Born and raised in India, Kavita left a career as a lawyer to dive into social entrepreneurship by founding Purearth, an ethical wellness and beauty brand handmade in the Himalayas.
Here she shares how she got started, the challenges faced by social entrepreneurs, her tips on running a business model that does not follow traditional norms and gives some insights into the ancient wisdom of the Himalayas.
KAVITA COULD YOU TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND?
I was born and raised in Pune, India in a very nurturing, communal neighbourhood of families with interesting and varied backgrounds – Anglo-Indians, Persians, Muslims, Brahmins and a temple. My earliest memories of childhood are of the wafting perfume of sandalwood incense and the chanting of Vedic rites at dawn and dusk. I read law at Pune University and after graduating with a Bachelor in Laws I moved to Hong Kong and continued with my postgraduate studies in Law at the Hong Kong University. I qualified as a solicitor and my first job was with White & Case LLP, a Wall Street law firm.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO LAUNCH PUREARTH?
I want to impact social change by supporting livelihoods and empowering women through fair trade and not aid. While I acknowledge the crucial role of that charitable organisations play in the upliftment of society, that model did not appeal to me when I decided to start Purearth. My vision was to start an organization that can provide a sustainable, fair means of income to marginalized women and grassroots producer groups.
I was working at Deutsche Bank as a Director and took a trip to Tibet and later to Himachal and Uttarakhand in the Himalayas. The pristine beauty, deep spirituality and simplicity of the people left me deeply moved and looking back, that was a turning point for me. I left my career in law and spent a year travelling around the Himalayas, taking field trips to study the environment, the flora and botanical plants in this region. I met with numerous NGOs and self-help groups who have since become family, partners, suppliers and collaborators along this amazing journey that I undertook several years ago.
“I was working at Deutsche Bank as a Director and took a trip to Tibet and later to Himachal and Uttarakhand in the Himalayas. The pristine beauty, deep spirituality and simplicity of the people left me deeply moved and looking back, that was a turning point for me. I left my career in law and spent a year travelling around the Himalayas, taking field trips to study the environment, the flora and botanical plants in this region.”
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO SOURCE INGREDIENTS FROM THE HIMALAYAS?
The pristine, untouched purity of the Himalayas and the amazing botanical plants and flowers that are indigenous to this region are truly a gift from Mother Nature to mankind. They have been used in Ayurveda for millennia and have proven effective not only for beauty but for therapeutic and medicinal purposes by indigenous usage and knowledge over centuries. I have studied Ayurveda which has been a blessing for me in understanding the medicinal and therapeutic benefits of these precious rare ingredients. The wild harvested Seabuckthorn berry from Ladakh is a miracle beauty berry for imparting radiance and glow to the skin.The rosehip seed oil we source from Manali is amazing for its proven effects in reducing hyperpigmentation, sun damage and scarring. The cold pressed oil from wild bitter apricots is so amazing as a body oil to moisturise and tone skin. I am amazed at the plethora of ingredients that grow across the Himalayan mountains and consider them a precious gift to us.
“I am amazed at the plethora of ingredients that grow across the Himalayan mountains and consider them a precious gift to us.”
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE PROCESS THAT GOES FROM SOURCING THE INGREDIENTS TO THE CREATION OF THE FINAL PRODUCT ?
The entire process is a labour of love. The women we work with live in remote Himalayan villages close to the forests. I travel to their villages in Ladakh, Kashmir, Himachal and Uttanranchal to work on sourcing depending on the season. The women go in small groups to gather the flowers, kernels, herbs and seeds and put them out to dry in their village homes. Periodically they travel with the raw ingredients they have collected and bring them into the small units that are run by NGOs that we collaborate with.
Other self-help groups of ladies have small units they work out of and are engaged in processing these raw materials by hand. This involves cleaning, sorting, shade drying and cold pressing or oils distilling. Some groups are trained in handmaking cold process soaps using locally gathered ingredients, which are then left to cure in the mountain air before being hand cut and hand wrapped.
The ingredients are then sent to our farm lab in Delhi and in Hong Kong where each jar and bottle is hand filled, hand blended and hand packed in small batches with so much love.
“A social entrepreneur must have the long-term vision and passion to face the challenges that are inevitable in running a business model that does not follow traditional norms.”
WHAT IS FOR YOU AN ETHICAL AND SOCIAL BUSINESS AND WHAT ARE THE MAIN IDEAS AN ASPIRING ETHICAL ENTREPRENEUR SHOULD THINK ABOUT?
I am an advocate of the mantra “Doing well by doing good” or “Doing good by doing well” and this philosophy forms the cornerstone of how Purearth operates as a business. The social welfare of our workers is as important for us as the financial success of the business. There can be no compromise for a social entrepreneur when it comes to fair trade wages, income independence for its workforce, a vested interest in their welfare beyond the employee/supplier relationship and ethical, sustainable sourcing of raw materials. A social entrepreneur must have the long-term vision and passion to face the challenges that are inevitable in running a business model that does not follow traditional norms.
“The social welfare of our workers is as important for us as the financial success of the business. There can be no compromise for a social entrepreneur when it comes to fair trade wages, income independence for its workforce, a vested interest in their welfare beyond the employee/supplier relationship and ethical, sustainable sourcing of raw materials.”
YOU HAD A SUCCESSFUL PRESS COVERAGE, HOW DID YOU ACHIEVE IT?
We reached out to a few beauty features editors at some well-known magazines like Harpers Bazaar, Vogue, GQ, L’Officiel, Forbes and others. I met with each one of them to share my vision and passion and to have them try my products. As I have always maintained – the proof of the pudding lies in the eating, I am glad the editors really loved my simple minimally processed formulations, the authenticity and purity of the ingredients and featured us so kindly and generously. I did not expect to win any awards as we are new and we did not pay or advertise for being featured so it’s a huge honour and frankly a delightful surprise for me.
I genuinely believe that if you have a superlative quality, well-finished product with excellent craftsmanship and design, sooner or later you will get noticed. I would encourage new brand owners to work on a press kit, get a good photographer who can translate your vision and aesthetics into visually beautiful images, and to try and personally meet with the editors to share your story.
“I would encourage new brand owners to work on a press kit, get a good photographer who can translate your vision and aesthetics into visually beautiful images, and to try and personally meet with the editors to share your story.”
WHAT WAS ONE OF THE CHALLENGES YOU FACED AS AN ENTREPRENEUR AND HOW DID YOU GET OVER IT?
I am terrible with the finance side of things and numbers so budgeting, sales targets and such things were a challenge. I prefer the academic, research, product development and backward integration and interaction with our women groups and the social welfare aspect of the business. Nevertheless, I taught myself how to work with excel, to get familiar with budgeting and product costing as I realise it is vital as a CEO to know this key aspect of running a business if it is to be commercially viable.
WHAT IS ONE ACCOMPLISHMENT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Creating relationships and partnerships with like-minded people, our women groups, our buyers and stockists, and instilling the same passion and commitment in a team that believes in my vision and dream.
WHO DO YOU SEE AS AN INNOVATOR IN YOUR INDUSTRY AND WHY ?
I respect and admire the work that the brand Dr Hauscka has been doing for decades and their commitment to traditional methods such as Rudolph Steiner and for their ethical innovation methods in using ecologically derived preservative systems. I am a huge proponent of ancient wisdom and indigenous knowledge, I believe we should keep things simple and that we must be very discerning and cautious in improvements using modern advances in innovation.
“I am a huge proponent of ancient wisdom and indigenous knowledge, I believe we should keep things simple and that we must be very discerning and cautious in improvements using modern advances in innovation.”
WHAT WAS THE BEST ADVICE SOMEONE HAS EVER GIVEN TO YOU?
I am an idealist and a reluctant entrepreneur in many ways. I was told by a businessman friend to remind myself that unless the business is commercially successful, I cannot impact any change or better the lives of the women I want to support. That has helped me immensely and I’ve learned to approach the business in a more commercial and revenue / profit-oriented manner.
WHAT ARE THREE THINGS YOU LEARNED WHILE RUNNING YOUR COMPANY?
1. It’s imperative to have clarity in your vision and to listen to your gut.
2. Do not micro manage
3. The quest for perfection can sometimes be an impediment and can be very disheartening if unattainable at that point in time and in the circumstances. So it’s important to temper it with the ground reality and to be ingenious and find solutions within the given situation.
THREE FAVORITE BOOK ON YOUR BOOKSHELF?
- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
- I am That by Nisarga Datta Maharaj
- Steve Jobs by Isaac Walterson
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE WEBSITES, BLOGS AND APPS ?
- I love Alice Gao’s ethereal Instagram feed for her images
- @pakalupapito for his risque but super clever twitter feed
- Margaret Zhang of Shinebythree blog for the sartorial style and chic images
WHAT IS YOUR DAILY ROUTINE & WHAT ARE YOUR PRODUCTIVITY TRICKS ?
Morning routine : Prayer and a short meditation or my yoga practice when I wake up each morning, thanking the universe for the gift of life, I check emails, prepare the agenda for the day with my team and head to the office around mid-morning after finishing up with family matters at home.
Favorite breakfast : A Dosa (south Indian crispy thin rice pancake) or bircher muesli with lots of nuts and seeds.
Evening routine before going to bed : Tulsi tea or some days a good glass of wine to wind down with a good book.
FIVE FUN FACTS ABOUT YOU :
- I have an affinity for bees.
- I am convinced I was a tree in my past life.
- I love anything chocolate, very dark chocolate.
- I have a weakness for fine Amarone wine.
- My handwriting sucks and is illegible. It’s a pet peeve for my colleagues.
IF YOU COULD HAVE DINNER WITH THREE PEOPLE WHO WOULD IT BE AND WHAT WOULD YOU TALK ABOUT ?
The Buddha. To know firsthand from him about his personal experience of the hardships and struggles to achieve the middle path. I would love to hear him describe his direct experience of the moment he attained nirvana or self-realization. I would question him about running away from his responsibilities, leaving his wife and newborn child. Would he do the same if he were to live his life all over again?
Sage Patanjali. His cryptic aphorisms in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the classic text on yoga are fascinating and contain the secret to a healthy harmonious existence. I would love to hear him explain some of the aphorisms.
Leonardo Da Vinci. A creative genius mind, so much to talk about and learn from this towering personality.
WHAT OTHER CREATIVE OR ENTREPRENEUR DO YOU ADMIRE?
Ashwin Khosa, 23 years of age and a rising recording artist, DJ and producer. I admire his courage to take the road less travelled. Graduating from Upenn an Ivy League university last year, he chose to follow his heart and instead of following the career path of a banker or lawyer, he is pursuing his dream of creating non-commercial music.
All images courtesy of Kavita Khosa