Sisters, Sharmini Joy and Sharmila Anne Ramani grew up on their mother’s Ayurvedic remedies, including old family recipes that utilised natural ingredients for skin and hair. Like all teenagers, they went through a rebellious phase and steered away from their parents’ advice and remedies.They turned instead to brightly packaged commercial brands that gave rise to painful results. After a few years Sharmila began getting serious burns from certain chemicals found in off-the-shelf products while Sharmini’s sensitive skin began to break out. They returned to their family’s treasured Ayurvedic recipes and experienced immediate relief. “We started to see a major difference so we completely stopped using any commercially made products,” says Sharmila.
It didn’t take long for the sisters to begin making samples for friends and family as homemade gifts and, naturally, pardon the pun, the demand grew.
This happened at an opportune time, it would seem. Bored with their jobs at the time — Sharmila was a lawyer and Sharmini worked in advertising — they were dabbling in event management, planning weddings and birthday parties. Sharmila had planned her own wedding and requests began to come in for her to do so for others. “We found that we have a knack for planning things and putting them together,” she says. This opened a door for their products to be given away as party favours.
Huge fans of the Harry Potter series, and particularly inspired by Hermione Granger’s brewing capabilities, they decided to set up a brand named Potions. Demand for their products grew such that Potions took up more time than event planning. Success on the bazaar circuit followed and Potions currently has a pop-up store in the Art Row of Publika. In the future, they hope to open a fixed store. Advocates of natural products, the sisters want to encourage people to pay attention to what they put on their skin. “Everyone has a different skin type and commercial products are made for the masses so they don’t work for all. For people with sensitive skin or eczema, chemicals can make things worse. We want to make natural products for people to help their problems and not aggravate them,” says Sharmini.
One of the struggles Potions faced early on was to make people aware of it and accept its slightly higher prices. A cleanser from a pharmacy can set you back about RM15 but Potions’ cleanser is RM45 because it uses all natural ingredients. “Convincing people that it is worth investing in our products was difficult initially,” Sharmila starts. “I think once we got the ball rolling through word of mouth, people saw that our products work,” Sharmini finishes. They enjoy meeting new customers and discussing individual wants and needs.
Aside from the heirloom Ayurvedic remedies, the two also carry out extensive research into each ingredient and thoroughly test each product before putting it up for sale. The sisters also get advice from their doctor parents, who have access to scientific papers. They even send samples to a lab for stability tests, which checks if bacteria are present, among other things. It takes roughly three to six months for a new product to reach customers because of the rigorous testing process, which includes roping in family and friends as test subjects. “We do a lot of testing to make sure our products are safe and work,” says Sharmini.
“The main thing is that we focus pretty much on Ayurveda, so we go right down to the roots,” adds Sharmila. Potions’ products use real plants and herbs rather than extracts, are free of preservatives and are made entirely from scratch. Sharmini makes her own coconut oil for the Emerald Elixir, which helps with hair loss, damaged hair and dandruff. Sharmila took a long time to create the Mistress of Spice serum for healthy glowing skin, which proved so effective, it sold out in two weeks.
As they don’t contain preservatives, most of the products are in powder form and need to be mixed with water before use. “It takes a little bit more effort but it works a lot better. People don’t realise that although they are convenient, chemical-based products do more damage than good in the long run,” says Sharmila. Potions also allows walk-in customers to concoct their own face masks. People can choose their desired ingredients from a menu to be mixed and packaged and ready to take home in minutes.
Potions also organises facial mask workshops, which include making masks with fresh fruit and vegetables. “We want to teach people how to use leftovers from their fridge. A tomato, cucumber and yogurt can make raita, or a face mask that works better than the peel-off pharmacy ones,” remarks Sharmini. In future, the Ramani sisters hope to open a face mask bar, much like the various fresh juice bars, with a menu of customisable masks that can be made on the spot. Sharmini and Sharmila also hope to travel to India to study Ayurveda in greater depth to increase their knowledge to create more effective potions. Hermione Granger herself couldn’t be more proud.