While growing up, Nivedita Shanmugham never realised the value of the traditional plants that grew copiously around her ancestral farm. There was vettiveru (vetiver) growing around the house and aloe vera plants made their way in through the thatched roof.

“We never knew the value of these traditional plants till we realised how coveted they are in the market today. We grew up using my grandmother’s home-made recipes made from such natural ingredients for hair and face care. With ten years of branding experience under my belt, I wanted to have a brand of my own, so we decided to start a line of hair and skin care products,” says Nivedita.
Thus was born Sachi Rituals, a family brand she runs along with her sister, Indhu G. “We focus on using traditional ingredients like kasturi manjal (wild turmeric), ashwagandha (Indian ginseng), marikozhundhu (davana), kungumapoo (saffron) and other such plants we can source locally from farmers. The final product is an amalgamation of traditional ingredients and modern cosmetics. For example, gels are modern, but we fuse it with jasmine, red wine and kumkumadhi (saffron oil), which makes it easy to use for an urban audience who are not accustomed to powered face masks,” explains Nivedita.

Adds Indhu: “We’ve seen many homemade products with strawberries and blueberries, but we wanted to create products from our own ingredients. Take the avarampoo (cassia flower), which rural women use directly on their hair and face — most people in urban areas don’t even know about this plant’s existence, let alone its benefits.” The trouble with going traditional, however, is having to deal with increased production cost. “Since we source our ingredients directly from farmers, it adds to transport cost, and handmade soaps and bath products increase labour costs,” explains Nivedita.

The labour, in this case, is made up entirely of women, who come from interior villages in Pollachi. “While growing up, we saw that most of the people working on our farm were men, even though the women were more dedicated. The men took more breaks, stood around and talked more, and laughed at the women. Yet, they were paid more than the women who worked harder. So when we started Sachi Rituals, we wanted to prove we can be successful if its even only women,” says Nivedita.

The biases in business
They face the trouble that women entrepreneurs usually do, with gender bias rearing its head in several obvious and subtle instances. “When we go to meet prospective clients, they often think we are just the marketing people. They assume there is a man who is the boss of the company,” laughs Nivedita. Indhu chips in: “Since I handle operations, I personally do leg work for all our purchases. I don’t think people are used to women going to wholesale warehouses — they just don’t seem to respond properly. So I need to take a male friend along just to have that conversation because the dealer won’t respond to me. When he talks to my male friend, the dealer’s tone itself is different.”

Such nuanced instances of sexism can prove to be stumbling blocks for women entrepreneurs who are a growing breed in an arena dominated by men. But unless more women break the glass ceiling and make their presence felt, how do we urge wholesale dealers, vendors and prospective clients from changing their tone and mindset? And they will change, of course, once they realise that the value an enterprise brings does not change based on the gender of those who helm it.

Of course, women are judged on an even keel with men, even though they have far more hoops to jump through — families to manage, societal concerns to assuage and biases to fight. This is another reason why we need more women in business, so that they can be more sensitive and accommodating to the needs of the women in their workforce. Like Indhu explains, “We tell our manager to bring her daughter to work if she’s not going to school on that day. She had quit her previous job after she got pregnant.”

A woman’s drive, commitment and handwork is overlooked often because of her gender, but yet many persevere to prove themselves. And this labour is rarely fruitless. “Once you get into the market, you just have to fight through all the hurdles posed by society — because you can! You will definitely shine if you are good,” says Nivedita.

To find out more about their products, visit www.sachirituals.com

write to us at editor.provoke@paulsons.in