Bored with their corporate jobs, siblings Sharmila Anne Ramani and Sharmini Joy Ramani quit and took a leap of faith into the business world. Last year, they founded Potions, to sell homemade beauty and skincare products based on traditional Ayurvedic recipes.
Sharmila was a lawyer while her younger sister was an executive in the advertising industry.
“We worked long unfulfilling hours in the corporate field. We wanted to run a business we are passionate about and build our own dreams while helping people with their problems,” says Sharmila, 37.
Like the Ramani sisters, more Malaysian women are taking the bold step of building businesses inspired by their convictions and passions.
Some run their business on a part-time basis.
But many others have taken the plunge, resigning from stable corporate jobs to pursue their start-up dreams.
With social media opening up the space to spread the word about their products and connect with customers, starting a business is easier for many budding entrepreneurs these days. Posting their products on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram requires much less capital than investing in a retail outlet.
Potions’ products are sold on shop-potions.com, Instagram and Facebook. Recently, the Ramani sisters’ brand was picked up by mySMINK, a local website carrying over 40 homegrown beauty and skincare labels.
“While our dream is to some day open our brick and mortar store, we are currently reaching our customers through our online channels, Facebook and Instagram. This way our customers are able to research the product first, read reviews and speak to us on the various platforms before making an informed decision,” explains Sharmini, 34.
Their products are based on traditional Ayurvedic recipes passed down the generations, some dating back to their great-grandparents’ time. Items include body scrubs, hair oil, facial scrub, shampoo and body oils.
“We grew up in Port Dickson and our huge garden was filled with herbs and plants known for their medicinal properties. My parents would make hair oil with coconut oil and hibiscus, from scratch. My mother would prepare facial wash too, using lentils, fenugreek and neem. It was a family affair,” says Sharmini.
So making their own beauty and skincare products came naturally to the sisters, and they learnt the family’s Ayurvedic recipes from helping their parents.
They also used to give their friends their homemade potions and lotions as Christmas gifts. The feedback was positive, which encouraged them to venture into the bath and beauty business on a full time basis, with an initial capital of RM10,000.
They have come a long way from their childhood days of playfully mixing their own concoctions, and pretending to be magicians.
“As children, we enjoyed making potions derived from plants and herbs from our garden. We were big fans of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series of books. We envisioned ourselves as witches, just like the character Hermione Granger. That’s the story behind our brand name,” explains Sharmini. These memories still bring a smile as she recounts them.
Potions’ concoctions, brews and infusions take place at Sharmila’s spacious kitchen, which has been transformed into their beauty workshop.
Essential oils, dry ingredients and beautifully packaged products are neatly stacked up on wooden shelves. Pipettes, mixing bowls, measuring jars and digital weighing scales – the must haves for any skincare and beauty artisan – are displayed on the granite island table.
Due to our humid climate, the air-conditioning runs 24/7 to ensure their products stay fresh.
“We underwent a series of tests to obtain the perfect consistency. Many batches went to waste and we tweaked our products based on feedback from family members,” explains Sharmini, adding products are only made on-demand to maintain freshness.
To further understand the science behind making fragrance oils and scented bath salts, the duo turned to books and the Internet.
“We read books by renowned scholars on Ayurveda beauty practices and learnt about chemical compounds and the make up of various oils, butters, plants and herbs. Our customers’ wants and needs have further inspired us to extend our range of products,” says Sharmila, who signed up for a few soap-making courses to further enhance her knowledge of bath and beauty products.
To ensure the quality of their products, the sisters meticulously made their own essential ingredients. They make their coconut oil from scratch, as well as oil infusions and orange peels.
The processes are tedious and time-consuming, but the girls would rather keep making their products the way they had been taught.
They refrain from using petrochemicals, sulphates, parabens, artificial colouring, fragrances, mineral oils and preservatives.
“It takes about two hours to prepare four litres of coconut oil. It’s a tiring task, having to stand over the stove to stir the oil.
“Every fortnight, we drive back to Port Dickson to pick up essential herbs and spices from trusted local farmers. This way, we know the source of our raw ingredients and are assured of its quality,” says Sharmila, who purchases essential oils as well as dried flowers and herbs from various suppliers around the world.
Business has been brisk, especially for facial scrubs, hair oil and lotion bars, made from raw cocoa butter, beeswax and coconut oil.
These days, the sisters are busier than ever, preparing therapeutic mixes for their growing clientèle. They work seven days a week, between eight and 14 hours a day, depending on the demand for their products.
“While the business can be taxing and tiring, we enjoy running our own business. Our brand celebrates women by inspiring women to be confident and embrace diversity. Sharmini and I do squabble over our business strategies but we always make up. We took a risk and so far, we’re enjoying our journey.”
For women wanting to pursue a business, Sharmila advises, “Be focused and determined. Despite the hurdles, never give up. Your passion will lead you a long way.”