Shweta Upadhyaya’s holistic approach

10 min read
20 Sep 2017
10 min read
1144 words
From the Archive (Apr, 2016): VMAG talks to Shweta Upadhyaya about her premium ayurvedic skincare product line and the challenges she had to overcome to get to where she is today

The Ayurveda business

There are people who are passionate about doing business, and their passion makes them good at their work. For me, business and making money has never been a passion. My focus has always been Ayurveda, because of my love for the science of nature. I have been fortunate that my passion for Ayurveda has also helped me build a successful business.

The art of risk-taking

Every business requires that you take calculated risks. However, sometimes when I have a strong feeling about something, I just like to go with my gut. I am very impulsive in that sense. It was my impulse that led me to put my engineering degree on the backseat and pursue fashion marketing. The fashion degree eventually helped me find work at high-end retail stores. But there was still something missing, and I decided to finally work on my passion for Ayurveda. I invested the five years that followed getting the necessary holistic gyan. In 2010, I returned to Nepal and started Laavanya, a premium Ayurvedic skin-care product line.

A word of caution

Even if you are extremely business-savvy and blessed with deep pockets, you should not just jump on the entrepreneurial bandwagon without the required knowledge. Get a proper education and acquire the adequate work experience needed to actually start your own venture. For me, I already knew how the high-end luxury market worked, and I was able to brand my product accordingly. I started working when I was 18 years old, and although my savings didn’t amount to much,  my habit of managing money really helped me set my business up.

Being an entrepreneur in Nepal

Setting up a business in Nepal is much easier than in America, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to run the business; one has to still work hard to become successful. The bureaucratic apathy towards entrepreneurs in Nepal is extremely discouraging. I hate how I have to keep running from one government office to another. Initially when I had to deal with the customs office—we need to import a lot of our packaging materials—I almost thought about giving up because the process is just so disheartening. The government should at least try to create a truly conducive business environment so that both small and big businesses can operate smoothly. And sometimes people’s attitude towards work also creates a lot of problems. We have to value time, both our and others’, and always meet deadlines; I hate it when people don’t meet deadlines.

Challenges for a Nepali women entrepreneur

I haven’t faced blatant discrimination for being a women entrepreneur, but I have faced  subtle bias from time to time. For example, an employee at the customs office, after going through packaging materials, insinuated that I might fill them with cheap products and sell them. These kinds of comments obviously irk me, but I choose not to waste my time on such petty opinions. Instead, I channel my energy on my business.
Honestly, I don’t think there’s much overt discrimination in Nepal compared to some of the other countries I have been to. And with more women gaining recognition, and advancing in various fields, the situation is getting better.

The motivation for success

For me, motivation comes from my love for Ayurveda. I’m always on the lookout for new ways to offer beneficial herbs to my clients. Nepal is exceedingly rich in herbs and natural resources, and that makes it a fertile ground for anybody who wants to delve into Ayurveda. Knowing that €I am in the right place, doing the thing that I love keeps me motivated.

Quality over quantity

At Laavanya, the mantra definitely is to put quality over quantity. All our products are all-natural, and we make sure to be well-aware of the kinds of preservatives we use. Also, I believe, small boutiques that produce limited quantities of products are more holistic than the big multinational companies. 

If you’re into nurturing your body inside out, make sure to follow a balanced regimen of store-bought products and home remedies; the latter I share with my clients whenever they come to our boutique. I make only a small batch of products, and I don’t follow aggressive marketing techniques because I might just not be able to meet the demand. And I refuse to compromise on the quality of my products just for the sake of meeting the demand.

Patience is a virtue

I’m very straightforward with my clients when they come to me looking for a remedy to certain ailments. I tell them that they cannot expect instantaneous result in Ayurveda. If you want to start a holistic lifestyle, like Ayurveda, you need to have patience, and it involves a lot of discipline. There are no antibiotics or chemicals involved in this line of treatment, and it is slower than other treatments. But regardless, patience is a quality that can help us in other aspects of our lives as well.

Customer demographics

In the last five years, I have seen a drastic change in Nepalis’ mentality—they initially used to think that boutiques were only meant for foreigners, or that they were unaffordable. When I started Laavanya, around 90 per cent of our clients were tourists, but today a major chunk of our patrons are locals. In fact, this is one of the reasons that Laavanya, even in such lean times, has managed to survive. I have never compromised on quality, and in the long run, such honesty will definitely help make my business successful.

Looking ahead

As of now, nearly 70 per cent of Laavanya’s products is consumed in Nepal, and the rest is exported to the US. I would definitely want to create a much bigger global presence, extending as far as Europe, and other parts in Asia. Eventually, I want to own a lifestyle store where customers can get eco-friendly, healthy and organic alternatives that will cater to all their needs.