Each of us likes to be well-groomed, smell good, keep the homes neat and clean, etc, and to make this happen we use a variety of products.
Anti-bacterial soaps, cosmetics, creams, facewash, toothpaste, shampoos, laundry detergents, and all-purpose cleaners, among so many others, are used on daily basis inside our homes and on our bodies. Unfortunately, most of these products in the market are filled with harsh and toxic chemicals.
As most of these products deliver results and benefits, therefore we continue to use them without understanding the consequences. Another factor to ignore the effect is that cleaning and beauty products are not ingested and are mostly 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 not only harms your body, skin, and health, but the chemicals that get washed away pollute the marine ecosystem. The effects of chemicals on children are even more pronounced and risky.
In a study aimed at children living in homes where cleaning products were frequently used, it was found that exposure increases the chances of a child’s risk of developing asthma.
While a few of us who are conscious, purchase the 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 the company, Earthkind Eco Ventures, which is into daily needs sustainable products. Currently, the Lucknow-based company is having products in two categories – personal care and home cleaners.
In this interaction, we got to know about the sustainability efforts at Mitti Se and Faiz’s personal 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 a lot of ground and have 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, for the full discussion you can watch the video on YouTube.
Tell us about your journey before you started the company.
I did chemical engineering at Harcourt Butler Technical University (HBTU), Kanpur with a specialization in Oils and Oleochemicals. This is a very specialized field that 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 kind of lifestyle I and my mother lived, which was being close to nature, being minimalist, and being resourceful. I also feel that Nature is the most powerful thing, and it’s magical. Human beings are blessed that we have all the resources needed for sustenance from nature itself.
In addition, my education and experience allowed me to closely examine the products that we use and also know the chemistry behind them. I realized that by using these products, we are getting affected by harmful and toxic chemicals that are inside them. This is not only damaging our bodies and health but also creating havoc on the ecosystem and environment.
Take, for example, the phenyl we use to clean our homes, schools, hospitals, etc, it contains highly toxic and carcinogenic material. In fact, it also causes attention deficit disorder among children, which has made many countries ban the use of phenyl, but in India, we continue to use it without recognizing the damage it might cause.
Mitti Se’s first product was a phenyl alternative that is a natural floor cleaner, which is 100 percent plant-based and effective. At that time I did not have any 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 are aware of the benefits of consuming organic food, but we are still not very mindful of home care and personal care products. We feel that personal care is only a superficial thing that does not go inside the body. We need to understand that the skin is our largest organ and it absorbs things that go into your bloodstream.
Moreover, we are putting a lot of chemicals in our homes in form of home cleaners, which are polluting our water bodies and depleting the groundwater.
As I specialized in this chemical engineering, I felt it is my responsibility to educate people and bring change in this segment. The reason to start with phenyl is because of my qualification, specialization, and market trends.
When did you start?
It was my wife Tuba Siddiqui who 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, the ingredients we use are pulses, almonds, roses, petals, turmeric, orange peel powder, and Multani Mitti (Fuller’s Earth). We know for centuries that these ingredients are great for our skin and are part of our culture but started using chemicals as we got influenced by western culture, fast lifestyle, and instant results
Similarly, we identified that a majority of 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 are daily consuming these chemicals. In addition, fluorides, triclosan, and sugar are also present in toothpaste. Mitti Se’s oral care product is completely 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 any 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 so that we give income directly to them.
We also source ingredients from tribals in Chattisgarh and Jharkhand.
How many product categories do you currently cater to?
Mitti Se is into two categories: 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, we are manufacturing 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. When we think of them as food for the skin, the whole concept change and we will start noticing the ingredients more closely. Once that happens, it will be easier to search and find out details about that ingredient, as everything is available on Google.
The next action is to refuse those products that are hiding the list of ingredients and are giving complicated names. Ask your brands to reveal what is included inside, 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. The majority of the time in these cases, the chemicals are the primary ingredient of the product and not the herbal ones. So if a shampoo is giving 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 just see the label. Therefore when you see a product claiming as a herbal, organic, or natural brand, that product needs to be having 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 are able to survive in this brutal commercial market because of the quality, and purity of our products and also the honesty which 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 product 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 present in many organic stores in tier 1 and tier 2 cities. We are also available online on Mitti Se website, Amazon, Nykaa, etc.
In addition, we have started manufacturing for other brands that have similar values, and we are also exporting some of our products.
Our growth is slow, but we are profit making entity for the last 6 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 mostly women. Even during the covid times, we were able to sustain and were committed to our staff.
At some point, we do need funds but don’t want to compromise on our values.
What are your Future Plans?
Currently, we are focused on personal care and home care product categories. There are many products that need 100 percent natural alternatives. I and my R&D team are constantly working to create sustainable and eco-friendly products. It is a tough job to compete with products that are made with strong chemicals, 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 that means from the soil). In simple words, Mitti Se means, from the Earth and for the Earth.
All our products are plant-based and hence after use, it goes back into the soil without damaging the ecosystem.
Your personal connection with Nature?
I am very passionate about nature. I have a medicinal garden in Lucknow, where you can find plants for any of 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 I along with my family go to the outskirts of the city to spend time in the rural settings to feel and absorb nature.
You can watch the entire conversation on our YouTube Channel