As we approach the important celebration of India at 75, the future of the country is a subject uppermost in many people’s minds. If we are to attain our cherished dream of being counted in the topmost superpowers of the world, we must rely on enterprising young minds to steer the country in this journey. One such impressive young person is Divya Arora, who kickstarted her entrepreneurial journey by launching KIKGERM, a sustainable laundry detergent made in India. She joins Sunday Guardian for a candid chat about her entrepreneurial journey, her vision and where she is headed from here. Excerpts from an edited interview:
Q. How did you arrive at this unusual career choice?
A. I pursued an MA in Innovation Management from Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts in London, after which I embarked on a career in design thinking and trend analysis with a leading global publication, headquartered in Milan. This work experience coupled with my aptitude for being creative spurred me on to pursue what might seem an unconventional profession. I founded KIKGERM towards the end of 2020 with an aim to create a superior laundry experience for the Indian consumer, which would be at par with global standards.
Very few people know this, but I am obsessed with clean laundry. While studying in London, I started doing my own laundry and experimenting with various options available in the market. Some made my clothes softer than the others, some were better smelling than the others, some took the stains out better, but there was never a product that gave me everything I needed. When I moved back to India, I struggled even more. My high-street clothes wouldn’t even last 5-7 washes and would lose colour, fit etc.
During my international travels, I used to return with packs of laundry detergent. And that’s when I decided, if I am not happy with the quality of laundry products in India, why not make my own? Especially one that gives me all the things I need – soft and long lasting clothes, protection from harmful germs that we are exposed to, tough stain removal, colour protection, benefits of natural essential oils and a fabulous fragrance that leaves my clothes smelling fresh all day long.
I’m proud to say that in this short period of time, we have grown tremendously and are now available pan-India in Reliance Fresh Signature, Spencer’s Retail and MORE Retail outlets in Kolkata, Lucknow, Haridwar, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Pune, Ahmedabad, Kochi, Punjab and Jamshedpur, and in Delhi-NCR in Krishna 37 Super Marche, Le Marche, Needs, Modern Bazaar, MORE Retail, etc. Our products can also be bought on our website and on e-commerce platforms like Amazon and Flipkart.
Q. What does KIKGERM stand for as a brand? What was your vision for it?
A. We stand for the ideal of ‘Clean Living, Clean Laundry.’ As I was personally obsessed with having fresh, clean and hygienic laundry at home, I made this brand. I also wanted to have a product that promised to keep kids, family and the environment safe. Combining nature with science, our team at KIKGERM makes non-toxic products.
Q. Please tell us about your baby specific line of products? Why did you feel the need to enter this domain?
A. We will soon be launching our range of Liquid Detergents, including baby specific laundry products. Since our inception, all the products have been designed with kids in mind. We were particularly concerned about their sensitivity towards various ingredients. We also wanted to provide a safe cleaning solution for babies, for which the formulations are carefully designed with plant-based ingredients and safe anti-bacterial ingredients to remove harmful germs. Production of this new range has begun and will be hitting the market by end of quarter two of this financial year.
Q. Your brand prides itself on being sustainable. How important is this to you?
A. Sustainability has been a key focus of my brand from the beginning. We wanted to ensure that the ingredients used in our products are not harmful for our users or the environment. KIKGERM was created to provide an alternative to harmful cleaning practices, to protect the environment, and to provide protection from harmful germs that cross our path every day.
Q. What have been the biggest challenges you have faced in setting this business up so far? How have you overcome them?
A. One of the biggest challenges for us, was to create a safe and effective formulation that did not pinch a hole in our customers’ pocket. It took months of hard work and collaboration between our scientists and ingredient sourcing teams to design the perfect product.
We wanted to break the notion that sustainable products have to come at a high cost. For us ‘clean’ does not have to equal ‘expensive’. We believe that everyone should have equal access to sustainable products in order to make the habit of sustainability a regular buying practice.
Q. What has been your biggest reward so far?
A. Our biggest reward is the approval and trust of our customers. When we see repeat customers return to stores and ask for KIKGERM, even though huge multinational brands sit on the same shelf, it lets us know that we are doing something right. It strengthens our belief that people have always wanted to opt for safer cleaning practices, but someone just needed to make it affordable for them.
We are going through an exciting period and witnessing healthy growth of the brand and the company. We achieved 2x revenue within the first month of the financial year of 2022-23, in comparison to our revenue of year-end 2021-22. We are hoping to grow 3x by year-end.
In this regard, I would like to share a few customer reviews. Gayatri Virmani says, “The product does not make my clothes lifeless unlike other detergents which can be harsh on the clothes. The fragrance is very gentle and calming. The best part is that the product is not tested on animals, which is personally a bonus for me as an animal lover.” Tanya Baweja says, “Not only do my clothes smell divine, but they also look and feel heavenly. I can’t believe we have not had this in our lives till now!”
Q. What product would you like to include in your range that isn’t already there?
A. Currently we are focussed on the premium segment, catering to the Matic Range (washing machine) range of laundry detergents. As India is a market driven by bucket wash users, we will soon be coming out with a range of sustainable products more suited to this purpose as well, with the hope to reach a much large consumer base in India.
Noor Anand Chawla pens lifestyle articles for various publications and her blog www.nooranandchawla.com.