Mr. Jamshed Ji Tata set up India’s first indigenous soap manufacturing unit in 1918 when he purchased OK Coconut oil mills in Cochin, Kerala. OK mills manufactured cold process laundry soap for the local market. The oil mills were renamed Tata Oil Mills and launched its first branded soap in the early 1930s. By 1937, the soap started gaining popularity among the upper class or the elite. Vedas and Puranas have mentions of soap making by women using natural products like Multani ‘mitti’ (mud), Gram flour or ‘besan’, curd, milk, buttermilk, honey, rose water, fruit juices and essential oils to keep their skin healthy and also to achieve lighter complexions. Soap-nut was also used for washing hair and to wash clothes.
There have been specifically Indian brands known for using indigenous ingredients like Medimix and the popular Mysore sandal soap. The familiar jade soap which was created by an Ayurveda practitioner and boasted of a mix of 18 herbs that keep skin healthy is one of the most popular soaps in the Indian market. Karnataka soaps and detergents Ltd produced the first indigenous sandal soap under the patronage of the Maharajah of Mysore which was received very well by the public ensuring the 102 years of manufacturing of the soap.
Of course, in the current scenario the shift of the upper middle class to buy organic products and less commercialized ingredients in beauty products because of higher disposable income. The affinity for these organic products also increased because of the growing health conscious population. The demand for organic, handmade soaps has grown in the beauty and the health industry. The Indian soap industry which includes 700 companies generates average annual revenue of $17 billion. Major players in the market include P&G, Hindustan Unilever and 90% of the market share are restricted to the top 50 companies*. The global Herbal Soap market was million US$ in 2018 and is expected to $1 million by the end of 2025, growing at a CAGR of between 2019 and 2025**.
Soap making in India especially with ingredients like sandalwood, rosewater and ayurvedic oils has been an effective age-old practice and with a consumer base demanding for these products, the rise in organic and handmade soap production will soon shoot through the roof!