First launched in 2014, by Megha and Pritesh Asher, the organic skin and personal care brand has had what one can only call an incredible journey. Based in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, Juicy Chemistry, has now established its presence as far and wide as in Australia and Europe.
In an interview with Zee Zest, co-founder Megha Asher, talks about the journey, their commitment to sustainability and the genesis behind new products.
1. How did Juicy Chemistry come into being? Tell us about the journey.
I was going through hormonal issues and bad skin. I have PCOD and had acne, facial hair and other such problems. Up until my marriage, I had access to the best of treatment when I was studying in Australia. Post marriage we suffered some heavy losses, and I didn’t have the same access. This is when I went back to the basics and experimented with DIYs, over-the-counter creams and so on.
Our previous business was in the petrochemical industry. Once, I got a herbal cream with hibiscus and coconut with pretty packaging and showed it to my husband, Pritesh. I wanted to try something natural for my skin. He looked at the label and it had mineral oils and parabens. We were in a mall and we started looking at a lot of products and labels. Each had several chemicals despite the natural claims.
Then, we began talking to friends and family, and realised that the products they used and believed to be natural products were actually not.
We knew there was a gap in the market. We began doing research and started with a product, not a brand. We invested as little as Rs 5,000. It was a salt and sugar scrub, and this was followed by hair oil. That’s how Juicy Chemistry came to be in 2014. Our website was launched in 2015.
2. You went from oil-based products to now shampoo, and dusting powders? How do you add new products to the line?
We are still a 100 per cent preservative and synthetic-free brand. All the product suggestions came from customers who said they were using our oils but had to rely on a chemical shampoo after. Our shampoos employ the traditional Castille soap method using the hot process. The pH is high and it is not conducive to bacterial growth. It’s similar to our bar soaps that are stable at room temperature on the shelf once cured.
All the creams and balms are oil-based too that are emulsified with beeswax. Only when you add water to a product do you need to use preservative.
After all, we are not looking to create products that last for two years or so. That’s when you would need preservatives. We are making them fresh and asking you to use them within six months to a year.
3. How does Juicy Chemistry stay sustainable?
There is a lot we are doing and a lot we still need to do. All our packaging is recyclable, reusable and biodegradable. Even the plastic that we use for some products is recyclable. We have also started offering consumers a service to pick up the empties. We segregate it at our end and send it for recycling.
We don’t use plastic or foil in the packaging.
As for our ingredients, they are all soil to soil. There are no microbeads or synthetics. More than 80 per cent of our ingredients are locally sourced. Besides the beeswax that is used in 10-12 of our products, all others are vegan, too. We source our beeswax ethically and are looking for ways to substitute it with a vegan alternative.
We are pushing the farms and suppliers to cultivate more organic ingredients.
Things like olive oil need to be sourced from where it is cultivated, and it’s not available in India. We try to work with cargo ships with part storage to reduce the carbon print. We don’t airlift ingredients. This means that sometimes the products are out of stock and we are ok with it. The products are all manufactured in Coimbatore.
4. Does this philosophy extend to your own life?
Once we started Juicy Chemistry, we started reading labels on everything. We have turned into minimalists. We hardly shop online, cook and eat simple food and buy very little. We have reduced our consumption, too.
I am into simple fabrics; cotton, linen or handlooms made in India. We don’t invest in brands.
With my daughter, I have tried to reduce her dairy consumption and are looking for alternatives to cut it out completely.
My idea of sustainability is to not overconsume things. Organic is not about just products; it involves a lifestyle change. We urge people to not stock up on our products and buy only what is required. We are not about trends but about simplified living and clean products.
5. What were the challenges of scaling up during the pandemic?
At Juicy Chemistry, we talk about traditional methods, but we refrain from calling it Ayurveda. Ayurveda brands use a lot of ingredients, we don’t.
We started the trend of listing all ingredients on the packaging. Eventually, to set ourselves apart in a crowded beauty and skincare market, we decided to go for the ECOCERT certification. It required a lot of changes during production and so many of our suppliers could not keep up with the demands.
Scaling up though wasn’t all that difficult. The biggest challenge was to educate the customer and to explain to them what comes with using natural products. When you use our shampoo, it takes 7-8 washes for your hair to adjust to it. And it’s something I talk about proudly.
Since we are a digital-first brand, the pandemic was easier in comparison. But this year, everyone is online. As much as 60 per cent of our products are handmade and manpower has been a concern. We are dependent on them, not on machinery. We can’t produce stock for the next two years and keep it on shelves either.
6. What is the genesis behind new products at Juicy Chemistry? How do you decide which ones to add?
We were reading about the Johnson & Johnson case and struggling with it. Dusting powders are so common in Indian households, and we wanted to look for replacements. That’s when we found that arrowroot powder and tapioca starch powder have a similar consistency.
Hydrosols were developed for use right after you have used our soaps. The skin takes about 30 minutes to go back to normal oil secretion and if you want to maintain hydration during that time or have skin conditions, hydrosols are useful.
Hair growth is a big concern for people, and the most common is excessive hair fall. We did a lot of research, found papers in peer-reviewed journals and clinical papers, and used these oils and natural extracts to formulate products.
We went back and did clinical research with our highest selling product; the Chilli, Horsetail and Black Seed oil for hair growth, and the results were overwhelming.
The idea is simple, find ingredients that are useful for the skin, and offer them to customers in the purest form possible. When it comes to the latest fad, Vitamin C, we found the native Kakadu plant. We made a product that is rich in Vitamin C without synthetic ascorbic acid.
7. What about the exotic ingredients like the Blood Orange? What about keeping it locally sourced?
How do you take your products a step forward? We saw a lot of brands copying what are we doing. Our ingredients are the heroes and they had to be a notch above.
We had a Sweet Orange lip balm in the line-up and used to sell about 400 pieces a month. I went to Germany to display our products and smelled Blood Orange for the first time. It was brilliant and they used it in sorbets and so many other consumable products.
We upgraded our existing lip balm to Blood Orange; it became a star-seller. We sell about 30,000 pieces a month now.
Similarly, with Chili oil, it had great results but needed to be sourced from Turkey and despite many attempts we haven’t found a better sample.
Earlier, we were getting our Vanilla all the way from Madagascar but have now found a local supplier in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu. It’s the same with cocoa butter. We do shift to local suppliers as and when we can.
Our intention is to bring in the best of the West and marry it with Indian ingredients. For instance, we use Camellia with native jasmine in our hair oil.
8. What does the future look like for Juicy Chemistry?
We are working on organic make-up, which is currently in the R&D phase. We are also working towards making Juicy Chemistry a global name while we talk about our Indian roots. We want to make sure that we tell the world that Indian brands can offer the best.
We are in the process of launching on Amazon.com and are waiting for some compliances to come into place. We want to show the world that natural ingredients really do work.
9. What are some of the simple things people can do to live a more sustainable life?
I honestly feel we need to consume less.
Simple things like reusing the water when you wash your vegetables can go a long way. I use my pasta water to blanch vegetables and then it goes into stock. When we juice ingredients for production, the peels go as animal fodder.
We need to avoid wastage and plastic packaging.
Avoid fast fashion. You may get a great deal, but you don’t know what goes behind it. The awareness makes a lot of difference. Invest in some good pieces and that’s all you need. Make dressing up so easy (with a simple T-shirt and pants) that you don’t have to consume a lot.
Make simple switches like using a bamboo toothbrush and plucking out the bristles to dispose of it correctly.