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The 20-something co-founder of Ilana Organics, Nikita Deshpande, is blending urban living with sustainability in skincare. Deshpande began the brand as a college project in an attempt to inspire an organic switch in one’s beauty routine, and officially launched the brand in 2018. Quickly gaining popularity and scaling it up, the homegrown business took an initial hit when the lockdown started. Nonetheless, the skincare brand has managed to stay afloat in trying times. We caught up with Deshpande to get her tips on managing a business.

Nikita Deshpande
Nikita Deshpande

How did you set up Ilana Organics?

Ilana began on a mission to be the skincare I had truly wanted but either couldn’t find or couldn’t afford–transparent, healthy, safe, effective, gentle on the planet, ethical, organic… the list was endless. Three years ago, when Ilana was just a wild idea/thought, I was in college and had just completed a course about developing a sustainability mindset. One of our assignments had involved reading the ingredient labels on products of our choice and researching them till we could say with certainty what all of the products in the bottle were.

Since I chose skincare, it was a real eye opener for me. A scary assortment of complex chemical names made me question everything I was using. It was around then that I began to have sleepless nights/dreaming about a skincare brand that was truly transparent and conscious about their ingredient list.

How did you finance your idea and how soon did you scale up?

My father being a businessman understood my goals and supported my passion. He provided the seed money as a loan to set the ball rolling for the business. We did some initial research and within six months of understanding how the market is responding to our products, we were able to scale operations. The response to the products was positive and genuine.

ilana organics

Did you redefine your strategy in the course of these three years?

Initially, we didn’t give a lot of importance to branding and brand positioning — our sole focus was on producing quality products. Three months in, we realised that we need to maintain a balance of both branding and product. This is when we reallocated our budgets and started spending on brand positioning and strategy.

Did the initial pandemic restrictions affect your fixed costs?

Luckily, skincare being one of the essentials, we weren’t that affected by the pandemic and were able to sustain our staff. We have a team of seven people, excluding our associations with the manufacturer. In terms of other fixed costs, we were blessed with an office space that belonged to my father, and hence some of the costs were managed. However, for a few months, our revenues didn’t see much of a growth; there wasn’t a dip either. The revenues were consistent, which is quite the definition of sustainability. It took us a few weeks to get back on track and start scaling up again.

Ilana Organics

Has there been an upside to the pandemic?

During the initial stages of the lockdown as operations were shut, there was not much traction but as soon as the unlock began in May, we could see the sales picking up and we actually recovered our lost time and revenue. The upside in terms of revenue for a Ilana and of course the other e-commerce brands is that business didn’t stop and delivery businesses picked up, which is our model too.

What is your advice to homegrown businesses when starting out?

Always concentrate first and foremost on the product — a great product will take the brand all the way, while just focusing on the brand instead of the product has limited scope. Also, your persistence and the ability to absorb risks in the initial stages will boost your confidence going ahead, to make bigger, more significant decisions.

All images: Ilana Organics

Anam Naqvi

Anam is an astute writer who aims to demystify personal finance and wealth management for the common man. She has written on geopolitics, economics and politics for the Economist Intelligence Unit before moving to personal finance content strategy. Her penchant for storytelling and conversation has resulted in a podcast about human stories called “Sapien Story”.