Interview with Anju from Abhati Suisse

A bhati Suisse is a cosmetics company with a social cause. With proceeds from their range of natural skin-care products, Abhati aims to improve the lives of women and girls in India through education and safe sanitation. Made using a blend of all-natural ingredients from the Indian Himalaya and the Swiss Alps, both Abhati’s products and mission are founded on the principles of purity, authenticity and integrity.

Headed by Anju Rupal, Abhati – meaning ‘illuminate your soul’ in Sanskrit – provides beauty with dignity. We spoke to founder Anju Rupal to find out more about her cause.
Abhati Suisse founder Anju Rupal

What are the origins of your project? When and why did you decide to start your social initiative Abhati?

After working in a refuge as a social worker, starting a family and launching [medical practice] SwissMedikids, I finally decided to address a taboo and step out of my comfort zone in my late forties. The taboo was “open defecation”, which spreads many diseases that are picked up by underprivileged children.

It’s a surprising statistic, but there are more mobile phones in developing countries than toilets. Four out of ten people worldwide don’t have a toilet. For women and children, this a disaster as they're exposed to danger, germs, get sick, and even die. For girls especially, as they drop out of schools without toilets when their menstruation starts.

As a woman, all issues related to women’s health in particular have been very close to my heart. Thus, for me, the bigger picture was and is to keep girls in school. We’re committed to introducing a hygiene programme in schools, focusing on effective hand washing. Hand washing with soap reduces deaths significantly, because it prevents the spreading of preventable diseases. It is one of the most basic and simple hygiene practices, but unfortunately it is not encouraged [enough].

Running a social enterprise like Abhati gave me the opportunity to live out what I deeply believe in. I believe in beauty in its purest form. I adore lovely things, quality, design, and craftsmanship; but for me the soul was always missing. Abhati’s soul is knowing that I’m looking after myself, but I’m also looking after other human beings. This is why our hero product was named “one hand washes the other”.

Your parents originally came to the UK from India. When did you first visit India and what did you take away from your time there?

My first visit was at 22. It was like I watched television in black and white all my life, and suddenly there were all these vibrant colours. The colourful beauty of the land and the scents struck me, it opened up my eyes, ears and heart. But I was deeply moved by the inequality of women and the injustice of growing up in the “wrong” gender.

I will never forget the shame of a young mother who asked me to look after her two small children so she could find a quiet spot to go to the toilet.

This is why I back my efforts on girls and education as a sustainable way to empowerment

A proportion of all Abhati sales are donated to your “Invest in Girls” campaign to help girls grow up in safer, cleaner conditions. What difficulties do girls in particular face in India and how do the donations from Abhati help?

Each purchase of an Abhati product supports the education and health of girls in India. I wanted to create a virtuous circle that feeds positive impacts back to the source. Be it the schools we’ve partnered with, or our farmers.

Abhati works with local non-governmental organisations to improve hygiene and education, and to combat the spreading of avoidable diseases: each day, 1,400 children die from preventable diarrhoea caused by a lack of sanitation and hygiene. Hand-washing reduces the risk of diarrhoea by 50%, but while most charitable funds go towards clean water projects which are important, it has not been enough to solve this problem.

Abhati is also affiliated with ‘Educate Girls’, an Indian-based organisation that uses government, village and school resources to create community ownership for school reform. What problems do girls face in getting an education in India, and how does the organisation hope to change this?

I chose Educate Girls because they mobilise communities to take a stand against gender disparity, working directly with governments, schools, parents, village leaders, and Girl Teams - groups of girls who are taught leadership skills by the not-for-profit - to reverse these statistics and transfer their knowledge back to their communities.

They do this by persuading parents in villages to send their daughters to school. Compared to their non-educated counterparts, educated girls are more likely to earn more, marry four years later, avoid prostitution, survive childbirth, have fewer, healthier children and send their children to school.

Abhati products blend ingredients and techniques from the East and West. What are the elements from each that you bring to the products?

I grew up with the ancient Ayurvedic principles of beauty handed down from my mother and grandmother, and we’ve urbanised these pearls of wisdom for the west. We use the best potent botanicals with all their healing properties from both the Himalayas and the Swiss Alps.

[We use] turmeric, a superhero ingredient that heals and prevents dry skin, slows ageing, diminishes wrinkles and improves skin’s elasticity, or edelweiss, with its beneficial anti-ageing powers and healing properties.

What’s next for Abhati? Are there other products or future projects planned to support and sustain communities?

We’re a start-up with a very small team, and in order to fully make our impact, we need to grow “visibly”. And we can’t do this alone. This means we need to get our products out in every cafe, yoga studio, store, and restaurant. Hence why we rely on everyone’s support and word of mouth.

Because our products don’t contain fillers and only expensive ingredients, we can’t work with stores that ask for fifty per cent of our margin: it makes it impossible to follow through with our impact. We therefore rely on online sales or partnerships with companies like URBANARA, who support and allow us to stay true to our philosophy. We won’t have a large product line as we don’t believe in clutter, but we’ve put together a range that offers restorative beauty and the highest quality, effective skin-care basics. Our full range includes a hand lotion, shampoo and conditioner, hair oil, baby massage oil, a face mask, an exfoliator, a serum, and face balm.