After studying law in London on a Chevening Scholarship, a Kashmiri girl teaches law and has successfully launched a start-up to produce and market authentic organic personal care products, reports Mir Suneem
Two years ago when Malika returned from London with a law master’s degree in hand, she didn’t have the slightest idea that she was soon going to be an entrepreneur.
Malika Ghalib Shah, 29, eventually founded Kashmir’s indigenous organic skin and hair care brand Masha. She claims to have revived traditional Kashmiri heirloom recipes and remedies to formulate organic and chemical-free hair and skincare products. This has been her routine for years to pick ingredients from her kitchen and prepare mixtures for her own use. In the second stage, she began making these pastes for her family and friends.
The Social Media
Malika said she never really planned on commercialising her passion for making these products until one day she posted some handmade skincare products on her Facebook page and orders started flowing in.
“It was overwhelming to see people actually interested and ready to buy products handmade by me,” Malika said. “It gave me the confidence to start my own range of skincare.”
By the end of 2019, Malika officially started an Instagram page with the username Masha_by_Malika to project her products online and attract customers.
Soon, she started getting orders from across India and currently enjoys a follower base of more than three thousand people, most of her regular customers.
Malika started off with only a few basic tried-and-tested recipes, mainly hair oils, skin creams and various face masks but gradually widened her range to add more products. She said she personally never relied on chemical-based treatments for her skin and when the order flow of her products increased, she realized that other people want to avoid such harm too and shift to organic. “It inspired me to work harder and provide more products in various categories to my customers,” Malika said.
Off late, the consumer base for organic products in wellness and personal care has been gradually increasing. She was aware of the paradigm shift in the market and changes in consumer preferences. This helped her grab the opportunity when it came knocking at her door.
A Bright Teacher
Living in Srinagar’s posh Rajbagh locality, Malika has been a gold-medallist at the University of Kashmir University, where she graduated in law. Then, she received an HT Parekh Scholarship that funded her yearlong Young India fellowship programme at Ashoka University, Haryana.
Later, Malika got an opportunity to fly abroad to continue her further studies in law. She was awarded the Chevening Scholarship, which is offered by the UK government, fully funded by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and partners. Malika chose University College London (UCL) in the UK to pursue LLM in Human Rights.
Malika is currently working as an Assistant Professor in the Law Department at the OP Jindal Global University and manages her start-up in her spare time.
At times, people who got a whiff about Malika teaching and making skin care products ridiculed her. They would tell her she was sailing in two boats at the same time.
“On many occasions, I felt that people demeaned this activity and thought lowly of it. They would even question my decision. It was absurd,” feels Malika.
However, Malika persisted with the constant support and encouragement of her parents. Her father is a government officer as her mother runs a school.
“They have always backed all my decisions and I am grateful to them,” asserted Malika. Being well-qualified in the field of law and having a sound and secure career, Malika understands it was natural for people to call her out but she didn’t let that get to her head.
Malika set off the journey at a small scale, financing the whole thing out of her own pocket. “My parents offered financial assistance but I was unsure how well it was going to do,” she said remembering those days when she finally decided she must avail the opportunity. “I wanted to bear all the cost and consequences myself.”
Almost 20 months later, the business is running well and sustaining on its own. Off late, with more demand and a requirement for more production, it has been able to generate employment too. However, what has impacted her initiative is something she has no control over – the uncertainty in Kashmir and frequent internet outages.
“I was not oblivious to the situation in Kashmir and knew that it wasn’t going to be a smooth ride but my goal was to stay consistent and persevere, no matter what and that is what I did,” Malika said.
Among the various challenges that Malika faced in his entrepreneurship one was the process of registration. She complains of vague and unclear instructions provided by the government when it comes to registering a business. “It is a really tedious and hectic process, especially for women,” she complained.
For Malika, Masha emerged out of sheer passion and dedication but what motivated her to keep on was the kind of support and feedback she collected from her family, friends and mostly, her customers.
“When customers gave positive feedback and purchased a product, again and again, it truly motivated me to work harder. It is a pleasure that can’t be expressed in words,” believes Malika.
Currently, major personal care brands harp on using pure Kashmiri ingredients in some of their products. However, the legitimacy of their claims has always been doubtful. Malika did not want to miss that perception she had collected over the years.
Malika said she is very particular in choosing and sourcing all the ingredients used in her products. These have to be pure and directly sourced from the growers and not the middlemen. This helps her retain her product quality and the satisfied clientele.
Kashmir is rich in special crops, which are qualitatively superior to the varieties grown elsewhere. This is as true with Saffron and it is with Lavender. “We use such miraculous and exotic ingredients and herbs (most of which are hard to get elsewhere) in our products to make them more effective,” Malika claimed. “In case, some ingredients required in our recipe are not cultivated in Kashmir, we make sure to import them from places that are best known for them. To name a few, we get wood pressed coconut oil from Kerala and olive oil from Uri.”
Right now, she is working on two things – retaining the class and quality of her products and adding to the basket new products to feed her loyal clientele. Masha has effectively increased its range and now sells a variety of beauty and personal care items including different types of hair oils, face soaps, lip balms, lip scrubs, body oils, body lotion, pain relief oils, face soaps, face packs, facemasks, face oils, serums, hair serums, hair masks and shampoo bars.
“Each Masha product is tested and tried to check its effectiveness before putting it on sale,” assures Malika.
To improve the quality and efficacy of her products and try out some new and advanced preparations, Malika has hired a person who holds a master’s degree in medicinal plants.
“Earlier, I was only aware of heirloom recipes that were passed to me over generations but to back that up scientifically and look into the minute details of the craft to formulate the products in a better way, I needed an expert,” Malika said.
A Student Again
Interestingly, Malika is pursuing a diploma course in Ayurvedic cosmetology from Kerala to gain more know-how on the subject. Previously, she has done some short courses too.
She has employed several women belonging to the marginalized section of society. “All the Masha products primarily use Kashmiri ingredients and involve local people in the process, from the production of raw materials to manufacturing and the delivery,” she insisted. “All the steps involved in the production are manually carried out without the use of chemicals or preservatives.”
Most Masha products are either oil-based or powder-based with a shelf life of around two years. In aqua-based products, however, they use food-grade preservatives.
Interestingly, Malika is using an entire floor of her Rajbagh house with the help of a few other women to manufacture, pack and label the products manually in small batches to reach the demand. “It is a very cumbersome process and quite time-consuming but overall I enjoy the whole process,” she said. She is planning to shift her setup and production permanently to a workshop, which she has hired in Natipora. She thinks she may also have to look beyond Instagram to market her product range. She has already started working with Jhelum Cart, a local e-commerce website to sell her products.
“Considering the fact that my products are not available on any physical retail store, it was important for me to have at least an authentic online presence,” explains Malika. “At Jhelum cart, every seller has a personal dashboard and it is easy to check orders, manage delivery and sales and keep a record.”
Currently, Masha client base ranges from men to women of different age groups across India as far as Andaman and Nicobar islands. She also gets orders from outside India but at the moment, she does not ship internationally.