Goa has been seeing a slow shift towards organic and other plant-based products as beauty-conscious people have become increasingly aware of what ingredients go into making a particular product. Science does tell us that the skin is the largest organ of our body and quickly absorbs any substance that we apply to it. Just take a look at the products that you use every day on your skin: moisturizers, soaps, makeup, fragrances, deodorants, and many more. If we actually try to keep our options open, we will realize that nature has all the ingredients needed to keep our bodies happy and healthy. Skincare lovers in India have released that just as it matters what we eat, what we put on our skin is equally important. Hence, there is a huge shift towards organic and vegan products that are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, GMO’s and other chemicals.
This has created a platform for homegrown businesses in Goa who are trying to introduce an exclusive range of organic products to ensure that our skin only absorbs real and natural ingredients that don’t pose any threat. What is really amazing is the product variety available with these homegrown Goan brands thereby giving strong competition to international and other big players in the skincare niche.
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One such brand that is promoting organic skincare products in Goa is ‘The Nature Masons’. The Nature Masons is a queer-owned business and is the brainchild of Jennifer Parras and Mrinalini Deshprabhu who began their journey to produce effective and wholesome skin and hair care products in 2018. It all started with a casual conversation between two friends when Jennifer was looking at options for natural deodorants and her friend Mrinalini just happened to make her own. Both had the interest of starting something of their own and began small by making Christmas hampers for all their friends. This duo tried their hands at lip balms and simple soaps which were well received by the Goan audience. Their interest to bring plant-based products into the market and the underlying desire to start their own business nurtured the growth of ‘The Nature Masons‘.
Jennifer is a certified formulator in organic skincare science and in addition to making and formulating their products (which is her most favorite thing to do!) she is also constantly researching on the latest developments and papers in the skin care line. She’s a one woman machine who also oversees the marketing, customer service and sales as well. Mrinalini on the other hand is solely responsible for developing their line of artisanal soaps. Her keen sense of smell and artistic talents came together while trying to create visually and sensually invigorating soaps. But more than that she oversees the administrative side of the business and ensures any ingredient Jen dreams of is magically acquired.
Skincare is not magic, it will only support you if approached holistically alongside diet and self-care.Jennifer Parras and Mrinalini Deshprabhu
This duo manages everything, right from production, to packaging to even marketing. We had a candid conversation with Jennifer and Mrinalini about their journey with ‘The Nature Masons’ and about creating an inclusive society and work culture for people from the LGBTQ+ community. They are currently really excited about their upcoming facial care line. They say that this facial care line has been a long time coming and are hoping to launch it in the next 6 months. The excerpts of our conversation are below.
What inspired you to start The Nature Masons? Where is it based?
This company began with our belief and realization that business could be a force for good. Being animal lovers and eco-conscious people ourselves, we realized that many of us know nothing about the ingredients in our products. We are unaware of what we choose to put on our bodies every single day, or how these ingredients affect the environment around us, not to mention finding effective, wholesome skin and hair care products that are delivered the sustainable route.
Run us through the various products that your business has to offer.
Our best-selling categories are Hair Care and Body Care. We hope to get as many people to start using shampoo and conditioner bars, as they are more sustainable and last significantly longer than their liquid counterparts. The Body Care section has all our artisanal soaps, body lotion, and our other bestseller, natural deodorants. We also have an Aromatherapy line and a Dental line which we are expanding shortly.
You say that all your products are natural and sustainable. Tell us about how you achieve this.
Our products are all plant-based. Their origin is in Nature. We have some ingredients that are straight-up natural and some that are derived from nature but processed by science. We believe in the power of a good formulation for your skin and hair but we also believe that you need to have a good diet and tons of water with a dash of enough sleep for your body to easily accept and work with your skincare regime.
How do you source ingredients for your products?
Some of our ingredients can be easily sourced in India, and for some of the more specialized ingredients, we have to import them. For each vendor, we have to check their certifications to ensure they are sourcing ethically and are organic. This is quite a lengthy process. Once we have identified a few suppliers for our raw ingredients, we have to test them with our products to ensure we are putting out quality products. For example, many times we will receive oils from certified vendors which do not smell authentic and sometimes will even be the wrong color and consistency. Knowing exactly what your ingredient is supposed to smell or look like is a specialization in itself.
How do you equip yourselves with the skills to make your product range? Did you discover any traditional ingredients that you wish you would have known sooner?
We have both done a few courses on formulation and organic chemistry, but as is true in real life, we learned a lot on the job. A lot of the courses that we signed up for were designed for an environment very different from India. So we had to take their knowledge and apply it within our own Indian context.
As big believers of traditional Indian medicine and remedies, it was exciting for us to learn more about Ayurveda and other traditional herbs and integrate them into our products. The knowledge was not new to us, but the practical applications, we feel, have been underestimated by all of us!
You’ll manage everything, right from production, to packaging to even marketing. How do you manage to make time for this and keep it stress-free?
Whoever has the secret to a stress-free life, would you please share the secret with us? Kidding!
Stress is a part and parcel of doing business. We have a small but hard-working team whom we absolutely love. The secret to any successful business is a happy team and ensuring everyone’s workflow is organized. Also, an office that smells as heavenly as ours does definitely help!
Tell us about your creative process. How often do you come up with new products?
Formulating a new product takes a lot of patience, love and time. For each successful product, there have been numerous failures! Not to mention sourcing the specific ingredient from the right vendor to ensure the absolute perfect quality is achieved. There is one product which has now been in the formulation phase for over a year, and we’re still trying to perfect it. Once all the ingredients are aligned, we send out samples to our test group, and based on the feedback sometimes we have to go back to the drawing board and rework things. It’s time consuming but also one of the most intriguing parts of our job!
How has the response been towards your business over the years?
We believe in organic growth and that is exactly how it has been for us. We have an amazing customer base and because of their support and their belief in our products, we have steadily grown. We’ve grown at an exponential growth, and more so during the pandemic! We’re thankful to all our customers for their continued support.
What has been your proudest moment since starting the business?
We are very proud of how far we’ve come. We can’t pin it down to a moment because our entire journey is quite fulfilling.
A lot of people have shifted to organic beauty and skincare. Why is this important and what would you say to consumers who haven’t yet made the switch?
Organic skin care and beauty has always been around, especially in India where Ayurveda is the norm. In recent years there has been a shift to the consumers being more conscious of what they use on their skin and what they put on their plate. For consumers who are looking to make the switch, the most important thing is to not underestimate the power of natural and organic products. Finding the right and authentic brand might take some time, but once you find it, we promise you will never go back.
How is it like running a queer owned business in Goa?
Like running any other business, it has its ups and downs. It is more difficult running a business as women as often people may not take you very seriously, but that is short-lived once they hear us speak. It’s unfortunate to be questioned by others, but we are confident in our capabilities.
How can people support queer-owned businesses?
This is easy! Buy from them, support them throughout the year and not just during pride month. Spread awareness if you know of any queer businesses. And most of all get educated about queer people. Some queer businesses have started so they can support themselves and some are doing it so they can support others too.
What can people do to make a workplace in our country LGBTQ friendly?
Equal opportunity, equal benefits, no judgment, safe spaces, talks on consent, respecting pronouns, Non-discrimination, and Anti-harassment policies in the workplace, recognition of same-sex partnership and thus extending benefits to partners as well, etc. There are so many small things that can make a big difference. There are many Indian corporations who are paving the way in this regard like Godrej, Mahindra, and Tata’s. Many others are following suit and it’s great to see the change in corporate India. We hope smaller organizations can also adopt such policies.
What are ways you suggest that one can advance LGBTQ equality to show that everyone is human?
Education! We have the world at our fingertips and we have so much to worry about and we choose to pick on individuals that don’t fit into an artificial normal. We don’t think any human being has the right to tell another how to live and who to love if it is between consenting adults. “What will people say?” has ruined more lives than it needs to.
What has been your biggest challenge in being an entrepreneur? How did you overcome it?
Mrinalini already has the experience of being an entrepreneur. She runs a hotel business along with The Nature Masons. Again, the only challenge we have faced is being women. A lot of the time we are not taken seriously, however, this is also changing with the newer generation. With more women and queer folks in the workforce, and the newer generations taking over, there is a shift in the right direction, and we hope that the future generations don’t face the same hurdles as we do
What is the philosophy that you live by?
Work-life balance is of the utmost importance. We reached a point of almost chronic fatigue. We took a step back to calibrate ourselves and to ensure we enjoy and appreciate the smaller things in life. When it comes to skincare, it is important for everyone to understand that skincare is personal. There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to skincare. Everyone’s skin is different and everything good needs to be done at a slow and consistent pace. Skincare is not magic, it will only support you if approached holistically alongside diet and self-care.
What’s that one piece of advice you would give to a budding entrepreneur?
This cannot be said enough times: Do not give up! If you think being an entrepreneur is easy, you’ve made the wrong choice. It requires a lot of determination, self-motivation, discipline, and most of all self-confidence. You will fail many times before you succeed, but the idea is to keep pushing through.
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What are the future plans with ‘The Nature Masons’?
We would like to go international in the near future. But it is important for us that we do it as sustainably as possible. Until we reach that point, we want to ensure that we have all kinds of skin, hair and that our products are suitable for all kinds of people from all walks of life. We are all about inclusivity and that is the future.
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