. But since their products were natural and had amazing reviews online, I decided to give it a try,” says Kanwal.
She bought Tvakh’s anti-tan regime kit that consisted of a face wash, toner, and a mask. She started witnessing the results within a week’s use in summer last year. Kanwal also bought the anti-acne cream and says that 90 per cent of her skin has cleared up after she started using these products.
“I am a really big fan of their products and have even gifted a few products like the anti-acne cream and the foaming face wash,” she says.
Overcoming Challenges for a Brighter Future
Pritika starts her day at eight in the morning, reads up on financial news, and quickly checks her mailbox. After a quick breakfast, she goes to her production unit and lab, where she looks at orders, inventories, and tests new formulations. She employs a workforce of 20 people, mostly women, at her unit.
From all her experiences, the Chandigarh-based entrepreneur also has a few words for small entrepreneurs like herself.
“Build a foundation step by step. If you have the right kind of knowledge, never give it for free. Believe in your intuition, have faith, and follow your goal. You can overcome any challenge with this attitude. Financial stability is an important thing when you scale your operations. So, ensure that you have cash reserves as it is very important,” says Pritika.
The lockdown has not halted operations for the small business. Currently, the brand is manufacturing hand sanitisers. Pritika believes that now market preferences are drastically going to shift from luxury products to necessities.
“People think that international brands are the only ones that deliver when it comes to skincare products. But, we went from 50 orders to 10,000 B2C orders in a month. The end goal will always be to use my knowledge to formulate the right solutions. I truly believe that we have it in us to deliver the best products of international repute,” says Pritika signing off.
*An entrepreneur you admire.
Ans: Kiran Mazumdar Shaw
*New tech that can transform the future of small businesses
Ans: Digital Marketing
*One value that can help small businesses thrive
Ans: Being transparent
*Your favourite book
Ans: Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
*In my free time I ____…
Ans: Surf online and do research on topics of my interest
* Before this interview I was ____…
*Something they don’t teach in college but is important to run a business is
Ans: How to skill those who are working under you.
*One question I always ask people while hiring is ____…
Ans: Why they left their old jobs and the reason for joining my company
*Best advice you ever got is to ____…
Ans: Always be flexible and open to changes. Learn to adapt, that’s the key, handle success and failure well.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)