Shweta Upadhyaya: Laavanya (Ayurvedic Skincare Products)

It took some time before Shweta Upadhyaya could find it in her to do what she always wanted to do. She was trained as an engineer in the US, but after working for a year as one, she left for France to study fashion marketing.

It took some time before Shweta Upadhyaya could find it in her to do what she always wanted to do. She was trained as an engineer in the US, but after working for a year as one, she left for France to study fashion marketing. After completing the diploma course, she came back to the US and started working at a high-end department store chain – Saks Fifth Avenue. Still not satisfied, she joined Vedika Global in California to study Ayurveda. After studying Ayurveda for 5 years, Shweta noticed a void in the market for quality ayurvedic products so she combined her knowledge and fashion marketing experience, and came up with an entrepreneurial idea. In 2010, Upadhyaya returned to Nepal and started working on her idea – a premium ayurvedic skin-care product line.

Working at home

“Starting Laavanya in Nepal wasn’t very difficult. From the very start we had the support of the manufacturers and suppliers who believed in our vision,” says Shweta. Building on the plans she had already prepared, she worked with researchers, herbalogists, botanists and biochemists for about a year on testing and fine-tuning, before the manufacturing finally got going. Raw materials for manufacturing were all sourced locally; even the packaging was by Patan’s artisans. One aspect of starting one’s own venture which Upadhayay claims she did not enjoy, was running from one government office to another. “It would really help if the government consolidated numerous bureaucratic functions in one place, sort of a small-business clearinghouse,” says Shweta.

Challenges abroad

In the US, all products need to clear the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) every time. FDA clearance entails compliance in all active ingredients, labeling and other requirements to ensure the products can be sold in the US. This is obviously a trying task.

Making use of skills gathered

Shweta’s diploma in fashion marketing and experience in branding and merchandising allowed her to understand the importance of branding and to strive for a certain quality in it. As she was getting the products ready, she was also ruminating on building a unique brand image. From the brand name, to the packaging of the product and the schematics of the store, everything had a reason and a purpose. “We have invested heavily on what is traditionally deemed as not being important. For example, our boutiques aren’t just where you buy our products. Rather, you come to explore them, understand them, and try and get inspired by them. We want our customers to think about it, feel it, realize why it’s important, and when to use it,” she says.

Laavanya Today and Tomorrow

Presently 70 % of Laavanya’s products are sold in Nepal; the rest is exported to the US, where the products are mostly sold online. In the next five years, Shweta is looking to take Laavanya to Europe and other parts of Asia, but before that she wants to establish Laavanya as the premier skin-care product in Nepal. “While others are focused on importing foreign brands into Nepal, we actually plan to be one of the premier brands exporting out of Nepal,” she says. With suggestions from her customers, Shweta is also working on adding new products to the current line.

Opportunities

“Through my experience I witnessed the richness of resources, both natural and human, that Nepal has. What’s missing is the vision of creating these products and taking them to the market – both domestic and international, which does seem to be changing lately. Laavanya’s products are regarded highly in the US, especially due to high price tags on other similar products. If the products address the commercial sensibilities of the market properly, Nepali products have great potential,” says Shweta Upadhyaya.

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