Nisha Natarajan started making natural bio enzyme cleaning products a year-and-a-half ago after noticing that her three pet dogs were allergic to floor cleaning products laced with toxic chemicals.
With lots of free time during the nationwide lockdown following the surge in coronavirus cases, she started experimenting and creating different products like shampoo bars, soaps, and cleaners for family use.
Increasing interest and appreciation from friends and family inspired her to launch a home-made natural products brand, Down To Earth. She quit her corporate job in April 2020 and turned to entrepreneurship full-time.
The down-to-earth journey
After many months of researching and developing the products, Nisha launched Down to Earth in September 2020. The idea, she says, is to provide sustainable alternatives to everyday products.
Priced between Rs 90 and Rs 600, the eco-friendly brand provides home and personal care products like face masks, body butters, soaps, shampoo bars, room sprays, floor cleaners, and dishwashing liquids, among other things. It has one wellness product called Kadha which is made from herbs and spices to boost immunity.
Made without preservatives to keep them natural, Nisha claims the products will last for four to five months under proper care. The entrepreneur says the prices are slightly higher in comparison to commercial products for two main reasons – packaging and natural ingredients.
When Nisha realised packaging comprised of mainly plastic options because they were cheaper. A plastic bottle costs around Rs 2 while glass jars cost at least Rs 16 and Nisha opted for the latter.
She says, “When we are putting so much effort into making natural products, why not put a little more thought into how we package them?”
The startup has introduced programmes where customers can return the glass jars to avail discount coupons to shop for other products or ask for refills at reduced prices.
Using natural ingredients is also more expensive, especially when they are not made in huge quantities. Nisha makes weekly batches of products and says she wants to maintain the essence of ‘homemade’ products with minimal machine intervention as the startup scales.
The entrepreneur has a team of four full-time employees including herself who are now working from an apartment turned into a studio.
“Each product may not be identical but the quality remains the same. With more hands working, it would also mean creating more employment opportunities,” she says.
Based in Bengaluru, word-of-mouth has helped the startup receive orders from as far as Delhi, Gurugram, Mumbai, and Uttar Pradesh in a short span of time. “Despite the price, the consumer mindset is changing towards more conscious buying and that is a positive sign,” she adds.
Nisha says that her husband’s experience in the movie industry also helped her with marketing the products. She started sending PR kits and gift hampers to various celebrities for further reach.
The startup has also partnered with wedding planning website WedMeGood and plans to launch wedding and festival hampers soon.
Besides its own website, the products are available on Curated Consciously, a platform for holistic living solutions. It has delivered nearly 3000 products and are looking to launch on ecommerce platforms like Amazon and Flipkart.
Nisha had to face the double challenge of starting an eco-friendly brand amid a global pandemic.
The process of starting up took longer than expected due to the lockdown and the need for social distancing.
“I am proud to say it all happened online, from sourcing the raw material – and leaving them unopened outside for a couple of days – to registering the startup and other legal work took place on Zoom and over phone calls,” she recalls.
Initially, the entrepreneur was sceptical whether people would appreciate and accept a new brand, especially when they were not too keen on spending money during the pandemic.
Adopting a plastic free packaging policy has posed a major logistics challenge as well. Down to Earth uses water activated paper tapes and paper bubble wraps instead of wrapping products in several layers of plastic.
However, several major delivery and logistics companies refused to carry them, stating that they don’t want to be held responsible for breakages of glass content wrapped in paper material.
“Convincing them about safety and that paper bubble wraps can replace plastic and be equally efficient has been a major hurdle,” she says, adding that the startup has now partnered with India Post and a local logistics company.
The Bengaluru-based startup is all set to satisfy Indian consumers looking for green and eco-friendly lifestyle products. In a study conducted by the Mahindra Group, nearly 88 percent of participants showed willingness to buy eco-conscious products but the lack of availability holds them back.
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