Mrs. Vijayaben Deo
CEO, Holy Lama Naturals Products.
1) Can you tell us a little about yourself and what inspired you to create your company?
Our story begins in the 1940s lead by the pioneer in essential oils industry and spans 3 generations of the family. The Holy Lama Naturals story begins in 1938 when Mr. D V Deo migrated from near Goa to Kerala, in the South of India, to set up agriculture in essential oils. He was the first person in India, to start vetivert cultivation on a commercial basis. Thus becoming the pioneer in the essential oils industry in India. The business then expanded into other essential oils and spice concentrate extraction.
His youngest son Vijay Deo, was fascinated by the world of essential oils and perfumery. He became involved in the family business at a very young age. His fascination for essential oils took him to Bhutan on a government backed project to help the locals there cultivate and extract lemon grass oil. He lived in the Himalayas for 8 years through the 1980s. In Bhutan he made a 12 day walking pilgrimage to Aja Ney, the holy place of Lama Guru Padmasambhava. The presiding Lama presented him with a “Thangkha of Lama Guru” for good luck in life. This became the inspiration for the brand name “Holy Lama Naturals”.
Vijaya Deo, wife of Vijay is a home maker and a wonderful cook and always been a strong supporter of the family business, living in Bhutan herself for a number of years along side her husband. Vijaya had always had a great nose for perfumery and blending creams and spice extracts came naturally to her. Vijaya led the Holy Lama Naturals venture and the manufacturing unit was set up as a Government recognised women’s enterprise, which supported and empowered the marginalised women in the local community, in Kerala. Vijaya is in charge of new product development and perfecting the formulae for the entire product range. She is also the go-to person for the women in the factory, when they are faced with any difficult situation be in at work or in their personal life.
Gouri Kubair, their older daughter, has picked up the baton to champion the ethos of Holy Lama Naturals in Europe. Gouri trained as a Chartered accountant in India & UK and worked as an auditor for more than a decade. She left Deloitte in 2013, to further the ethical business and bring the natural skincare range and “Spice Drops®” to the European market.
Vaishali Deo, their younger daughter, has a master’s degree in business administration, has also joined the Holy Lama team. Her strengths include maintaining a strong control over the administration of the business and customer service.
2) What is your brands philosophy? What sets you apart from other products?
At Holy Lama Naturals® we follow the principles of fair trade and sustainable production.
Holy Lama Naturals® is a Kerala government recognised women’s enterprise, where >80% of the workers in the factory are women. Most women are from disadvantaged backgrounds i.e. widowed, deserted by partner’s and so on. In a traditionally male dominated society, employment in the factory gives the workers the much needed self-confidence and independence. Holy Lama Naturals acts as a family to these women. Women of all ages, castes and religions are welcome here. Holy Lama Naturals is guided by the concept of Kudumbashree – “The enhancement of a less privileged family by empowering the women.”
Our factory is semi-automated which means that many of our products are almost fully handmade! A lot of care, attention and love goes into the making and packing each product. So even if the outer packaging may not look precise and clinical, what’s inside each bottle or jar is certainly amazing!
Holy Lama Naturals has seen sustainable growth purely based on word of mouth, supported by the local suppliers and the community.
The raw materials used in manufacturing the products are mainly sourced from local farmers in Kerala and rest of India. We have over 7 decades of strong established relationships with the farmers. The business runs on a no-credit principle, which means that all farmers and raw material suppliers are paid immediately. The factory pays fair wages to staff and fair prices to the farmers. In such developing communities, there is sometimes an inequality in wages for men and women; but Holy Lama Naturals, also being a women-centric enterprise, ensures equal pay for men and women. The wages are, in fact, better than the surrounding factories and other workers are always keen to find employment here. Workers get annual wage increases in line with inflation, so wages are assured, no matter how low the market falls.
3) What has been the most rewarding and challenging thing about starting?
Vijay always wanted to create a range of products that were pure, natural, ethical and sustainable. In 2000, having gained 40 years of experience in the essential oils industry, he realised his dream by creating a range of natural body care products. He also expanded the already existing range of Spice extracts called ‘Masala Drops’ in India. With a network of suppliers providing only the finest quality natural ingredients, it was not difficult to envision high quality product ranges.
4) Do you have any advice to offer consumers just starting to transition to natural products?
All over the world the people are looking for Natural product to avoid the bad and harmful effect of syntactic products. More over there is awareness in the new generation to be eco friendly. All the products manufactured and produced by Holy lama Naturals are pure natural and eco friendly. For example our soaps are made from pure cold pressed coconut oil, which is 100% eco friendly unlike, soap made from Palm oil. The rain forests are cut down and palm trees are planted for commercial purpose. This is totally against eco balance. Coconut is grown naturally all over the costal Kerala. We derive our products without destruction of any trees. The perfume which used in the soaps and our cosmetics are pure natural essential oils and our products are unique
5) GreenRoute is featuring your “Holy Lama Natural” soap - do you have anything you would like to share about this product?
All products are predominantly made using natural ingredients and we avoid using harsh chemicals or synthetics and use sustainable materials for packaging where possible. The factory produces less than 1% wastage in manufacturing and the waste is used as fuel or cattle feed. Thus the carbon footprint is very low!
In recognition of our ethical cause and fair trade principles we have been awarded the membership of British Association for Fair Trade Shops & Suppliers (BAFTS).
We support cruelty-free production and are against animal testing. In recognition of this we have registered our products with the Vegan Society!
Fair trade principles and sustainable manufacturing is the basis on which our company was founded.
As passionate as we are about our products, we are determined that they are not made to the detriment of anyone.