How this Assam entrepreneur is impacting the soap industry one bar at a time
The COVID-19 pandemic caused major disruptions across the globe, causing unprecedented deaths and affecting businesses and livelihoods. While many continue to wallow in the devastation and losses, there are those who are taking the lemons that life has thrown at them and making refreshing glasses of lemonade. Upasana Das is one of such people, making a name for herself with her budding soap making business.
Das wasn't always an entrepreneur and neither was she conceiving the idea, but a new normal meant she had to dig deep in search of a passion and skill she, perhaps, never knew she had. That is how Sreejhaa was born; a business dedicated to organic soap making. We recently had a chat with this lovely and dexterous lady, and we're intrigued by her story.
Das has lived all her life in Guwahati where she was born, and when it was time for her master's programme, she studied mass communication and journalism at Tezpur University. Several jobs followed that academic feat, during which she also sat for the state civil service exams. "I managed to clear my prelims and wrote the main exam, results of which is still awaited," she says.
"Of late, I was doing freelance content writing and PR projects from home. But as the lockdown happened and the work pace also slowed down, I had ample time to search for some small business opportunities which I could do from the comfort of my home," Das notes.
That is a move she has not regretted ever since. Her choice of soap making was based on a few factors. "I was basically looking for something that does not require too much capital and where I could involve my mom also," she says.
"Thus after exploring lots of ideas over the internet, I finally decided to try my hands on organic soap making. This is how Sreejhaa was born", she uttered with her face lit up.
Taking up a business venture of any kind is a risk in itself. A lot of people let hidden talents and passions die because they are afraid to simply take that first leap. For many others, finding someone to talk to; someone to encourage and cheer them on is usually the problem. Luckily, Das had her family and trusted loved ones. "I first discussed it with my mom and cousin. I also discussed it with my friends and a few entrepreneurs in my social media circle."
She adds, "I belong to a family where almost every person is in government service. So they neither understand much about business nor are they very keen on thinking beyond a secure government job."
She stands out in her family as one who does not fancy the routine of a 9 to 5. The freedom of working when, where and how she pleased was a priority for her. "Although I was doing different jobs, a regular 9 to 5 job would never make me happy. I always wanted to do something where I could work on my own terms and have the freedom to wake up in the middle of the night to work and sleep till late in the day, if I feel like," she says.
"Moreover, I like to travel, so going to the bosses with the plea to approve the leave application whenever I needed to is something I really hated. Every time such a situation arose, I used to think, Wish I was my own boss."
Sreejhaa offers her that opportunity to be her own boss, but she's learning soon enough that one cannot simply take off when there is a business to run. Her plans for the brand are huge.
For now, she has to run Sreejhaa at home but plans are already underway to get the company registered. Everything was clearly thought out; from the business concept, type of product, and even down to the name. "Initially I thought of another name but I was not very happy with the name I came up with. I was basically looking for a name that has some sort of spiritual connection and sounds good to the ears. So, again thanks to Google, where I stumbled upon the name Sreejhaa, which literally means daughter of goddess Lakshmi,” she notes.
Soap making is a technical process because one has to consider a number of factors, including health, type of skin, skin tone and skin conditions as well. Das makes the soap herself with some support from her mum. Some ingredients are needed for the process.
"Except the base, which is must for any soap making, which I purchase online, all other raw materials are basically from my home kitchen," she says. For Das, different soap products come with their own unique but organic ingredients.
"At present, we have nine different types of handmade organic and 100% chemical-free soaps: Turmeric and Honey, Tomato and Turmeric, Turmeric and Besan, Carrot and Honey, Lemon and Honey, Milk and Honey, Rose, Neem and Aloe Vera, and Ubtan. We do not use any artificial colours in the soap. We intend to add few more variations in our list of soaps soon. We are also working on a few more organic products, which we should be able to introduce in about a month's time," she says. All through, her mother stands by her side, evaluating and keeping her eye on her progress.
"My greatest strength and inspiration is my mom. I generally discuss all the ideas with her. I also take feedback from my friends as they are the ones who provide me the most honest feedback."
She tells us her personal favourite from Sreejhaa. "My personal favourite soap is Neem and Aloe Vera as it suites well for my skin type," she says.
But her life has been beyond just working and soap making. Like she told us earlier, the thrill of having the liberty to be herself and own her own schedule is a priority. Asides traveling, Upasana loves music. "I enjoy listening to soft Bollywood music. I also like reading books on entrepreneurship and quizzes" she notes.
Continuing, she says, "Writing is a also a hobby for me. For quite some time, I have been working on a book about the young and educated Assamese entrepreneurs. I hope to release the book by the end of this year. Travelling to the hills and enjoying the beauty of nature is also something I really enjoy doing."
Although a novice in the industry, every day is a learning process for Das. Thankfully, she has not had to learn the hard way, as there has not been any failure recorded so far. That doesn't mean the sail has been entirely smooth. As with every business, soap making has its ups and downs. What keeps her going is the satisfaction she gets from knowing that someone is having a refreshing bath using her products.
"After a hard day's work, if anybody feels fresh and relax taking a bath using our soaps, we feel our job is well done.” But it is important she is able to market and promote her brand sufficiently in a way that it gets to as many people that need it. This, in itself, is a skill; one that Das is keen on learning as quickly as possible.
"I don't claim I have learnt everything. I am still in the process of learning the ABC's related to a business. I usually discuss it with my cousin, who stays in Mumbai and has been working in the marketing field for quite some time now. I am blessed to have some very close friends, who have always lent a helping hand and also there are some real good souls in my social media circle, who themselves are budding entrepreneurs, and always a call away to answer all my queries and give me all kinds of valuable suggestions," she says.
For Das, it is more about reaching out than making a profit. Her desire to provide affordable body soaps that provide the most satisfaction is what has prompted her to apply a very "thin margin". From her very first product to the next one she delivers, she ensures Sreejhaa offers amazing value for every rupee spent. She says the response has been great this far.
With her mum by her side as motivation and inspiration, "the plan is to take it one step at a time but climb many steps successfully in the near future and make Sreejhaa a household name to reckon with." She adds, "We would consider ourselves lucky if in future we can create job opportunities for the local people, especially women".
While she looks forward to a better future, she counts herself lucky to have gone this far. "The journey with Sreejhaa is not even a month old, yet in this short span of time, we are overwhelmed by the love, care and blessings we have received. We seek the same in the days to come and hope we are able to deliver nothing but the best.”