How a Dawoodi Bohra Girl Fought a Hard Battle to Set Up Her Own Herbal Products Enterprise
It is not easy for a single woman in her 20s to set up a business on her own in India. A decade ago, this was even harder. That’s when Nafisa Radiatorwala, 39, started her journey to set up Nature’s Glow, her Ayurvedic products brand based out of Gujarat that now earns her a turnover of Rs 65 lakh.
She comes across as a vivacious, confident and friendly person, talking about her brand like a mother about her baby. And in a way, it is. Nafisa started Nature’s Glow all on her own, and made a success of it.
Today, she prefers to stay back in India, while her husband is in Dubai, just to look after her baby. “I am happy that he understands the time and energy I need to put into the venture,” she says, still glowing like a bride, as she shyly speaks about her year-old marriage to her school classmate, Jacky. It was a school reunion where the two met, and the friendship blossomed into matrimony.
It had not been easy for a Dawoodi Bohra girl to not marry at society's prescribed age but Nafisa had support from her parents and friends all along.
Plus, she was used to things not coming easy. As a single woman going for solo entrepreneurship, nothing had come to her easy.
“It’s not that someone directly says anything,” she explains, “but one is simply intimidated by the cold approach of government officials. No one takes a young single girl seriously in this country, perhaps conditioned to think that it's just a passing hobby for her.”
With an array of beauty products displayed on her table, we chat in her office in village Manjusar, an industrial area for small and medium scale industries in the vicinity of Vadodara.
Nafisa started in 2004, with exporting a few herbal products; an office at Alkapuri, the commercial hub of Vadodara. It was only in 2011 that her manufacturing unit became operational and she shifted to Manjusar.
Her business reached break-even point in 2014. With an investment of 50 lakh, 25 from a government loan and 25 from friends and family, she now has an annual turnover of 65 lakh.
A native of Vadodara, Nafisa studied at Sadhu Vaswani Vidya Mandir School and graduated in commerce from Maharaja Sayajirao University, Vadodara.
But it was a course at a local fashion technology institute that took her to freelancing as a fashion designer, which, in turn, took her to Dubai. It was an experiment in trying out something – she took up sharing accommodation and freelanced as a designer for a while, enjoying living on her own.
But soon, through a mutual contact, Nafisa landed a job with a company that was launching beauty care products under the brand, Nandini. She was to be the product manager – this job set the course for what lay ahead for Nafisa.
As Dubai was a market influenced by European beauty brands, she changed Nandini’s brand name to La Reverie and focussed on beautiful packaging, a huge factor in a brand’s success.
Eventually Nafisa returned to India with bigger ideas in her mind. Fresh from that experience in 2004, back home in Vadodara she launched her brand, Nature's Glow, with a few products, exclusively for export.
Her initial market was Dubai for she had an understanding of consumer requirements there and had a network of business contacts.
To understand Ayurvedic products she repeatedly went to Kerala between 2004 and 2006, to Dexsun Drugs Ayurvedic pharmaceuticals in Kottayam, where she learnt about the different herbs that are good for skin and hair troubles.
“My herbal facial whitening soap, facial herbal kits and henna powder saw a high sale in Dubai,” she recalls. However she couldn’t package her products well due to a cash crunch and vendors abroad said her products were not attracting consumers.
"Sometimes the cost of packaging exceeds the total cost of a product but entrepreneurs should invest in packaging, for it will pay you back,” Nafisa says, having learnt her lesson. “Consumers are first attracted by the packaging of over the counter products."
At this time she was just trading and exporting, not manufacturing. However she found that in contracted manufacturing there were inconsistencies in the products, as well as a delay in supply. So she finally decided to take the plunge and start a manufacturing plant.
She got the building plan for her manufacturing unit approved, and bought the required machines to make Ayurvedic bathing soaps, gels, hair care products, face packs, facial kits, salon products and henna powder.
"Nowadays several companies mislead consumers by randomly using words like organic and natural on their packs to pass it off as an Ayurvedic product,” she says. “Our products are 100 per cent Ayurvedic and made from natural ingredients, following the stringent FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) guidelines."
Nafisa now has seven employees including an Ayurvedic doctor. "A decade back there was no online procedure and a lack of awareness of the government procedures made it difficult for a start-up," recalls Nafisa.
For doing business in drugs and cosmetics in India, licensing is mandatory. She made several rounds of the FDA, to gather information on obtaining licenses.
“There was no transparency, and a lot of confusion about whom to approach,” she recalls. “No officer would talk; you had to gather the information from clerks. If you insist you would be directed to some middlemen.”
She felt either it was her gender or a casual approach towards a start-up; she found the officers were not forthcoming and didn't take her seriously. But her repeated visits from Vadodara to Gandhinagar forced them to take notice.
then she had also sought help of a businessman who made cosmetics in Gujarat. Through him she was able to contact a person liaising between the government and start-ups. “Things started happening but it was all so slow and painfully time consuming,” Nafisa remembers.
After a lot of running around government offices in Gandhinagar, she was able to get SSI (small scale industry) certificate Part 1.
“When a start-up obtains SSI registration it becomes eligible for a number of schemes and subsidies offered by the government to promote small and micro-enterprises in the country,” she says, underlining its importance.
SSI is obtained from Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSME). Then, she got the loan licence. "Going through middlemen meant I had to spend Rs 1.5 lakh only on obtaining a loan license," says Nafisa.
Then as the manufacturing unit actually started, she obtained the SSI Part 2 registration. All of this took her almost five years. She had started the process of obtaining licences and loan in 2006.
But this wasn’t the end of her woes. At the construction site she faced problems by labour contractors who would not take orders from a young woman. It took all her determination to win over their confidence and respect, and gradually overcome her problems.
Finally, in 2011, she had a full-fledged manufacturing unit and started manufacturing products for Nature's Glow. Now she also manufactures for others on a contractual basis – in fact Dexsun Drugs were the first to order her soap for psoriasis patients.
Today, Nafisa also makes beauty care products for Dr Shirke's natural beauty clinic in Pune and hair care oils for Varniraj, Ovita, and Florenza among others.
She gradually paid back all the borrowed money from friends and family. However, it was the bank loan of 25 lakh she got under the Prime Minister's Employment Generation Programme (PMEGP) for micro-industries that really helped in setting up her factory.
She is all praises for the then Bank Manager of Bank of Baroda, Mr R Sagathia, who encouraged a woman entrepreneur like her.
"The PMEGP is a big boon to small businesses and gave me a huge support and boosted my morale," says Nafisa. "I got 25 percent subsidy for small industry, 5 percent for women and 5 percent for setting up in a rural area."
The 35 percent subsidy brought down her instalment and interest significantly. Though it took one-and-a-half years for the subsidies to come, after a protracted procedure of documents sent to Delhi, this really helped end her financial woes.
Fortunately, she got an agent through her brother in the USA, her major exports destination. She has eight exclusive stores in Texas and its capital, Dallas, has two Nature's Glow salons. Her products retail online on Amazon US too.
"Our export market is bigger, with 37 lakh per year profit and local market fluctuates between 25-35 lakh per annum,” says Nafisa. “The domestic market relies on contracted manufacturing for other brands."
Nafisa is yet to launch her products directly into the domestic market. "We will launch our brand this year in Rajkot or Ahmedabad first," she reveals.
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