We like to be well-groomed, smell good, keep our homes neat and clean, etc., and to make this happen; we use various products.
Anti-bacterial soaps, cosmetics, creams, facewash, toothpaste, shampoos, laundry detergents, and all-purpose cleaners, among so many others, are used daily inside our homes and on our bodies. Unfortunately, most of these products are filled with harsh and toxic chemicals.
As most of these products deliver results and benefits, we continue using them without understanding the consequences. Another factor to ignore the effect is that cleaning and beauty products are not ingested and are mainly applied externally.
We don’t realize that exposure to the products through inhalation and absorption is equally detrimental in many ways. Sustained usage of chemical-laden products harms your body, skin, and health, and the chemicals that get washed away pollute the marine ecosystem. The effects of chemicals on children are even more pronounced and risky.
A study aimed at children living in homes where cleaning products were frequently used found that exposure increases a child’s risk of developing asthma.
While a few of us who are conscious purchase so-called eco-friendly products without realizing that companies selling them often use greenwashing tactics to mislead consumers. The brands often claim their products as organic and herbal without revealing the complete details.
We had a wonderful conversation with the co-founder of Mitti Se, Faiz Siddiqui. Mitti Se is a brand under Earthkind Eco Ventures, which is into daily needs sustainable products. Currently, the Lucknow-based company has products in two categories – personal care and home cleaners.
In this interaction, we learned about the sustainability efforts at Mitti Se and Faiz’s journey. Faiz brings his expertise, chemical engineering background, and association with reputed organizations to develop plant-based products for his company.
The company made its modest beginning in 2012 when Faiz, along with his friend and life partner, Tuba Siddiqui, introduced their first product, which was a floor cleaner. Since then, they have covered much ground and launched multiple eco-friendly products.
Given the challenges associated with greenwashing, especially in the personal care segment, Faiz also shared some excellent recommendations to avoid the trap.
Below are the edited excerpts of our conversation; you can watch the video on YouTube for the entire discussion.
Tell us about your journey before you started the company.
I did chemical engineering at Harcourt Butler Technical University (HBTU), Kanpur, specializing in Oils and Oleochemicals. This specialized field deals with products made of edible oils, like soaps, cosmetics, surfactants, cleaners, detergents, paints, etc.
After my engineering, I worked as a Research Scientist in a Gurgaon-based company. Then also did a stint with National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) as a Quality Manager, where I was involved in environmental pollution and issues. In addition, I also got expertise in Occupational Health and Safety from NEBOSH, UK.
This experience gave me a strong understanding of health, safety, environment, product development, and organic and natural products, which made me start my venture Earthkind Eco Ventures.
What led you to start Mitti Se?
The motivation behind starting this brand was the lifestyle my mother and I lived: being close to nature, minimalist, and resourceful. I also feel that Nature is the most powerful and magical thing. Human beings are blessed to have all the resources needed for sustenance from nature.
In addition, my education and experience allowed me to examine the products we use closely and know their chemistry. I realized that by using these products, we are affected by harmful and toxic chemicals inside them. This is damaging our bodies and health and creating havoc on the ecosystem and environment.
For example, the phenyl we use to clean our homes, schools, hospitals, etc., contains highly toxic and carcinogenic material. It also causes attention deficit disorder among children, which has made many countries ban the use of phenyl. Still, we continue to use it in India without recognizing the damage it might cause.
Mitti Se’s first product was a phenyl alternative, a natural floor cleaner that is 100 percent plant-based and effective. I had no business background; we started in a room with our own money. We put the solution in some homeopathic bottles and demonstrated it in an exhibition.
The whole idea of Mitti Se is to provide natural and plant-based alternatives without doing greenwashing. People liked the brand and product, and our journey started.
What made you pick Phenyl as your first product?
People know the benefits of consuming organic food, but we are still unaware of home and personal care products. We feel that personal care is only superficial and does not go inside the body. We must understand that the skin is our largest organ, absorbing things that go into your bloodstream.
Moreover, we are putting a lot of chemicals in our homes as home cleaners, which are polluting our water bodies and depleting the groundwater.
As I specialized in this chemical engineering, I felt it was my responsibility to educate people and bring change in this segment. I start with phenyl because of my qualification, specialization, and market trends.
When did you start?
My wife, Tuba Siddiqui, took this step in 2012 with a proprietorship model called Nature’s Lab, and we launched Phenyl under this banner. I was still working in the corporate sector at that time. In 2015 we registered the company as a private limited company and launched this new brand, Mitti Se.
Tell us a little more about your products.
You can consider Mitti Se products as personal care food-grade products. We even don’t use any preservatives or synthetic fragrances.
Take the example of face wash; we use pulses, almonds, roses, petals, turmeric, orange peel powder, and Multani Mitti (Fuller’s Earth). We have known for centuries that these ingredients are great for our skin and are part of our culture, but we started using chemicals as we got influenced by Western culture, fast lifestyle, and instant results.
Similarly, we identified that most toothpaste contains surfactants. If I ask you to consume sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), you will refuse to take it, but in the form of toothpaste, you consume these chemicals daily. In addition, fluorides, triclosan, and sugar are also present in toothpaste. Mitti Se’s oral care product is wholly made with plant-based ingredients and chemicals free.
Who is responsible for product development?
The brain behind the products and formulation is mine. However, we also collaborate with organizations like CSIR CIMAP, NBRI (Lucknow), Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, IIM Bangalore, etc.
Whenever I need technical assistance and guidance, mentors from these organizations readily help me.
Where are you doing the manufacturing?
Our manufacturing is done in Lucknow. It is a zero-waste facility where we don’t produce any effluents or gases and also don’t use any plastic.
Where do you source your ingredients from?
We source raw materials from all over India and also from outside India. We avoid middlemen and source from farmers to give them income directly.
We also source ingredients from tribals in Chattisgarh and Jharkhand.
How many product categories do you currently cater to?
Mitti Se products are categorized into daily needs, personal care, and home care products.
In personal care, we have natural toothpowder, facewash, soaps, body moisturizers, face serum, hair oil, shampoos, and aroma therapy-based essential oils.
In-home cleaners manufacture floor cleaners for mopping and disinfecting, toilet cleaners, dishwashers, and laundry.
Given the context of Greenwashing, what can consumers do to avoid the pitfalls?
Start treating your personal care products like food. The concept changes when we think of them as food for the skin, and we will start noticing the ingredients more closely. Once that happens, searching for details about that ingredient will be easier, as everything is available on Google.
The following action is to refuse those products hiding the ingredient list and giving complicated names. Ask your brands to reveal what is included because you will consume these products.
For example, if a product list only a few herbal ingredients and also mentions the QS base, ask the brand for the details of this QS base. Most of the time, in these cases, the chemicals are the product’s primary ingredient of the product and not the herbal ones. So if a shampoo gives a good foam and fragrance, it is not because of aloe vera and neem; it is likely because of sodium Laureth sulfate.
Greenwashing happens because a customer needs a green and natural product, but not every customer is aware and educated so they see the label. Therefore when you see a product claiming as a herbal, organic, or natural brand, that product must have 100 percent natural ingredients.
It is better to pay a higher price for a good quality product than a chemical-laden product that damages your skin and body.
How do you convince buyers?
We can survive in this brutal commercial market because of the quality and purity of our products and the honesty we bring. When we explain the story and concept of Mitti Se, people who buy our product become regular customers.
We do a lot of exhibitions where we interact with people and educate them about products. We also give samples of our products, where consumers get confidence about the effect that it is natural and effective.
How do you see your Growth?
We started with 200 phenyls packed in homeopathy bottles, and now our products have been used by more than 20,000 customers all over India. We are in many organic stores in tier 1 and tier 2 cities. We are also available online on the Mitti Se website, Amazon, Nykaa, etc.
In addition, we have started manufacturing for other brands with similar values and are also exporting some of our products.
Our growth is slow, but we are profit making entity for the last six years and committed to our values.
Are you looking for funding?
Right from day 1 of my entrepreneurship journey, we have been selling Mitti Se products to spread awareness, interact with people, educate them, and make them use our products.
I started with Rs. 5000 of my own money and have remained a self-sustainable organization by continuously reinvesting the money we earn. We employ people from underprivileged backgrounds, primarily women. Even during the covid times, we could sustain and are committed to our staff.
At some point, we need funds but don’t want to compromise our values.
What are your Future Plans?
Currently, we are focused on personal care and home care product categories. Many products need 100 percent natural alternatives. My R&D team and I constantly work to create sustainable and eco-friendly products. Competing with products made with strong chemicals is a tough job, but it is not impossible.
In the long run, we want to make Mitti Se an institution for sustainable products where people can work and create innovative sustainable products. It is a big market, and research and innovation have just started.
The idea behind the name Mitti Se
Everyone comes from Mitti Se (a Hindi word from the soil). In simple terms, Mitti Se means from the Earth and for the Earth.
All our products are plant-based; hence, after use, they go back into the soil without damaging the ecosystem.
Your connection with Nature?
I am very passionate about nature. I have a medicinal garden in Lucknow, where you can find plants for your health issues. In my own home, I have a garden where I grow vegetables. I spend most of my time with my plants and, on occasion, gift plants to my friends as well.
During some weekends, my family and I go to the city’s outskirts to spend time in rural settings to feel and absorb nature.
You can watch the entire conversation on our YouTube Channel.