Beauty is being comfortable and confident in your own skin and yet for that beauty to maintain its power, we very often seek aid from the billion dollar personal care industry. Ample research confirms the attractiveness of this segment and how top billing is maintained in the global natural and organic beauty market. Recent findings also show that by 2019 India should emerge as a primary growth market in skincare. For this to be a surety; innovativeness, an ear for every consumer, and a unique Indianness will be the qualities one looks for in a beauty brand. Enter Just Herbs. The first premium beauty and personal care brand in India that relies on crowdsourcing for floating a customer-oriented range of products.

TREASURE TROVE
Fresh herbs really belong anywhere you put them.  - Alex Guarnaschelli

Headquartered in Chandigarh, with its footprints across the world, including the Middle East, UK, and the US, as well as a cult brand in South-East Asian countries like Vietnam and Singapore, Just Herbs is a ‘Made in India’, online-first, international line of pure, bespoke, and Ayurvedic beauty and personal care products made from certified-organic ingredients collected from specified farms across India. “It would be unfair to call the origin of Just Herbs an epiphanous event; it was rather a very well-thought, well-strategised process of conceptualisation and execution, wherein we knew our strengths with respect to this industry beforehand,” explains Arush Chopra, CEO, Just Herbs.

Arush grew up watching his award-winning bio-chemist mother, Dr. Neena Chopra, constantly come up with new formulations that would address some or the other skin or hair related issues. The efficacy of the products was proven to him whenever he gifted the products to friends or relatives, as he would inevitably receive rave reviews and requests for more. “While I was working in Singapore a few years ago, I witnessed the gigantic boom in the international Ayurvedic beauty industry. The world had woken up to the danger associated with daily use of synthetic products. However, there was a huge gap in terms of customers’ needs and available products. That’s when I realized what a treasure I had at home, as the products being developed by my mother defied industry norms by being safe as well as highly effective.”

BREAKING THE MOULD
A person who sees a problem is a human being; a person who finds a solution is visionary; and the person who goes out and does something about it is an entrepreneur. - Naveen Jain

Envisioning the formation of a brand around these Ayurvedic remedies, Arush shared his concept with his wife Megha, who immediately recognised the potential of what they had. They moved back to India and decided to float a fresh brand aimed at revolutionising the beauty industry. “We convinced our parents to stop being OEM manufacturers for other brands and in November 2013, we launched Just Herbs as a path-breaking premium personal care brand; addressing the various skin and hair-related problems of the health and environment conscious urban Indian.”

The brand currently offers over 65 SKUs of skin, hair, bath, and body products and falls in the affordable luxury category with prices ranging from about INR 500 for a basic product such as a cleanser to about INR 1,800 for a high-performance product such as a facial serum. The entire range carries the utmost natural purity across them and is divided into two categories - proprietary and classical, based on the formulation of every individual product. “The latter formulations are those that are listed in Ayurvedic texts and are made by several Ayurvedic manufacturers,” points out Arush. “Proprietary formulas are those that we ourselves have developed, using combinations of Ayurvedic ingredients.”

ROOT OF THE MATTER
You always draw from your roots. I'm influenced by everything I hear and see. – Donny Osmond

When synthetic beauty products were mainstreamed in the international market, somewhere in the middle of the 20th century, they were a rage because of their considerably high effectiveness as compared to age-old and almost unmodified Ayurvedic formulations. The Ayurvedic beauty industry at those times was scattered, unorganised, and mostly local. In recent times, with the increased outreach of education, the media, and the internet, people have become aware about the kinds of degenerating and corroding side-effects synthetic beauty products have on their body. “This is a universal awakening in terms of giving equal importance to what goes ON the body as what goes IN it. So, it is correct to state that people are unearthing their ancient wisdom with regards to beauty and personal care. They are using products & remedies that do more good to them in longevity,” deems Arush.

“We believe in full ingredient disclosure; we tell our consumers every ingredient that goes into making our products, both on the product label and on our website,” declares Arush. “Our products are pure and safe; none contain sulphates, parabens, GMOs, bleaching agents, alcohol or any other carcinogenic or harsh chemicals. In fact, if there is controversy around an ingredient, we will not use it. Our in-house manufacturing capacity enables us to troubleshoot controversial ingredients in our products and replace them with more customer-suited safer alternatives. The formulations are made 98% by hand, using wild-crafted ingredients, in our manufacturing unit in Mohali. All the products are PETA-certified, 98.2% to 100% natural, with a high concentration of certified organic ingredients.”

CUSTOMER-ORIENTED APPROACH
Social innovation thrives on collaboration; on doing things with others, rather than just to them or for them: hence the great interest in new ways of using the web to 'crowdsource' ideas, or the many experiments involving users in designing services. - Geoff Mulgan

A philosopher once remarked that ideas pull the trigger, but instinct loads the gun. While looking for an idea on launching fresh products, it was thought that instead of relying on a market research firm, how about reaching out to the public and incorporating their opinion on what exactly they needed. Customers thus participate in the product creation process right from its ideation to its formulation and sale. “After an initial survey, we found out that our market lacked a makeup product that was safe enough for everyday use,” illuminates Arush. “Our Herb Enriched Skin Tint – a 99.3% makeup and skincare hybrid – is India’s first crowdsourced beauty product that was the result of a Facebook poll where our vast community of users asked us to come up with something that could be a natural replacement to an everyday makeup product. Over 450 women of various age groups from across the country partnered with us to create their dream beauty product.”

The reason behind Just Herbs being launched as an online-first brand was that it helped expand their reach very swiftly. “It assisted us in making rapid strides into the markets in which offline distributors carried dismal outlook for Indian brands,” clarifies Arush. “The online space provided us a neutral platform where people around the globe could reach our product range and benefit from them.” This model has turned out to be hugely advantageous, as within 4 years of its launch, Just Herbs has affirmed its mark around the world and helped pinpoint regions where volumes of trade and demand for products are substantial for initial development of offline retail stores.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE
Passion gets an entrepreneur through the start-up days and the enormous efforts it takes to build a business. - Peter Diamandis

While the crowdsourcing business model faced almost zero problems with the international audience, it initially had a few narrow setbacks in India. Back in 2014-15, the Indian customer held a very reserved view towards online commerce, especially for something like a beauty product wherein they’ve been fed infinite free trials by retailers for so long! “But with time, we overcame these hurdles with the trust we have garnered through reviews and positive word-of-mouth feedback,” says Arush. “We posted free tutorials online to ensure that people had a complete idea about what they were about to buy. Now, with the launch of our retail stores and the kind of customer consultation we offer here, this problem is redundant.”

Global challenges included international distributors who don’t often hold a very optimistic outlook of the Indian beauty industry, states Arush. Just Herbs initially had a very hard time making them believe the company’s genuine and honest intent. But gradually, concerns evaporated, and today Just Herbs sells on some of the strictest platforms (with regard to quality standards) internationally, including being the first Indian brand to be placed on Sephora.com in the South-East Asian markets.  

Speaking about other key challenges in setting up Just Herbs, Arush also mentions getting quality raw materials and government support. “A skincare or hair care product is only as good as the results it brings and that directly depends on the potency of the ingredients that go into it. Sadly, we’ve found that many natural raw material suppliers selling ready-made botanical extracts - some of them controlled by foreign corporations - fall short when we tested them ourselves for efficacy and potency. So we’ve started making our own extracts in-house, using plant material, flowers, and plants collected from farms across India.” Just Herbs’s mission is to create a safe and effective beauty brand that customers can implicitly trust.

BREACHING NEW GROUND
The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and exploits it as an opportunity. - Peter Drucker

Arush feels immensely happy about the fact that the beauty industry is growing at a momentous rate. “It is a sign that people are becoming more and more aware about the disastrous ingredients that they put every day on their skin. The increasingly health conscious, urban customer-base is proof that we are moving towards a robust lifestyle. We are trying to reach new international markets where an Ayurvedic beauty line can be successful. We also have some new products in the pipeline. But our next focus, of course, will be on growing our brand in the offline retail space.” As of the beginning of March 2018, their brick and mortar model now extends to one store each in Chandigarh, Ludhiana, and Hyderabad, with plans for more spaces in Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata within the next 5 years, with at least 3-4 stores launched annually.

Just Herbs definitely has a delightful and exciting road ahead with continuously improving reviews, a constantly expanding consumer base, and an expected enhanced growth rate with which to begin the new fiscal year. All this, while the Indian beauty industry benefits from a great partnership in truly traditional healing wisdom.  

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About the Author
Ayesha Dominica 
A fiercely independent freelance writer, she has been published regularly since age 13, including 6 years at the Express Group. When she isn’t putting pen to paper, she is an artist manager and a curator.

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