We are pleased to introduce young entrepreneur Ankita Kureel, Founder of Astral Kind. Ankita, a resident of Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh launched her natural skin care brand in 2019 at the age of 14 years. Now, her brand offers 20 products prepared and packed by her. Apart from her love for entrepreneurship, she could manage time for her studies too. She is on a mission of building a Made in India natural skin care products. In this interview with Bio Patrika, Ankita talks in depth about her entrepreneurship journey.
1. Tell us something about yourself.
Hi, I am Ankita Kureel, founder of Astral Kind. I am a 16-year-old senior school student. I started off with my brand when I was just 14. That’s true! Since then it’s been one of the things I am proud of. My personal interest lies in sustainable product formulation and development. Astral kind is a zero-waste brand which means we don’t use plastic at all. Being a teenager it is sort of an arduous task to manage studies and the business at the same time. I do everything from scratch, developing the formulations, importing raw materials, making products, packing them, taking orders, shipping them, handling social media and marketing as well. I hope this small initiative can be a big step towards saving the planet and inspire others to pursue the eco-friendly path.
2. How would you describe your initiative Astral Kind?
Astral kind is a sustainable skincare brand and none of our products have any harmful chemicals or preservatives. They are completely free from any SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulphate) and parabens. We have some unique alternatives to traditional water based products, for example, in place of a liquid lotion we have lotion bar, rather than a liquid shampoo we have a solid shampoo bar. Our soaps are made using traditional cold process soap making method where I combine lye solution with pure oils/luxurious butters like olive oil, virgin coconut oil, castor oil and they need almost 100 days to harden up and cured before selling. Apart from using natural ingredients we use tin container or reusable glass jars adhering to zero-waste initiative.
3. What intrigued you to get into sustainable skincare products?
Beautiful and unique skincare products have always grabbed my attention. I saw many overseas small businesses selling soaps and shampoo bars wrapped in paper or even without any packaging. This made me wonder that wouldn’t the soap gets soggy? But, after some research I got to know that avoiding water content in products can yield solid alternatives. This not only reduces the unwanted wastage of product, but also keeps harmful and strong preservatives at bay. Learning more and more about these products motivated me towards actually making them. I learned the techniques for soap making, studied the ingredients and started to pen down my own formulations.
4. Did you receive any training for making such products?
Yes, I did attend workshops, some from India and some abroad. Most of them were virtual. Later, I disclosed a workshop from my hometown on making sustainable skincare products. I still remember I had exactly a century number of people in my first workshop. It was very exciting to share my knowledge about what I am actually passionate about- sustainable skincare products.
5. At what point you realised that you want to be an entrepreneur?
I won’t say that I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but it was the will against plastic pollution and the satisfaction I get in formulating sustainable skincare alternatives drove me to start my own business.
6. How did your family and/or friends react to your aspirations?
When I had just started off my parents believed in my idea, but they had their own doubts. They didn’t understand how sales happens through social media (Instagram) and other online platforms. It was when I started receiving orders they became confident about the concept. Talking about friends, mostly they were supportive, but at the same time some of my peers were worried that this business venture will have repercussions on my academic performance and some said it is a crazy idea to start a business in 9th grade. The feedback was a mixed bag and I picked the positive ones to carry on with.
7. How do you balance the two roles: being a student and being an entrepreneur?
Being in High school and managing the entrepreneurial life is quite a task for me as I take care of the whole business by myself. My aim is to get myself into an IVY league school so, during the week I study for my school and competitions and I make skincare products majorly on weekends. Sometimes it becomes a bit overwhelming to attend classes during the first half of the day and spend time on my business for the rest of the day. There are days when I’m always on my toes and finding time for a break is really difficult but I understand hard work yields into success so, I keep pushing myself irrespective of whatever happens. The satisfaction of accomplishing the set tasks and happy customers keeps me motivated and spirited.
8. Where do you get product ideas from? Do you follow anyone/brand?
As Astral Kind is a sustainable skincare brand, the main idea is to avoid SLS or parabens restricting unnecessary water content in the products and make unique solid alternatives. For example, in place of liquid lotion we have a lotion bar, for liquid shampoo we have solid shampoo bar, for face wash we have face wash balls and face wash powder. I usually plan for alternatives of traditional products and think how can I avoid the preservative part. Mostly my ingredients are pure oils and rich butters like, cocoa, shea, kokum, mango and others. I do follow some brands and my personal favourite is Lush cosmetics.
9. What are the challenges in relation to the ‘zero-wastage’ aspect?
Zero-waste aspect has its own challenges definitely. I find it hard to look for alternatives to plastic wrapping and plastic containers so I use bio film, brown paper, tin container or glass jars which could be reused. These eco-friendly containers are expensive than the plastic ones which makes our products a little costlier than the products with a plastic packing. Nevertheless, plastic is non-degradable so it’s better to avoid such things which are against the environment.
10. Only a niche in India is aware of eco-friendly, sustainable and cruelty-free products and, to an extent, they are linked to social trends rather than concerns for the environment. What is your take on this?
In India, as compared to developed countries, people are less aware about the zero-waste concept and the word “sustainable”. Even if one understands s/he won’t choose the eco-friendly alternative and rather go for the cheaper and readily available plastic packaged products. Then there are issues such as poor marketing and display in big commercial stores because most of them are small businesses like mine. I believe once people become more aware about the concept it could create a willingness to buy such products and generate a greater market. This in turn would help the eco-friendly brands to manufacture in bulk and lower their prices to comparable or even less than the normal product’s prices.
11. How do you approach distributors? Were there any setbacks due to Covid-19 situation?
I explore two things while deciding on the distributors- accessibility and the cost associated. Since, my business is just at the budding stage, I try to negotiate and go with the budget-friendly option. My small business really blew up during the pandemic as people liked the comfort of getting things delivered to their home. Due to Covid-19, many states had put in place restrictions where mobilising orders became very difficult. At many times we had to bear extra cost for shipping items back due to storage issue in a different state. Although, gradually things started running smoothly again.
12. Which is your best-selling product?
Orange face jelly and aloe Vera gel are two of the best-selling products so far. We have more than 20 products already launched including soaps, face jelly, face gel, lip balm, lip scrub, lip gloss, tint, bath bomb, soaps, lotion bar, bath salt and more.
13. What kind of response do you get from the customers?
Response from customers has been very amazing. Many of our customers share their experience or even recommend our products to their loved ones. They also go for bulk buying for gifting purpose. We customise letters attached to the gifts and at occasions I pin a handwritten note. Many customers provide their feedback saying that this lovely note made their day, they loved the formulation and the smell is divine. Our products are chemical free and made from pure fruit extracts and oil so it feels like using the fruit it is made of. A lot of people liked the concept of pure and natural products.
14. What are your expectations out of this initiative?
I believe plastic and preservatives are the two main elements of skincare products which should not be used where possible. Beauty industry is one of the leading contributors in plastic pollution which causes climate change and harm to the environment. We promote natural ingredients, plastic-free and zero-waste packing. My expectations from this initiative is to reduce as much of packaging as I can, even avoiding paper. I aspire to own a shop someday where I sell fresh cut soap bar out of a soap loaf just like you get fresh bread from a bakery. I spend near about 3-4 hours every day on my business and I love what I do. I would like to say I am on a journey to change the world and I will try to be solemnly sustainable till my last breath.
15. Where do you see Astral Kind in upcoming years?
I definitely want to expand my business and get more and more people to join Astral Kind. Right now it is all managed by me, but I would love other women to connect with me and participate as an entrepreneur themselves. If, for higher studies, I relocate to other country, then my local women entrepreneurs can handle the manufacturing and sales. I see Astral Kind to become a legacy of sustainable products.
Edited by: Pragya Gupta