How a trip turned into a thriving natural soap business

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As the sun rises over Auroville, Tamil Nadu, Harish Chandra from Uttarakhand begins his day.

The routine has been constant over the past 30 years for Harish who came to the city when he was just 18 to study textiles and handloom as part of an exchange program through the Sir Aurobindo Ashram.

Talk to The best Indiasaid Harish as he entered the city in 1993 thinking he would stay there for a maximum of six months, he never returned and Auroville became his home.

The textile program he was engaged in had such an impact on him that he decided to build the rest of his life and career here. Today, the result of that decision is his Natura business which sells a range of homemade natural self-care products.

The start of an organic brand

It’s an interesting story that led him to move from textiles to the personal care industry.

In recounting it, Harish says that in 1998 two strangers visited Auroville with a bar of soap and a promise.

Harish Chandra, Photo credits: Harish Chandra

Back then, homemade soaps seemed like a kind of luxury as the Indian market was filled with chemical variations. The homemade soaps that foreigners brought with them intrigued the town, how natural soaps could smell so floral and pleasant.

Harish was so enthusiastic and intrigued that he decided to experiment in his own home with plants and oils from nearby gardens and create an Ayurvedic version of the soap.

Reminiscing about the trip, Harish says: “The transition from loom and exporting clothes to making soap was very natural, and over time I built a Natura business out of my experiences. ”

Natura was founded in 2000 with a team of approximately five people from around Auroville and a manufacturing space of 4,000 square feet.

The small company had a simple objective: to manufacture natural soaps.

All ingredients are “edible”

Explaining the list of ingredients, Harish says the main one is coconut. “Coconut is prevalent in South India and Tamil Nadu. Along with this I also used castor oil, sesame oil, neem powder, rosemary , apricot, almonds and organic cocoa butter,” he says.

He adds that he uses moringa for soaps while tulsi and basil are essential oils that come in.

“I don’t use refined oils, so I sometimes tell my customers that the ingredients that go into my soaps are of an even better quality than what you find in the kitchen,” he quips. he. The soaps have a shelf life of 2 years.

The process of creating a single bar of soap is tedious due to the organic production method.

Natura's range of soaps includes those based on cinnamon, tulsi, aloe vera, lavender
The Natura soap range, Photo credits: Harish Chandra

“We use a cold pressing method to make the soaps,” says Harish, adding that the most crucial part is calculating the ingredients that go into each one.

“For example, my experiments made me realize that the amount of neem that goes into the soap is very minimal.”

Harish has managed to come up with over 30 variations of soaps.

Soaps once formed in molds are kept in a huge enclosure on shelves where ventilation takes place and then the curing process occurs.

A sustainable business

Harish says that before the pandemic, they used to wrap the soap bars in plastic, but then they started using dry banana leaves instead.

Although durable, this proved to be a challenge during the monsoon as the leaves degraded. Therefore, Harish decided to use butter paper or sometimes even glass jars to package and sell the soap.

He adds that Natura aims to have a zero waste process and therefore leftover soaps are ground into washing powders which can be used for daily washing of clothes. Harish also prepared an activated tooth powder made from charcoal and bamboo.

The manufacturing unit can make 40,000 soaps per month and Natura sees orders for around 800 soaps every day. Their products are sent to Bengaluru, Pondicherry, Chennai, Kolkata, Himachal Pradesh and Mumbai. Their online platform ships internationally.

The soap making process takes 40 days and involves venting and curing
The soap making process lasts 40 days, Photo credits: Harish Chandra

The products are offered at higher prices compared to market standards because they are produced without chemicals. While 1 kg of washing powder sells for Rs 500, bars of soap start at Rs 150 and dental powders at Rs 300 for 30 g.

However, Harish says one challenge he faces is that people expect products to be sold at lower prices.

“It is not possible because the nature and ingredients of our soaps are different from those sold in the market,” he said, adding, “In the market, you can buy two soaps for Rs 20, but I uses coconut oil and herbs in the soaps which make it luxurious.

Edited by Yoshita Rao

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