When Karnataka-native Nagamani was 24 years old, she experienced extreme hair fall. Her 60-year-old friend from Mysore shared a hair oil formula and assured her that it will do wonders for her hair. She went in search of the ‘not-so-common ingredients’ and prepared the oil. Within a month, her hair fall reduced drastically and baby hairs appeared.
The recipe shared is at least 150 years old today.
Over the years, she handed the oil bottles to many of her friends and family members. Even though some of them suggested turning it into a business, Nagamani, fondly called ‘Mani aunty’, wanted to focus on caring for her husband and two daughters.
“It was in my late 60s, three years after the death of my husband, that Roots & Shoots was born. My initial customers were a few salon owners in Bengaluru. Later, Mary who runs the Ambara boutique in Halasuru introduced the brand to a non-profit trust called A Hundred Hands. We got chances to run a stall every year during an exhibition conducted by the trust and the hair oil bottles sold within the blink of an eye,” says 88-year-old Mani aunty who stays in Ulsoor with her daughter Achala Srivatsa.
A laborious task
The making of Mani aunty’s hair oil is a tedious process. The product is based on coconut oil and contains four oil seeds. “One of them is methi. Two of the seeds are quite expensive and rare. We source it from Himachal Pradesh with the help of a vendor nearby,” explains Achala, Mani aunty’s daughter who helps her in the business.
After collecting the ingredients, the seeds are hand-pounded. It is added to the coconut oil and left under the sun for at least six weeks. “This is what makes the oil different. We don’t grind or heat the ingredients and oil. The process is done once a year as it largely depends on the weather conditions. We take help from two workers for the hand pounding and the oil is completely a homegrown product,” shares Achala who works as a consultant.
All bottles of a batch are hand-checked by Mani aunty.
They sell around 60-70 litres of oil during their peak period. “All of our customers are women and in Bengaluru. Some of them recommend the oil to their family and friends who take the bottles home and even to foreign countries,” gushes Achala.
Mala Dhawan, one of the trustees of A Hundred Hands and a regular customer of Roots & Shoots, says, “I was introduced to the product through Achala and her sister who was my close friend. It was when the organisation collaborated with the brand for its sales. I was drawn to the product because it is hommade and it turned out to be very effective in controlling hair fall as well as promoting hair growth. I have been using it for the past 10 years and am so glad that they are able to successfully preserve the age-old formula of the oil.”
A bottle consisting of 300 ml of oil costs Rs 500. Achala says the process and price of ingredients are the reasons for this rate. “Even then, we don’t make a huge profit out of this. We are at break even. Things might change if we go large scale but that would lead to many compromises in the quality which we don’t prefer at all. Also, this began as a hobby for my mother and due to her interest in preserving the recipe as well as carrying it to the next generation,” she adds.
Mani aunty agrees to this and says, “I’m pretty old to look after the business and scale it further. My daughter is busy with her own work. But we have put in a lot of work to source the ingredients and label the product. We love to continue but there are limitations as we don’t hail from a business background family. Sharing the recipe with the coming generations is the major motive now. We would love to do the same by collaborating with the right team who understands the value and maintains the quality.”
Mani aunty is proud to say that she has not spent a single penny on marketing. All the sales happened through word of mouth. Every year it occurs that they are not able to meet the demand. They have a limited stock as the process is held once a year.
Even being an octogenarian, Mani aunty is engaged in multiple activities and has an interest in music, cricket and cooking. She even recorded two Kannada albums. “I was an active member of Bowring Institute, a social club in Bengaluru till the outbreak of the pandemic. Even though they have reopened, I no longer visit the place and spend time at home with my daughter,” says the multi-faceted talent.
But life was not a bed of roses for Mani aunty. She lost her elder daughter a few years ago. “We took the business seriously after my sister’s death. We didn’t know what else to do and how to fill that void,” says Achala. In 2003, before this incident, Mani aunty underwent chemotherapy as she developed a tumour. “My mom is a superstar. I haven’t seen anyone like her who is so determined and strong. She speaks her mind out no matter what and finds the courage to go after what she loves. I am glad to be with her as a business partner and friend.”
The duo is all set to prepare the next batch of their ‘magic oil’, waiting for the weather to be sunny again.
The oil is retailed in Bengaluru at Fresh Earth Organics and Ambara boutique. You can also visit their Facebook page to buy the product.
Edited by Yoshita Rao