They say, ‘Grandma knows best’ and Delhi-based entrepreneur Noor Arora couldn’t agree more. Her family members had been going back to her great grandmother’s (Amma Ji) home remedies for years.
Anytime someone had any skin or hair issues, it was instinctive to refer to Amma Ji’s notes. More so because Amma Ji was a naturopath who had travelled across the country learning about natural remedies from experts.
“I had come back to Delhi after finishing my studies in the US. But the pollution and humidity made my skin break out. This was when I referred to Amma Ji’s diaries for skin remedies. I made a concentrate of cloves and a few other ingredients and applied it on my skin. Within hours, I could see my skin improving,” recalls the 28-year-old.
Natural, Plant-based, and Vegan
With her mother, Geeti Arora, and her maternal aunt, Mani Khurana, Noor used Amma Ji’s nuskhe (remedies) for years. The trio began to discuss how these natural remedies were effective but seldom available in the market. At the same time, their friends and relatives often requested them to make small batches after seeing the brilliant results.
“Slowly, the batches got bigger. And once we devised a way to preserve our concentrates naturally, the next step was making it available for everyone,” smiles Noor.
This led to the birth of First Water Solutions, a herbal skincare brand that uses 100 per cent natural and plant-based ingredients. The products are also not tested on animals, making them vegan.
Founded on 5 August 2017, the natural skincare brand is free from parabens and formaldehyde and also stays away from ingredients like alcohol, petroleum, and silicone which are generally not considered carcinogenic. Noor goes on to explain that just because some ingredients are not considered bad for your skin, they are not necessarily good for you.
“Silicones used in a lot of skincare products tend to make your skin feel smooth. But, they are difficult to wash off from your face. This results in microbes and other germs getting lodged between layers of application, leading to skin breakouts,” explains Noor.
First Water Solutions has about 56 skincare, haircare, and personal care products made from 128+ natural ingredients, sourced from over 100 farmers across the country. Currently, they have a registered customer base of over 30,000, which includes buyers from Bhutan and Brazil!
Discovering Amma Ji’s Diaries
Noor graduated in 2014 with a degree in industrial design from the Parson School of Design from New York. Incorporating sustainability in her designs was a major theme for her, and she even received a Graduate Award for her eco-friendly practices.
Once she returned to Delhi in 2014, she began freelancing on different projects related to art and painting. Her artwork focused on ecology and showcased endangered flora and fauna.
During this phase, she went back to Amma Ji’s diaries.
“After Amma Ji passed away in 2007 at the age of 97, we discovered hundreds of diaries; she was an avid journaler. We noticed that she wrote different remedies in bits and pieces in all her journals. I was only 15 at the time, but I was so fascinated,” recalls Noor.
In 2009, Nani (Amma Ji’s daughter) was diagnosed with breast cancer. Luckily, it was still at an early stage, and with radiation therapy, she recovered slowly and steadily. However, the radiation took a toll on her skin, and she developed scars and skin patches.
“Nani was already feeling low, and naturally missed her mother [Amma Ji]. To help her feel better and feel close to Amma Ji, we went through the diaries again. Surprisingly, we discovered this remedy that was specifically for pigmentation and decided to try it on Nani,” recalls Noor.
It was a paste of mulberry juice mixed in crushed cucumber seeds, hibiscus and lotus flowers. This paste was applied on Nani’s skin, which showed improvement within days. This instance stayed with Noor, Geeti, and Mani until they finally decided to start First Water Solutions.
Geeti was helping manage the family business of ceramic tiles. Aunt Mani on the other hand was head of Human Resources at the British High Commission, who quit her job in 2009 to start her own HR consulting firm. Later, Mani discontinued the firm when the trio decided to start First Water solutions. Although Noor continues to take on projects as an artist even now, she also works on developing First Water Solutions as a brand.
Formulating concoctions in the kitchen!
From making the concentrates to packing them, the trio handle all operations of their skincare brand.
All their ingredients are organic and sourced from farmers’ collectives. For example, the coconut oil is from Kerala, the saffron and cinnamon from Kashmir, coffee from West Bengal, roses from the Western Ghats, while hibiscus, jasmine and chamomile are grown at home.
The formulations are available in the form of concentrates or oils, where they press the juices out of the ingredients and mix them with water or oil-based carriers. Some best selling products are the Pure 21 serum and Pure 21 oil for skin. As the name goes, these products are made from 21 ingredients like cinnamon, lotus, rose, saffron, melon seeds, cucumber seeds, among others.
Gradually, they went on to make anti-frizz hair serums and masks with heat-protectant properties. They also launched their range of solid perfumes, made from essential oils blended with a base of soy wax, castor oil, coconut oil, and shea butter. Further, they have body and face mists which are water-based.
Their hard work and dedication seem to have paid off as their clients love their products.
Delhi-based homemaker Vedika discovered their products even before they were officially launched. She heard from a mutual friend that First Water Solutions was looking for testers. At the time, the 52-year-old was looking for a natural solution for skin pigmentation and decided to try these products. She hasn’t stopped since.
“After trying their samples, I could see a visible difference, as my skin started clearing up. I love the serum because it is light on the skin and does not feel sticky or oily. Even my daughter’s acne has cleared up!” says the happy customer.
Another customer, Gurugram-based Latika Thukral, discovered the products at a Diwali Mela over a year ago and was impressed that they were made from their grandmother’s home remedies.
“I really like their skin serum and night oil. Since I spend a lot of time in the sun, the serum gives my skin good protection. I have even gifted these to my friends,” says the 54-year-old, who works in the social sector.
Overcoming hurdles and looking forward
As a small business that manages all aspects of the operations, the trio faces quite a few challenges. Most notable among these is inaccessibility to right packaging.
“We know that our products are amazing, and hence, we also want them to be presented well, but the packaging options available are horrible. Either the glass bottles leak or the plastic packaging is low-grade imports from China,” informs Noor.
And that’s not all. Sometimes vendors are not ready to accept small orders, especially those who sell glass packaging.
“Currently, we are still a small business. We neither have the capital nor the space to store so many bottles. So, this is quite challenging for us,” she explains.
As a natural brand, they try not to use plastic at all, but due to constrictions in terms of what is available, they end up using a few plastic bottles. However, as a conscious brand, they take full responsibility for managing plastic and encourage their customers to recycle through offers.
“We have a scheme where customers can send the bottles to us after using the product. We recycle the bottles and offer them a discount on their next purchase or a free product,” informs Noor.
Moreover, their plastic bottles are of good quality, encouraging customers to reuse them as well.
Learning from their experiences, Noor offers a few words of advice for other small businesses.
“Be innovative and think out of the box. If you hit a roadblock, find a detour but remember that you have to persevere. You will succeed only when you refuse to give up. Imagination, ingenuity, and integrity are three factors that will always work in your favour. Always be ethical in what you do, as it shows in your offerings,” she says.
Now, there are a lot of plans in process for the small venture. Noor informs that currently, they are only selling in their flagship store in Delhi, through other e-commerce channels, and social media platforms like Facebook, but will soon launch their website, which will also have Amma Ji’s recipes. Customers can then choose from concentrates of individual ingredients and make their formulations. At the same time, they are experimenting with all-natural make-up.
“Our motive had always been to create awareness about the benefits of using natural products. Chemical-based products are not just bad for one’s skin but are also detrimental to the environment. We have always been inspired by Amma Ji, who was a visionary in our family. This brand has been born in a matriarchal setting which has empowered so many other women, including those who use our products. In the future, we want to use this platform to build a community of women-led businesses to push these values forward,” says Noor.
*An entrepreneur you admire.
Ans: Vrinda Gupta, director at Estoot, a digital marketing firm
*New tech that can transform the future of small businesses
Ans: Automation of supply chain
*One value that can help small businesses thrive
Ans: Integrity and ingenuity
*Your favourite book
Ans: 1001 Fairy Tales, a Reader’s Digest edition published in 1851
*In my free time I ____…
Ans: read, watch documentaries, and spend time with our dog Fifi
* Before this interview I was ____…
Ans: on a call with the website team
* A message for your past self about small businesses
Ans: Relax a little and stay calm
*Something they don’t teach in college but is important to run a business
Ans: finances, customer relations, and ground realities
*Best advice you ever got is to ____…
Ans: Look at any thoughts and ideas but with different perspectives and only then you can come up with a tangible result.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)