Let’s begin with the session.
Astha: So I’ll start with the first question, which is quite generic, basically. So I would like to know about the very beginning, what your child aspirations are like, and how did it transform to being an entrepreneur? And then what were your hobbies, education and everything else? You know basically Sahar without the entrepreneur in her?
Sahar: Yeah. So growing up, I grew up in Bangalore. I spent a lot of time in nature. I had two older sisters and parents who really loved nature, so we would hike a lot, go coffee picking, go, jump into waterfalls, climb trees and things like that. So I think there’s been a little environmentalist since I was a little girl, but of course, more actively as an adult in College when I started to pursue courses in sustainability and in environmental studies. So yeah, that’s a little bit about what got me started.
Astha: Great. So you basically were always into trekking and walks and in the middle of nature all the time since childhood.
Sahar: Yeah. That’s right.
Astha: Let’s move on to the big day when your AHA moment happened and you decided to be an environmentalist. So what exactly was your look out there? What did you want? What did you expect? And how did you work it out?
Sahar: Yeah. So definitely first. Honestly, when I moved back to India, I thought I would want to do something that impacts here. So I started to work with Solar Energy company. And one of the projects that I kind of got assigned working on was working with the waste pickers of the waste collectors. And that’s kind of how I began to really examine my relationship with waste. I started to look at our waste problem from an environmental perspective, but also social justice perspective. And I started to live a more low waste or zero waste lifestyle as we see now, and just try to avoid single use plastic as much as possible.
And slowly I started thinking, I think maybe there are others who are also looking to consume more mindfully. So for a long time, I was my side hustle. While I worked a full time job, I would do pop ups once or twice a month on weekends in my city, just taking some products that I’ve made in my mom’s kitchen talking about why this is a better product in terms of chemical and waste footprint. And then slowly at the end of the year, I kind of had ten odd new products because I was basically launching one new product every month.
And that’s what I think is a really fun process of co-creating with your customer cohort because when they come in, they’ll ask you for feedback. They’ll share what they like, what they don’t like. That process of co-creating is really important. And then at some point I decided that when bulk stores were approaching us and things like that, maybe I should try it as a full time gig. And that’s when I basically just started going full time, at least. Yeah.
Astha: So you said your first step to having a zero waste, like, was cutting down plastic, is it?
Sahar: Yes. Definitely. I introduced my plastic footprint as much as possible. Yeah.
Astha: So that’s basically the starting point of beginning a journey with zero based lifestyle.
Sahar: Yes. Definitely.
Astha: Great. So. The brand name basically appeals a lot. I mean, barenecessities. How did you think about coming up with this name?
Sahar: Funny story.
Astha: We would love to know that.
Sahar: I love Jungle Book growing up with my sisters when I was little. So basically, we would listen to Mogli and read the Jungle book. And when I was kind of on a trip with my sisters, and I was telling them about my initiative, and I’m really looking for a name. And I like the idea of pairing two words together, two names together. And we kept kind of brainstorming. And then suddenly it just came to me and I said barenecessities. And they were like, yeah, that’s it. Because really, what we’re trying to do is focus on the necessities that truly make us happy and how much we need to be sufficiently happy in life.
And that’s kind of why the name really links true to the brand.
Astha: So all credit goes to the Jungle Book.
Sahar: Maybe. Yeah. You can say that. Okay.
Astha: So then next, let’s discuss about your idea of coming up with this company, which is basically your baby. So what are the major challenges? And how did you think of overcoming all those things, you know these will inspire our young leaders. I mean, you can share if you’re comfortable with that. So we’d love to know the challenges and how did you overcome them?
Sahar: I think being a young entrepreneur under the age of 30, being a single female founder under the age of 30 was really hard raising funds. It was difficult for people to take you seriously because they think it’s just something that you want to do on site as a hobby, which you’re not. You’re really trying to make this as a career path, and you want to make products that are stable that are not planning up in our oceans and landscapes. And you’re doing this through a very holistic approach, not just products, but also courses, podcasts, education initiative books.
I even published a book recently, I’m looking at it from a much larger holistic level. And it was quite difficult in the early days when I was doing a lot of these failed pitches to basically access capital to get started. So I think that’s something that often a lot of entrepreneurs say it’s difficult to get started. But then as we started doing better, of course, we were keeping our overhead very low, but we started to become profitable. And whatever we got, we kind of reinvested back into the business. So it’s not impossible. But actually you have to keep motivated through highs and lows of early days. Correct.
Astha: So basically, now that we know about your challenges and the way you overcome them, tell us about your company. We have come across a lot of companies that came to be natural, vegan and producing zero waste. So how is Barenecessities basically different from all those companies?
Sahar: Yeah. Sure. First of all, I’m so proud to say the benefits of the first zero waste company in India. We’re the first one to put the zero Waste on the map. We kind of championed it from a very early stage. So about our products, we have personal care, home care lifestyle products that are designed, not stand up in our oceans, and that don’t have a plastic footprint associated with it. really sourcing natural raw materials and really sourcing ethically. And beyond that, we also do a lot of educational initiatives.
We have Bare Learning, which has essentially three online courses around sustainability. We’ve got talks and workshops that we do, which is filled with a bunch of DIYs do yourself activities to make it as practical, usable information for everyone. And we also have games and board games and playing cards. Just in terms of our perspective, it is really holistic. We’re not just throwing products on your face and telling you why you need these products or if you can’t afford to buy the products, we’re teaching you how to in our workshops.
And I think that’s what distinguishes us from all the other brands. No other brand is very openly doing a workshop with you and teaching you how to make that’s a little bit about what distinguishes us. Yeah.
Astha: So now that I know that you spoke about how you did workshops and tried to impart knowledge, letting people know what exactly their necessity is. But you might have come across or struggled to make people understand what basically you’re trying to convey. I mean, not everybody gets it when we talk about zero waste, sustainability and eco friendly. So how did that journey go?
That struggle when you try to let people know about this, was it difficult to make people understand what exactly was the product or what exactly was your idea that you wanted to execute there?
Sahar: Yeah. I wouldn’t say it was hard in early days. I think maybe because I started so young, and I had optimism on my side. So I guess initially it was a little new. It was very novel. People want talking about zero waste, same way they are now when I first started about five years ago, so there was definitely a little bit of awareness creation that you had to do, a little bit of market awareness that you had to do. Basically spreading awareness on why waste is a problem in the first place.
Talking about health issues, environmental issues and social justice issues. We were basically building or generating a demand from early days versus something that you already need. You already know the person who’s trying to sell it does not do all of this to basically sped away.
Basically spreading awareness on why we started in the first place, talking about the health issues and my medical issues and social justice issues. We were basically building or generating a demand from early days versus it’s something that you already need. You already know the person who’s trying to sell it doesn’t have to do all of this to basically spread away and start it. So I think in terms of that, it was quite an investment of our time and energy to do so because I couldn’t invest in spending, marketing money or Facebook ad spend or anything in the early days.
It was just me giving lots of talks and workshops, and that was kind of free marketing in my way. I looked at all the entrepreneurs. So that was the way I kind of went about it. We did tons of workshops and talks, just better awareness about it and basically helped in that time building exercise. Yes.
Astha: So talking about workshops. Why don’t you tell us one of the silly questions that you might have encountered with, like when you talk about zero waste or sustainability? I am sure people would have asked you questions that might have been surprising. How could this come out of a workshop where I’m talking about Zero waste?
Sahar: I think no question is a silly question, but it’s just such a fun arena. In the talks and workshops, there are people that are so diverse from all over the country, sometimes world coming together, sharing tips and tricks around sustainability. The first few workshops that we did in the pandemic on a webinar format, real strangers from across the world who never met each other were kind of sharing their struggles on mental health while they tend to live alone, sharing on how they were composting their weights and had some more appreciation for it.
Just spending time in the kitchen. Those things really surprised me about how people connected so candidly and vulnerably with each other on our webinar format in the immediate aftermath of the lockdown. Right. So.
Astha: Let’s then move to the strategy. And how did you keep the balance between the cost, input and output? So sharing this will be inspiring for the younger entrepreneurs who are already having a sketch in their mind. But they’re in a dilemma whether they will be able to do it or not. So does your expense or input can influence your production and finished goods? And how does that work?
Sahar: Yeah. So in terms of pricing, when we talk about what is the price of the product, we’re so used to just seeing a certain number written on a T shirt or whatever. But what we’re trying to do with then is answer the question about what are true costs of our commodities that we use on a daily basis. And suppose you’re getting a product, a package in plastic that plastic is then not getting decomposed. It’s going to be on some 700M, maybe it will disintegrate into smaller, smaller pieces of micro plastic in the same area in which you’re trying to grow your food or a farmer is trying to grow his food.
And then that is basically going back into your body. Right. So what is that low cost of those small Nano micro plastics in your body? So in terms of cost, we should be trying to break down the myths around sustainability and products, and be more expensive addressing these questions about what actual and true costs are correct.
Astha: I came across your recycling moment on your website. So how does it basically work?
Sahar: Yeah. We have a recent program on our website. Basically, if you want, you can come over here and we have most of our products on tap or in refillable, so you can just take as much as you want and then you pay for the quantity that you democratically take. Alternatively, if you live in a different city and you have used maybe a couple of our products and have five or six jobs, you can then send it back to us and avail some discount towards your next few orders. So thereby encouraging people to be part of the recycle economy.
Astha: Great. So that basically reduces the packaging and the waste. So you can just come refill, send your product, send your jars, get them refilled and just use it all over again.
Astha: So how did this idea come to you?
Sahar: I mean, there has to be thought in the bank. It is very instinctive. It’s an Indian culture. We have so many examples of what a circular company has looked like. Lots of things have always been born. He got kind of caught up in the web of convenience, and we have all this kind of leading our lifestyle. It’s a brilliant idea of, like, we refill our borders in the house all the time and making a business out of it is like, amazing. So that’s really great.
Astha: Okay. We’ll come to the pandemic, address the pandemic question here, which is partly gone. But still, we would like to know, how has the pandemic impacted your business. Share a few tips so that our entrepreneurs, our listeners can figure out, how did you pop up with these challenging times?
Sahar: Yeah, definitely. Honestly, gosh the list of challenges can go through the roof. There were so many aftermaths, but it was really important for us to just stay motivated, stay human, stay grounded, care for our team, invest in our team’s, health and mercy. That means upping everyone’s health insurance and making sure they all have access to it because our team is so diverse. We have women in the manufacturing team with no formal education system. We have to have Masters in Amazon contributes. And whatnot? So you have to make sure that we are investing in everyone.
Everyone was okay with grocery runs and beginning of academic to make sure our women’s manufacturing team had access to like, I said health insurance. But what we did was we will ask your product company and still ours. But we took this leap of faith and kind of brought this opportunity to start creating content around the online space. And that’s when we created ebooks, recipe books, gift books that were all kind of suitable on our website. We also had our online courses with a bunch of interviews, insights, experts, insights, electric style videos, really fun, accessible, self paced format. So now we have three online courses, and that was a great way in order to generate some sort of revenue when logistics systems were completely absent, and when it was just practically possible for us to make any revenue while shipping our products.
Astha: Correct. So when we talk about Barenecessities, the extensive research that you did let that be a beauty product that you are making or a dental care or a hygiene product. So what was your research on that? And what interesting facts did you come across that you wanted to solve?
Sahar: Yeah. Definitely. So honestly, we take a lot of pains to source the right tools. We look at how we can resonate with different partners and different values. For example, we get Cocoa butter from Mason and Co, which is a chocolate company in Oroville. And again, they’re very much like us. Women run enterprises. We use our Cocoa butter and shampoo bars and conditioner bars and lip balms. And we also use cocoa powder in our dry shampoo, for example. So we go through a lot of pain to vet our suppliers, visit and see if there are any waste inputs. That could be waste output to be waste input for us. And that’s kind of how we go about it. So, yeah, whether that’s using seba oil or lavender from Kerala, we try to really go that extra mile and be.
Astha: So. You’re basically saying that even your products that you use from scratch are handcrafted.
Sahar: Yeah, they’re either handcrafted or we have made a meaningful connection with where it’s coming from. Whether that’s the form of the small business that we’re yeah.
Astha: So even those people are eco friendly and zero waste companies that help you out.
Sahar: Yeah. Not everyone is zero waste, but yes, of course. Mirrors values of sustainability as much as possible.
Astha: So that’s also great. I mean, partnering with people having the same mindset is also, like, kind of important in getting the ball rolling. So was it difficult to gather a team that you have the same thought process?
Sahar: Honestly, I’ve been really lucky. We’ve had amazing interns, fellow teammates who kind of come through the door. And that’s been a really fun way to get to know new people as well who have similar values, want to do something about it, be part of the solution. And, yeah, that’s kind of how it’s been. And slowly once they finish the internship and they like it, they kind of just stay and need them as they kind of work from home. So that’s kind of been a very natural progression of how most people started their career there.
Astha: That’s great. So I was going through your website, and I came across this particular phrase where it says that you try and marry the old and the new. Can you just tell me more about that?
Sahar: Yeah. Sure. So honestly, we have kind of forgotten about the turmeric, the Anato, all of these, like traditional Indian ingredients, coconut oil, etc. There. And we often do this thing where we need the best to market it and package it before it comes back to us for us to realize what the benefit of that is, whether that’s been yoga or healthy.
We always wait for the west to make it fancy and repackage it and send it back to us. So that’s what we’re trying to do with ancestors, which are so pretty good Indian ingredients. We’re trying to chunk in Indian ingredients to our personal care home care products and make it in a new format, like making a shampoo bar with flaxseed and hemp and all sorts of amazing oils and things like that. So, yeah, that’s kind of what we’re trying to do. Look at new ways in which we can be cleaner, cleaner, more just in our production and use some of those old Indians that are nani mas and grandmothers use as traditional Indian skin care.
Astha: Even it took me a while to basically realize that the turmeric latte is nothing but Haldi doodh. so I can get from where you’re coming. So, yeah, that’s great. Great. Bringing out the Indian roots in your brand. It’s one of the best things I have ever heard. So then basically, let’s move on to your post covid strategies. How are things after COVID? Like, what are the new strategies that you have figured out? Because of the pandemic, we were restricted to this. And now this is something that we have initiated, and we have taken an initiation in that.
Sahar: Yeah. Which is our online education piece, our learning. We’re really going in a big way. And we’re making this content really accessible to school kids, College kids, young professionals, and young adults. We have our courses enrolled in big corporations into their own learning management systems. So I think that’s an opportunity that was really kind of something that we did a lot in the pandemic, which we’re just looking to grow that vertical.
Astha: How important do you think the zero waste concept should be introduced to kids these days?
Sahar: Well, absolutely. They are our future, and we need to start them early because sustainability is not just a thing you do, but it is the way you live, and it’s a lifestyle. And the earlier you get, everyone starts on it, that just means we’re giving our world and a better chance of surviving.
Astha: The way you say that making zero waste is not the norm. It’s the norm and not an exception.
Sahar: Yes, we’re definitely here to try and make zero is the norm and not the exception.
Astha: Great. So then let’s come to the last question, basically. So let us know about your leadership mantra that you implemented to achieve your level of success right now and especially when it comes to leadership. What is that one tip that you want our listeners to get from you?
Sahar: Honestly, I think most important is to be really authentic to who you are and to be yourself and be really rooted in your values and not get distracted or not get distracted by the kind of shining things in truly who you are. And I think your leadership should just be a mirror of who you are and be very reflective of that. And it should be very real and authentic and genuine.
Astha: That’s great. That’s more than just two cents. In fact, it was so nice talking to you, Sahar. I am definitely sure that our listeners will have a great time listening to your podcast. So thank you for your precious time. Thank you for letting us know your journey. And it was great having you on the show.
Sahar: Thank you so much, Astha for having me. It was a pleasure speaking with you.