Every night, Charu Shah steps out to feed dozens of stray animals in her vicinity. The Mumbai resident is devoted to animals, and it was her love for animals that set her on a singular journey as an eco-friendly entrepreneur. “I had a paralysed kitten, and he would drag himself on the floor. I was very worried that he would end up licking the chemical-based floor cleaners,” she says. “So I started making my own natural substitutes.”
From that humble floor-cleaner, Charu has broadened her horizons to make an array of natural, fragrance-free and vegan products for her label Saattvikaa.
Before she made her foray into natural home and skin products, Charu led a wholly different life. An architect by training, she spent years building homes in Mumbai. “I realised that unfortunately, far too many people chose luxury over being eco-friendly,” she says. “While on one hand I loved trees, on the other hand I’d cut them down to make big homes. It was leaving me a little upset.”
Her wish to do something more sustainable and conscious combined with her worry for the kitten led Charu to work on using essential oils for her household needs.
“I used to always read up and try herbal products for myself. But I’d never thought about making them on a larger scale. I took help from friends who work with essential oils, read up extensively, used social media groups for discussions and joined webinars to learn more. I started with a natural floor cleaner, using hydrosol instead of essential oil.”
Beginning with her own needs, Charu expanded her skills as requests poured in from family members, friends and acquaintances and established Saattvikaa around May 2016.
Today, almost a year later, Charu has developed close to 30 products, from multi-purpose cleaning liquids to sunblocks for babies.
All the products are homemade and Charu takes care of every detail, from conceptualising the product to packaging and dispatching. She makes sure that each of the Saattvikaa products are made only on order and is happy to research and develop new products based on request.
“Most of my products are based on my own needs or request from others,” she says. “For instance, I made an eczema cream for myself. When I tried it and saw it worked, I gave it to friends and users to try out. Each time I make a product, I try it first on myself.”
The line of products developed by Charu includes soaps, toothpaste, hair and body oils, talcum powder, cleaning agents, insect repellents, shampoos and conditioners and pet products. Her latest creation is an aloe vera-based sunblock that’s suitable for both adults and babies.
In keeping with her love for animals, all the products from Saattvikaa are cruelty-free.
Charu says, “There are a lot of natural and organic brands but they are not vegan. We have very few options, and imported vegan brands can be very expensive.” She also emphasizes on keeping baby products fragrance-free, using cold-pressed oils, organic herbs, natural clays and organic essential oils and hydrosol (distilled floral water).
“It’s interesting to learn about new things while making my products,” she says, adding how creating the sunblocks helped her learn about the harmful effects of titanium oxide conventionally used in sunscreen. For her product, she opted to add the SPF with non-nano uncoated zinc oxide.
Some of the ingredients like hibiscus, lemongrass and curry leaves come from her herb garden, a patch filled with plants and beautiful birds. Incidentally, though she can’t afford discounts, Charu offers to plant a tree for customers on placing big orders and sends them a certificate for it.
“I’ve worked with an organisation called Grow Trees, and I choose new places each time. I sometimes work with farmers, others in forest; I recently planted a lot of trees in Sundarbans. When my clients ask for a discount, I suggest this concept and most of them love it,” she says.
With increasing takers for Saattvikaa, Charu hopes to continue her work and enjoy learning new things in the process of new product development.
An independent brand owner, Charu tackles a number of obstacles from sourcing the right ingredients to keeping prices affordable. She sources from organic companies, but not everything is accessible. She says “I know about great ingredients that are not available in India. I ask friends and acquaintances to carry the ingredients for me, and they have been very sweet about it.”
Keeping prices in check can be a huge challenge, especially for products like the sunblock. “I had to source the ingredients from abroad and that made the product costly,” she says. She is conscious about price tags, and shares specific reasons for her more expensive products on her page.
Currently selling through her Facebook page and stalls at Mumbai’s monthly farmers market, Charu hopes that she will be able to develop a website for her products in the next year. She also wants to expand her herb garden and take greater control of her ingredients.
Her endeavour, Charu hopes will not only encourage people to try eco-friendly products but also be comfortable in their own skin.”Unfortunately, I get too many requests for fairness products. I wish that people would learn to accept themselves for who they are and realise that a little effort can go a long way when it comes to your skin,” she says.