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Vegan couple Preethi and Srinivas have innovated green washing

Radhika Giri| Chennai 20 Jul 2012, Vol 3 Issue 29

What do you expect two IIM graduates to do after few years of chasing corporate targets? Start their own business? Well, an IIM couple did just that, but they chose a path not trodden by any and set up an eco-friendly enterprise to make organic detergents.

Meet Preethi Sukumaran and Srinivas Krishnaswamy, a young vegan couple based in Chennai, who put their money where their mouth is, and have now reasons to believe that it also pays to go green.

It is cheaper by the scoop as the usage here is a 10 g scoop to the 60 g for Ariel or Surf, claim the couple

The couple quit their lucrative careers in 2009, took a break, and launched their own company "Krya" in 2010 with the aim of offering a range of organic detergents that would "tread the earth lightly."

"We were using soapberries for washing clothes at home for few years. When we decided to launch the same as a product we researched for a year and finally came up with ‘Krya Natural Detergent Powder’," says Srinivas.

Srinivas and Preethi shared a common concern for the environment. It was Preethi who hit upon the idea of using soap berries for washing clothes, while searching the internet for alternatives to the present day detergents.

"The idea of washing clothes with soap berries is nothing new. It is believed that Buddha himself used soap berries for the purpose,” says Preethi, who purchased a bag of soap berries from a naattu marundhu kadai (a traditional medicines store) and started experimenting at home.

“By trial and error method, I finally got the right formulation," she says. Soap berries (Sapindus Trifoliatus) are locally known as Poongankottai, Areetha, Reetha and Kunkidikkai.

The couple now source their soap berries from a certified organic farm, 80 km from Guntur in Andhra Pradesh. It is said to be the largest soap berry farm in the world and they export their produce to many nations.

But if soap berries are natural detergents, what stops others from using it? Preethi says they are welcome to do so.

"I have myself given tips on its usage to people who have asked me. I do not believe in holding a monopoly over its usage. If only more people can come in, it would be better for the environment," she says.

Krya Natural Detergent Powder was launched in September last year.

In less than a year, the product has found loyal customers. "We now have about 300 customers. Most of them are from Chennai and Bangalore, but we also have consumers in Pune, Delhi and Mumbai,” says Srinivas.

Their customers come from various educational, income and age groups. “Recently we have been eliciting a lot of interest from smaller cities like Coimbatore, Trichy and Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu. The potential to scale up is there.”

“It appears that many were just waiting for the product to happen. The general environmental concern and awareness is up and everyone wants to do just that little bit to improve life on earth," says Srinivas.

The powder can be used in washing machine or in hand wash.

"We add no chemicals or fragrances. But the washed clothes have the fragrance of the soap berries. The detergent leaves the clothes naturally conditioned and soft. They are safe on colours too," says Srinivas.

Most importantly the product also saves 30 to 40 percent of water with less number of rinse cycles necessary in a washing machine. The usage of water is reduced by the same percentage even in hand wash.

The washed water can be directly used in the garden without further treatment. The soap berry residue, in the case of a machine wash, can also go directly into the soil where it bio-degrades.

The product comes in a 400 g pack costing Rs 290. "It is cheaper by the scoop as the usage here is a 10 g scoop to the 60 g for Ariel or Surf. The cost per scoop would work here to Rs 7 to the Rs 12 in a chemical detergent," says Srinivas.

The product is anti-bacterial too.

"The big FMCG companies may have the systems and processes in place but they are most backward when it comes to thinking about environment sustainability and in creating eco-friendly products," says Preethi.

Krya is sold online. It is also sold at around ten organic food stores in Chennai, Bangalore and Mumbai.

"We do not go to the retailers to stock our products. Interested retailers write to us. We believe they should be interested in the product to display it," says Srinivas.

More products in the pipeline include an organic dishwasher by the year end and a floor cleaner, bathing powder and a shampoo powder.

But why only dry products? It is to avoid adding chemicals. "Liquid products are bad as contamination starts with the use of water and to prevent contamination anti-bacterial chemicals are added," explains Srinivas.

The couple believe that in three to five years they both will exceed the incomes they earned while working for the MNCs with the product line-up they have in store.

"But money is nothing compared to the satisfaction we gain in manufacturing and marketing the product," say Srinivas and Preethi.

"Our urban customers are those who panic when they think about the world they would be leaving behind for their children. There is a lot of longing among people for the world that they grew up in - the clean water, the safe air, and the better environment," says Preethi.

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