Nagaland entrepreneur Akitoli Suu started adopting a natural way of living about eight years back in 2012. After studying and working abroad in the US and the UK as an expert on nutrition, she decided to come back home to help her father manage his rubber plantation.
As she got more involved in the family business, she began to develop a very close and special bond with nature.
“I started getting interested in permaculture and was maintaining my vegetable garden where I was growing my food. I was also living a natural and sustainable life,” says the 38-year-old based out of Dimapur.
Naturally, she started thinking about the chemicals that are present in everyday products. Her focus immediately went to soaps and found that only a few soaps were chemical-free. They were not only bad for the environment but were also not skin-friendly.
Soaps available in the market are heavily concentrated with chemicals like parabens, surfactants, triclosan, petrochemicals, preservatives and sulfates which are deadly for one’s health. Additionally, most of these chemicals strip the skin of moisture, leaving it dry and itchy while the others are carcinogenic.
Learning this urged Akitoli to start making soaps at home at least for personal use.
Her further learning and research in the field led her to found Angry Mother Soap Co. in 2014 ultimately. She makes these organic soaps using cold-pressed edible oils of coconut, lemongrass, olive, almond while also using essential oils of lavender, cedarwood, frankincense oil, among others.
The entrepreneur from Nagaland informs that she has sold over 35,000+ soaps to date and has an annual turnover of close to Rs 6 lakhs.
Organic Soaps: Experiments in the Kitchen
Akitoli researched online on different kinds of oils, watched videos of people making soaps and even turned to online tutorials for direction.
“The first time I made soaps, I did not know how it would turn out. I used almond oil, coconut oil, and olive oil-based soap. It was completely natural, and it was not scented. I gave it to my friends and family so that they could try it and give me their feedback,” she says.
Everyone loved her natural soaps, and this is what urged her to learn more and start her line of soaps.
And thus, the feedback germinated into an idea that finally culminated in her soap-making company.
Now, she has about 22 different kinds of handmade soaps that are made using natural ingredients like homegrown tomatoes, fresh cow’s milk, hemp, french red clay, oats, among others. She gradually expanded her line of products by adding shampoo bars, lip balms, solid perfumes, hair oils, massage oils, body butter, among others, which are also entirely natural!
The packaging is 100 per cent eco-friendly as the soaps come wrapped in recycled paper handmade at home. And, if one were to look at the packaging, the soap wrappers have been illustrated by a local artist to depict 16 different Naga tribes officially recognised by the state.
So, what was the idea behind the unique name for her brand?
“It was inspired by my mother, who herself owns a handloom business. She is always telling us how women need to be self-sufficient and independent. I wanted to highlight that message with humour,” smiles Akitoli.
From a Nutritionist to an Entrepreneur
Although managing her father’s farming business was a possibility, Akitoli spent years abroad pursuing her education and working there.
She finished her degree in Food Sciences and Human Nutrition in 2009 from Colorado State University in the US. She then began working at a hospital as a Nutrition Assistant while also managing her job as a Nutrition Counsellor with the state’s health department.
She returned to Nagaland briefly only to leave again late that year to pursue a Postgraduate degree in Nutrition from Leeds Beckett University in the UK. At the end of 2012, she returned home for good.
This was when she started following a sustainable lifestyle with an all-natural and zero-waste philosophy, which gradually pushed her towards starting the Angry Mother Soap Co.
Before actually selling her products, Akitoli experimented for about six months and received feedback. Every day, she makes about two to six batches of different soaps, and each batch comprises 20 pieces. The whole process takes about three hours, and it is left to dry for 48 hours.
After that, the soaps are cut and allowed to cure for a month. This process is essential as it removes all the moisture of the soap and hardens it. Once ready, the soaps are packaged in recycled paper made inhouse and sold in her shop in Dimapur.
Using food-grade oils and natural ingredients is a non-negotiable point for Akitoli. Like the fresh milk used in the soap is from her farm, while she sources natural oils like coconut oil from Kerala and olive oil from Delhi. Her pain-relief balms infused with local chilli like Rajamircha have done well along with most of her hemp-infused balms and oils.
For pet lovers, there is the dog soap made using oils of olive, coconut, shea butter, rice bran, castor, neem, and an organic blend of essential oils.
All the products are organic certified by agencies like USDA and India Organic. These handmade soaps are priced between Rs. 120 to Rs. 150.
Akitoli employs two full-time workers while the handloom artisans from her mother’s workshop also help when she needs more hands on deck.
Organic Soaps Made With Nourishing Ingredients
Most of these soaps have been made keeping in mind that they should be nourishing for the skin, and each ingredient in the different soaps is used to target a particular skin problem.
The baby soap, for example, is made using fresh cow’s milk, calendula oil and shea butter. This is best suited for people with combination or dry skin and found quite a few fans.
One of these people is Toni Murumi, who first tried the soap about three years back.
“Their shop is located very close to my house and my neighbours who had tried their soaps. Upon reaching the shop, I told them that I had combination skin and they recommended the baby soap. Within the first use, there was a noticeable difference. It moisturised my skin, leaving it soft and supple,” says the 24-year-old History postgraduate.
She’s also tried the Orange Patchouli organic soap made using essential oils, and french red clay which she claims has helped her with her acne. Toni swears by the brand’s Body butter, solid perfumes, and lip balms as well.
“Even my mum, who has an issue with skin pigmentation, started using their tomato soap and can see a difference in her skin. My cousins have used their papaya soap and love it. We think their products are priced reasonably in terms of quality. My mum and I have recommended it to all our friends and relatives,” smiles Toni
Challenges to a Sustainable Solution
Although the Angry Mother Soap Co. doesn’t have its website or any presence on e-commerce portals as of now, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have helped them a lot with sales in addition to the physical store in Dimapur.
Additionally, Akitoli informs that routine pop-ups in cities like Mumbai and Delhi have also given her brand substantial exposure. They also supply their soaps to local hotels and have received large orders from individuals who have given away her soap as wedding return gifts for the guests.
Despite these achievements, Akitoli had to face her own set of challenges when it came to managing her business operations.
“Initially, we were based out of Hokhezhe village where we were carrying out our operations. But after a bridge connecting to the village collapsed in 2017, we had to shift the whole business to Thilixu Village in Dimapur. This was our first challenge,” informs Akitoli.
The second challenge was to keep the packaging of all her products completely eco-friendly.
“In the northeast, it is difficult to find sustainable packaging solutions, and one often has to buy them from other cities. Often, companies don’t want to ship in small quantities, and I cannot buy a lot at once since we are a small company and production is limited,” she says.
But with time, she has found a few vendors from whom she sources packaging like aluminium containers, among others.
“When I first started out, people would mock my sustainable packaging and other aspects as they did not really understand the values. But, as long as one is passionate, anything is possible. Growth might be slow initially but stick to your ethics and keep moving forward,” she says.
Akitoli is looking forward to launching her website shortly and also wants to onboard her products on e-commerce platforms to reach more customers.
“I think it is essential for us to be mindful of the things we use on our skin. Plastic pollution is on the rise, and we also need to be careful about how our products are packaged. These small changes that we make in our lives can make a huge difference for the planet in the long run,” she says.
*An entrepreneur you admire.
Ans: My mother
*New tech that can transform the future of small businesses
*One value that can help small businesses thrive
*Your favourite book
Ans: I love books written by Salman Rushdie
*In my free time I ____…
Ans: Do gardening, read and knit
* Before this interview I was ____…
Ans: Eating dinner
*Something they don’t teach in college but is important to run a business
Ans: There is a lot of theory but little practical knowledge
*Best advice you ever got is to ____…
Ans: You can do it if you push for it!
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)