Speaking Herbs: Paving the way for minimalism over consumerism with clean products
A Delhi based D2C brand, Speaking Herbs sells pure essential oils and Hydrosol. They aim to reintroduce consumers to the goodness of minimalism and natural ingredients.
Anushruti Singh February 14, 2022
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So far, we have been habituated to using lotions and creams full of complex chemicals and induced with artificial scents and aromas. But things are slowly changing in this regard, as bespoke, natural, organic and DIY products have entered our vocabulary.
I’m not sure when the trend of returning to natural ingredients started, but it’s all the rage now. And with that has emerged a whole new segment in the market, that of organic or natural skincare. According to a market research by TechSci Research, it is expected to reach US$ 1,239.04 million in FY2026 at the rate of 14.69 per cent. This figure implies the enormous opportunities and potential for consumerism that India as a market can offer.
Moreover, new age brands are coming out with a range of novel products comprised of ingredients that you might have never heard of. Speaking of which, among the many such emerging brands is the New Delhi based D2C skincare brand, Speaking Herbs, run by Amis Ahmed and Tanaya Sarma. Founded in 2018 with the mantra ‘Clean is the new basic,’ their intent is to declutter skincare products from harmful chemicals and provide clean botanicals to their consumers.
Upon enquiring on the logic behind the brand’s name, Ahmed explains that they chose it because they believe that if they start speaking up for what is right, the world will become a better place. “That’s the basic ethos behind the name. Of course, the idea is the result of our industry experience, the refinement of our failures, and the need of the hour,” he says.
On top of that, they say that you can literally consume their products, i.e., you can actually eat them! Interesting right? This left us quite intrigued, so the next question that we obviously asked them was about whether this was true.
Skincare products that you can eat
“Yes absolutely,” says founder Amis Ahmed, who is also the Chief Visionary of the company. “Me and my family have been regularly consuming and applying our black seed oil and sweet almond oil,” he says.
He says that their philosophy is that if a product isn’t clean enough to consume, then it should not be applied on your body either.
“Look, the idea that an almond oil for hair has to be different from the one used for dietary purposes, is absurd to me. Why can’t companies just make the best pure almond oil and let the people decide on how they wish to use it,” he avers.
“This simple practice, that we all actually used to do 3-4 decades back can solve so many problems. One of them being the reduction in our individual carbon footprint. The fewer products we use, the lesser will be our carbon impact. It is also of course reducing the chemical load that our bodies face due to us using multiple consumer products,” Ahmed elaborates.
Amis warns that most of the products present in the market actually contain over 95 per cent synthetic chemicals. Many of which have been proven to be carcinogenic, endocrine disrupting and the causative agents of several other modern ailments.
That’s kind of horrible to know, but it’s also one of the reasons that led Ahmed along with Tanaya Sarma to make natural personal care products.
Mission chemical apocalypse
“With Speaking Herbs, we are trying to solve one of the biggest challenges faced by modern human civilisation—the chemical apocalypse,” Ahmed declares.
What’s that we ask. Explaining his views, he says that the modernists forgot about natural ingredients because the advent of petrochemicals and synthetic molecules overshadowed them. “The modernists were in awe of the science and ease of creating molecules in the lab at a very cheap price. However, little was known about their impact on the health of individuals and the environment at that time,” he explains.
So, they want to bring back what’s natural and empower people with super effective botanicals. “We want to teach people the know-how of how to utilise them, thereby avoiding the usage of conventional consumer products containing toxic chemicals, which are harmful to our health and are bad for the environment at the same time,” he asserts.
Keeping this in mind, Speaking Herbs is creating products with botanical ingredients that are 100 per cent pure, supremely efficacious and potent, states Ahmed.
“We are raising the bar and constantly pushing ourselves to set up a gold standard for botanical ingredients through bio-molecular and bio-activity based profiling.
Speaking Herbs is the only brand that is enabling people to ‘#BuyLessDoMore’ and ‘#BlendItClean across the beauty, personal care, wellness and home care verticals,” he tells us.
The other reason that inspired this duo to launch Speaking Herbs was their peculiar and shared habit of reading the fine print aka the labels and the list of ingredients on products.
Read the fine print
Their profile says that during their biotech school days, they picked up the habit of keenly observing the measurements that are required for lab experiments. This habit of observing the minutest details has stayed with them till date. After having gone through the minutest details about so many products, they realised that people were being duped into buying so called natural products, when there was nothing natural in them whatsoever.
“Most of us do not read labels, and even if some do, the complex jargon of chemical nomenclature is difficult to grasp. Apart from this, there is no transparency about what and how much of an ingredient actually goes into the product,” says Ahmed.
He recalls reading the label on a well-known almond hair oil bottle. “This almond hair oil label says—Mineral oil 77 per cent, vegetable oil (including almond oil) 21.2 per cent, vitamin E, perfume, TBHQ, CI 47000, 26100,” he says.
If we take a deep dive into the label, the exact percentage of the almond oil is not mentioned anywhere, neither is the amount of vitamin E (which is the synthetic version) or the contents of the perfume. The word perfume seems to be a trade secret which consists of up to 1000 different chemicals, he tells us.
The base (mineral oil) is a petrochemical derivative, whereas TBHQ is tertiary butylhydroquinone and CI 47000 and 26100 are the two cosmetic ingredients (colourants) 1,3-Isobenzofurandione and 1-(4-(Phenylazo)phenylazo)-2-naphthol respectively, says Ahmed as he deciphers the list of ingredients for us.
“There is definitely no transparency, and the label is simply a toxic cocktail of synthetics. That’s why with our #BlenditClean motto, we encourage people to blend their own potions from our collection of pure and unadulterated botanicals, so that they are aware of exactly what it is that they are putting on their bodies,” he comments.
As this market gets bigger, numerous other brands are coming up with natural blends and are offering custom made products. But Ahmed claims that they are different from their competitors due to one reason.
Focus on one ingredient
“We are different from our competitors in terms of our core focus on mono-herbal/botanical ingredients rather than on pre-formulated me-too products. Our commitment to create the gold standard in botanical ingredients through scientific analysis, efficacy studies and zero tolerance to petrochemicals, synthetics and adulteration is what sets us apart from them,” says Ahmed.
According to the founders, the most unique proposition of their brand is that their products contain only a single ingredient. “Our Moringa oil is 100 per cent pure and has zero per cent petrochemicals, just like every other product of ours,” he explains.
That means, no pre-formulated products, no petrochemical junk hiding behind labels, just pure and high performing ingredients extracted from herbs sourced from the bioactive regions across the globe, claims Ahmed.
“The second most unique proposition lies in the botanical ecosystem that we are creating with Speaking Herbs. It will be unparalleled in the world,” he informs us.
So far, Speaking Herbs has been monetising through its own D2C website. Initially they had a few hiccups as well.
Challenges are part of the journey
In the end, it’s the challenges that shape any entrepreneurial journey and it was the same for Ahmed and his partner as well.
“When we started, every day was a challenge, from raising capital to making sales to hiring the best team. The biggest challenge is that you are all on your own. Nobody is there to tell you what to do and what not to do. That’s the scariest part and it can be really draining. The only way you can overcome this is by finding a mentor early on,” he says.
As this company aims to reverse the chemical impact on the populace using skincare products, Ahmed feels that this task cannot be accomplished alone. “We look up to our competition and learn from their strategies and fall backs as well,” he adds.
So far, this brand offers 19 ingredients across three categories—Carrier oils, Essential Oils and Hydrosols/Floral Waters. The company monetises most of its revenue from its own D2C website. They have also tied up with a small manufacturing facility in Jaipur and are leveraging a basic inhouse R&D facility. Besides that, Ahmed greatly emphasises on the female culture in his company.
“For manufacturing we have partnered with a small facility in Jaipur, run by a passionate husband and wife duo. We have always tried to build a network with like-minded people and once it has been made, we stick with it through thick and thin. Also, we are a woman co-led organisation, thus the majority of our working staff is female. We also try to source our botanicals from farms run and operated by women SHGs,” Ahmed tells us.
Now, after seeing the turnaround response of their consumers and the growing awareness about clean products, the company has many plans in the pipeline.
Their roadmap down the line
Ahmed has a comprehensive blueprint for his company’s growth, which he happily shares with us.
Their vision is to do new launches each quarter. They aim to launch 30 concern-based regimens across personal care, beauty, wellness, and home care. They want to establish a centre for botanical research for quality validation and efficacy in partnership with the premier institutes of research in India. And they also want to commence international delivery across Europe, the USA, Latin America and the Middle East.
“In line with our mission of empowering people with pure botanicals, we will have the world’s largest inventory of botanical products from across the globe by 2025. We are also in the process of signing MoUs with certain Indian and foreign universities for research on botanical products,” he says.
Furthermore, the brand is working on building a strong omni channel presence by the end of FY 2022-23. “We are focused on strengthening our D2C experience. With AI integrations, you will see an improved site and a complete user life cycle experience. Later in the year, we will be expanding to other channels which includes an offline presence as well. We are also in the process of registering our products in Kuwait. With all this happening, we expect to grow more than 200 per cent in this FY,” Ahmed informs us.
Well, it is indeed a good idea to use almond oil for your skin, your hair and as a food supplement too! Ahmed’s and Tanaya Sarma’s proposition to their customers is to believe in the buy less and do more principle, as we Indians have been organically doing since time immemorial anyway. And they fervently hope that minimalism will overtake consumerism sooner rather than later.