Tribal and BPL women busy themselves in making soaps at Adhar Mahila Shilpa Udyog in Bundu. Telegraph picture
It’s a lifestyle product handcrafted to change lives.
Prakriti, a handmade soap that costs Rs 80 per cake, is a delightfully fragrant and therapeutic infusion of essential oils of olive, castor, sweet almond, evening primrose, grape seed, apricot kernel, avocado, neem and mahua.
It is produced by women in Bundu for whom a bar of soap costing even Rs 5 is a luxury. But thanks to the exotic soap, they earn around Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,000 per month.
For the past three months, around 135 tribal and BPL women employed at the Bundu workshop, Adhar Mahila Shilpa Udyog, run by Reshma Dutta and Debashish Chakraborty, are making organic soaps by hand.
The workshop has been producing terracotta, dokra, ceramic and mixed metal products for years, but making organic soaps with therapeutic properties is a new venture.
This soap will debut in Ranchi on June 5. Dutta and Chakraborty said that earlier in May, they had taken baby steps to market the soap in Bangalore and Calcutta, where clients appreciated the new product’s aroma and goodness.
They have also applied for a prestigious certification from Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild — an international non-profit trade association to promote handcrafted soaps — which they hope to get in about two months.
“We wanted to develop an innovative product that rural women can make. What struck us was the huge untapped market for chemical-free soap. Once our soap gets certified, our consumers will know that it is truly a global offering with organic oils,” said Chakraborty.
The process of distilling the natural oils needs patience. In one month, the women can manufacture only up to 500 pieces.
But soap-makers can take comfort in the fact that neem and mahua, considered to anti-fungal and anti-bacterial, are found in plenty in Jharkhand.
“Our state is rich in natural vegetation, which helps in getting most essential oils. Their natural goodness means users will get fragrance, moisturising and anti-ageing properties,” Chakraborty said.
Dutta added that she believed in both quality and looks. “We won’t compromise on the overall look of the product. We lay stress on aesthetic shapes, cuts and sizes. That is why natural soaps are made in small batches, with each exuding a special flavour. It is completely different from commercial and mass-produced soaps,” Dutta said.
“It is not a soap, it is a spa-like experience,” she smiled.
The women who make the soaps are also basking in the experience, but for different reasons. “I can run my household and my children’s schooling expenses efficiently now,” says Lalita Oraon.
Her friend Alka Mahli added: “I bought new clothes. We also eat better now.”