Mumbai-based mother-daughter duo Sumi and Ankita Thadani could never imagine their life without aromatherapy. 

In 1996, Sumi started a salon in Mumbai. But when most customers fussed over various skin and hair problems, Sumi turned to her faith in ancient Ayurveda and began offering aromatherapy products for skin and hair care by the brand name 24 Carat Remedies.

“I had studied about aromatherapy in the UK but there was little faith or awareness around it in 90s India. It changed once people started using products and were soon purchasing for their friends and family members abroad,” Sumi tells HerStory, adding that the market and consumer awareness have changed in the past 25 years.

However, aromatherapy has been a constant in Ankita’s life as she grew up helping her mother package the products, understanding the various benefits of aromatherapy, and using them to soothe her pimples as a teenager. 

An architect by profession, Ankita decided to join her mother’s endeavour in June 2020 and the business was rebranded as Secret Alchemist.

Tapping India’s booming D2C market

So how does one sell a product whose essence is steeped in the centuries-old teaching of the Vedas? Ankita felt a rebranding would be apt to onboard new customer bases and enter online marketplaces as well. 

She notes that when her mother started, Sumi solely focused on product quality and not much thought was given to branding and packaging. However, Ankita felt ramping up the latter could do wonders in India’s booming D2C market.

After raising pre-seed funding of Rs 50 lakh from friends and family, the duo focused on rebranding in February 2021.

“Alchemists are people who create concoctions to prolong your health and that’s why the name aligned with our brand mission and identity. I wanted to give a whole apothecary feel to the brand to help us enter the luxury segment,” Ankita explains. 

Priced under Rs 1,799, Secret Alchemist has about 16 SKUs, including products like acne scar and skin pigmentations gels, anxiety reliever, sleep-inducing oil, premenstrual reliever, and joint pain oil, which are available on platforms like Cred, Le Mil India, and Sublime Life, in addition to its own website.

It is also sold through retail stores in New York City. It hopes to launch soon on marketplaces like Amazon, Pharmeasy, and Nykaa.

Products by Secret Alchemist

Challenges and the way forward

Ankita says the days of essential oils being used only in spas are gone. The fact that millennials are becoming more conscious of their health and wellbeing poses a huge market opportunity to brands like Secret Alchemist. She adds that India’s millennial population is spending an average of Rs 4,000 per month on wellness and the momentum for aromatherapy has “only increased over the years”.

However, educating potential customers on the idea and science behind aromatherapy and the fact that Secret Alchemist is not a beauty brand but a holistic wellness brand continues to be a challenge. 

“Navigating the online market after decades of playing in the retail sector, customer acquisition, and creating a niche in the wellness sector are some other hurdles,” she adds.

While there are other aromatherapy brands in India, Ankita believes their focus on clinical aromatherapy that goes beyond hair and skincare sets them apart from its competitors. 

Amidst the pandemic, the brand claims to help people deal with emerging lifestyle issues like anxiety and insomnia. This also led to 3X sales growth in the past eight months. More than half the customers are returning to purchase more.

The global essential oils market demand was estimated at 247.08 kilotonnes in 2020 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.5 percent from 2020 to 2027, according to market research and consulting company Grand View Research. 

Secret Alchemist aims to enter this global market space, and grow by making products more accessible and tying up with the right marketplaces. 

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Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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