Meet The Producer:
Our new blog series where we talk to our clients about their business
This time, we catch up with Gouri Kubair of Holy Lama Naturals, who we’ve worked with for a number of years at Pocket Creatives, delivering product photography and cocktail recipe videos.
Who are you and what do you do?
Holy Lama Naturals is a family business based in Kerala, India, which manufactures a range of natural, highly concentrated liquid extracts called Spice Drops for cooking, and an ethical Ayurvedic bodycare range.
Spice Drops are perfect for bringing any food and drink to life instantly with just a couple of drops. You can use them in baking, cocktail making, cooking – allowing endless creativity in the kitchen so we like to think we are bringing excitement, flavour and even a bit of magic to home cooking.
Our natural body range is vegan, hand-made and based on Ayurvedic principles. The base for all the products is virgin coconut oil while a combination of unique essential oils gives the range wonderfully long-lasting and diverse aromas bringing balance to body, soul and mind.
My name is Gouri Kubair and I am the granddaughter of the founder of the business and head up the UK and European arm of the business.
Why did you set up your business?
The Holy Lama Naturals story began in the 1940s and spans three generations of my family.
In 1938, Mr. D V Deo (my grandfather) migrated from near Goa to Kerala, South India, to become a pioneer in the essential oils industry. He was the first person to cultivate vetivert (a tall grass) on a commercial basis to extract the oils and from here came the beginnings of the family business based on the use of essential oils.
My father, Vijay (D.V. Deo’s youngest son) had a fascination with the world of essential oils and perfumery from a young age and his interest won him a place on a government-backed project helping locals to cultivate and extract lemongrass oil. In the 1980s he lived in Bhutan on the southern slopes of the eastern Himalayas for eight years and during that time made a 12-day walking pilgrimage to Aja Ney, (the holy place of Lama Guru Padmasambhava). There, the presiding Lama presented him with a ‘Thangkha of Lama Guru’ which symbolises good luck in life – and it is this which inspired the Holy Lama Naturals brand name.
With hard work and some luck, the business went from strength to strength sustained by the ethical ethos of its founder. Thus, when more help was needed to make the product, Vijaya, my mother set up the manufacturing unit as a Government-recognized women’s enterprise, supporting and empowering marginalized women in the local community. Many of the women would otherwise be rejected by society but they have found self-respect and self-worth by working for Holy Lama and are incredibly loyal to the business.
Nearly 80 years since my grandfather began to extract oils, the business remains a family affair. I, Gouri head up the Holy Lama Naturals business in the UK and Europe while my sister, Vaishali manages the customer service and administration of the factory. With our parent’s continued support, we are both determined to ensure that Holy Lama Naturals maintains the principles on which the business was built by our father and grandfather and continue to produce our ethical, natural and sustainable products.
There’s always a funny story or moment of terror in your first 12 months. Tell me about yours!
We had to completely change our product formula for Spice Drops within 6 months of launch and 2 months before we were to launch on Ocado all because an ingredient that was approved in India wasn’t approved in the EU. The panic was crippling!
I look back now and realise that it was actually no big deal but my blood still runs cold when I think of it!
What do you do differently or better than anyone else?
We are a genuinely ethical brand.
Our business is run on the 10 principles of fair trade. We are responsible employers; equal pay is ensured, irrespective of gender and annual wage increases are always made in line with inflation so wages are assured, no matter how low the market falls. We are also responsible partners; our business is run on a no-credit principle so that all the farmers and raw material suppliers are paid immediately and with fair prices.
Our factory in India is a government recognised women’s enterprise with over 80% of our workforce being female, mainly from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our flexible working policy means these women are able to work and look after their families in an otherwise male-oriented society that would traditionally reject them. We are proud to make a genuinely positive difference in these women’s lives.
Holy Lama Naturals is also a member of the British Association for Fair Trade Shops and Suppliers (BAFTS).
Our sustainable business model is founded on long term relationships with local farmers, which means we have trusted sources of raw herbs and spices available close to where we extract the essential oils and make the products. We also recycle and use by-products resulting in an impressively low level of waste.
How important is the quality of your photography and video?
In both the food and beauty sectors, how the product looks is everything. The Spice Drops need to look appetising as an ingredient while the body care range needs to say ‘luxury’. Good photography and video is essential in achieving this.
What’s the best advice you would give someone else starting a business in your space?
Speak to loads of entrepreneurs who have run businesses, both profitable and those who have tried and decided to walk away. The latter will probably have more valuable advice to share. And always invest in good branding & photography – of course!