The Art of Making Soaps Brightens the Life of Women in Madhya Pradesh



Before the industrial revolution, there were times when people were completely dependent on natural products—everything from food to personal hygiene products and even cosmetics. But along with the industrial revolution and the subsequent technology boom, people’s mindsets also started to change. They started to use the products manufactured by the chemical industries composed of 100 percent chemical reagents, accounting to faster results. But side effects came pretty quickly in the form of major skin diseases, eventually realizing the effects of chemical products. But it was too late, as the whole global population was hooked to these products, despite their harmful effects. But the tables are turning, and traditional, organic products are making a strong comeback, evolving soap industry is a case in point. People have again started using handmade or natural soaps, skincare, and hygiene products. This, in turn, has opened a broad doorway to micro-business opportunities. 

Lalitha, a middle-aged woman from a lower-middle-class family in the outskirts of Madhya Pradesh, manufactures soaps using natural ingredients and has created a small-scale business out of it to the tune of her whole family depending on it. She makes soap in her home and sells them in her neighboring villages. According to her, her customers are really happy that they get to use homemade products. She also says that it was indeed extremely difficult in the initial stages, as she had to give information about her products to the people and convince them to buy. At first, people were not that impressed with her products. Having started her business with a low budget, Lalitha has encouraged many women in her locality to start home-based businesses. 

Here are some methods and guidelines to start the handmade soap business:

Marketing & Branding

It takes a lot of effort to break the ground. Since micro-businesses, especially home-based businesses (HBB), don't get to have launching events, friends and family often come to help. Giving them a few products to use for free could go a long way. If they like the products, they would probably do word-of-mouth marketing for you.

If you start any business, branding is very important to grow in the market. Similar principles apply to the soap business as well. Cambridge dictionary defines branding as giving a company a particular design or symbol to advertise its products and services. Branding not only makes a memorable impression on customers but also makes the customers know what to expect as well as why to continue using the product. It increases the business value. 

Pricing the Soap Products

The soap makers should price their products in such a way that they should be available at affordable prices. Price-sensitive people will only value the product if the price is according to their budget. 

The government has also initiated some policies and schemes for women in Madhya Pradesh. Let's look into how the government schemes help village women grow economically through the handmade soap business

How is the Handmade Soap Business Transforming the Woman's Life of Madhya Pradesh?

Implemented by the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, the Ajeevika mission focuses on promoting self-employment and the organization of the rural poor. One of the mission's main goals lies in helping rural women empower themselves by acquiring skills and transforming their village and lives through making soap. The trigger for this mission happened when one of the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) officers visited Jawar. The officer was looking for women who were coherent to organize other women in the village into groups and met Vasuda Barkhane and found potential in her. From there, the Shivshankar Livelihood and Self-Help Group (SHG)—a small group of women, was formed to organize women from lower and lower-middle-income families and train them through microfinancing facilities for suitable livelihoods. Working under the mission, women banded together and used several schemes to improve their lot. 

How the National Rural Livelihoods Mission Upskilled the Women

Barkhane, who belongs to a lower-income home, has become the chairman of the missions. Like other women in the village, she was also a homemaker who belonged to a joint family. When she joined the Shivshankar SHG, she initially sold manure from the dung of cattle and goats her family herded for a living. Once initiated into soap-making, she entered a new phase of her life. 

Other women from the village also got inspired by Barkhane and joined the mission to improve themselves and support their families. Neha Sen is one among them. She belongs to a typical Jawar traditional family, and she was a homemaker too, and the work in the home was not letting her step out of the home. All she could manage was to take up some tailoring jobs to supplement her family income. After joining SHG, new doors of opportunities opened up for her. It took only three to four hours for her to make the soaps, and her family did not object to her using her newly acquired skills to add to their income.

Ramabhai Keshav is one among them and makes soaps. She is also from a backward family. She lost her husband, Keshav, and was compelled to resort to manual labor to make ends meet. But after joining SHG and started making the soaps, she was able to buy a washing machine on a Rs 20,000 loan. 

Women Supporting their Family

After starting a handmade soap business, the women from the village started to support and manage the finance of the family. They are able to give quality education to their children. Similarly, when the women embarked on soap-making, they needed a regular supply of goat milk. This meant a regular market for its sellers. Families like those of Barkhane got the benefits.