Who needs Walmart?

Updated: Dec 08, 2019, 08:21 IST | Gitanjali Chandrasekharan | Mumbai

In the age of order-in-everything, we spent time with individuals who make it all in-house, from floor cleaners and toothpaste to skin serums and shampoos

Navi Mumbai resident Mitali Parekh switched to making her own floor cleaner when her golden retriever Eli, suffered a skin ailment. She now makes this bio-enzyme by fermenting citrus peels of lemon, orange and mosambi. Pics/Datta Kumbhar
Navi Mumbai resident Mitali Parekh switched to making her own floor cleaner when her golden retriever Eli, suffered a skin ailment. She now makes this bio-enzyme by fermenting citrus peels of lemon, orange and mosambi. Pics/Datta Kumbhar

Essentially, I would be debilitated by choice," says Mitali Parekh, 39, when explaining why she switched from buying facewash from the market to making her own. "I hated the whole drug store thing and would try to use products that weren't tested on animals. To match my ethics with products that were good for my skin and look pretty, became an anxiety trigger," she adds. Her own homemade facewash then became something of a dadi ma ka nuska. An air tight bottle that sits in the bathroom of her Navi Mumbai apartment includes besan, multani mitti, ground coffee powder—leftover from a morning cuppa—aloe vera and anything else she comes across while travelling—even rakta chandan (red sandalwood powder). "There's no recipe, no proportions. I just see how it feels. If it doesn't feel fresh, I add more besan, run it once in a mixer to aerate it and it's ready again." There's the additional elimination of is-this-right-for-my-skin-type worry.

Bamboo charcoal toothpaste
Bamboo charcoal toothpaste

Until a few years ago, the only other made-at-home product that Parekh, a dog trainer, indulged in was a mix of jojoba oil and rose oil, to moisturise her skin. However, when her golden retriever Eli, suffered a skin ailment, a bigger change was in store. "He would be scratching all the time and couldn't sleep. The vet's remedy was a soothing shampoo that was moisturising and a tick shampoo which was drying. Plus, there was oral medication. So, the cycle that ensued was first drying the skin, then moisturising." That often these products are tested on animals became another sore point.

After reading up and speaking to other dog friends, Parekh realised that the chemicals in the floor cleaner were also irritating Eli. She then started making her own floor cleaner or what the make-at-home tribe calls bio-enzyme. It requires fermenting citrus peels—lemon, orange or mosambi—over weeks. "It's nice and smells citrusy, but we don't have a constant supply because you need that many peels, so I only use it for the area where the dog sits," says Parekh, adding that she even switched from store-bought shampoos to making a mix of reetha (soap nut), apple cider vinegar, lavender oil, tea tree oil (repels ticks and is anti-septic), aloe vera or glycerine with an addition of the bio-enzyme. The result? Because the shampoo doesn't lather as much, it requires a lot less water and Eli's skin trouble has gone. "Plus, because it doesn't have a strong aroma, it doesn't irritate dogs who have a heightened sense of smell." That she can store it in a wine bottle and cut out more plastic from her life is an added advantage.

Chinthana Gopinath, who lives in Bandipur, Karnataka, makes her own bio-enzyme or floor cleaner by sourcing peels from local juice vendors who are only too happy to share them for free
Chinthana Gopinath, who lives in Bandipur, Karnataka, makes her own bio-enzyme or floor cleaner by sourcing peels from local juice vendors who are only too happy to share them for free

In a world where everything is available with an overnight delivery and the quiet punching in of an OTP, it's often the perils of consumerism that are pushing people to make items at home, products that for generations, we seem to have relied on large factories for.

Bengaluru-raised Chinthana Gopinath, for instance, says that her shift to making bio-enzymes started seven years ago when she moved to Bandipur in Karnataka, an area known for its national park. The switch happened for practical reasons as the area has no garbage collection system. "So, now, I have switched to the menstrual cup. When guests come over, they are asked to take back the waste they generate, chips packets, etc." 

Mukherjee's coconut body cream. Fashion designer Reba Mukherjee started making products at home to fight a pigmentation problem. But when friends demanded that she make them for them too, she began to retail the line. Pics/Ashish Raje
Mukherjee's coconut body cream. Fashion designer Reba Mukherjee started making products at home to fight a pigmentation problem. But when friends demanded that she make them for them too, she began to retail the line. Pics/Ashish Raje

Gopinath who runs Freagles of India, a non-profit that rescues beagles used as lab pups, also has a line of natural skincare holistic products for dogs. Like Parekh, she too makes her own bio-enzyme, but has upped the production scale by sourcing peels from local juice vendors who are only too happy to share them for free. She also makes her own apple cider vinegar, a switch that she says, has cut her costs drastically.

The other at-home product she uses is shampoo made using reetha, shikakai, amla soaked in hot water overnight and boiled down for another couple of hours in the morning, mixed with pulpy aloe vera. The bio-enzyme is added to increase its shelf life. And her hair? "It's gone back to normal and now looks the way it's meant to." Switching of course, is a process. "Initially, when you stop using chemicals, the hair feels like sh**, but you power through that phase and watch it get back to natural. I am no longer losing hair and the scalp is healthy. It's not dull, but it's not unnaturally coated with chemicals."

Mukherjee's coconut body cream. Fashion designer Reba Mukherjee started making products at home to fight a pigmentation problem. But when friends demanded that she make them for them too, she began to retail the line. Pics/Ashish Raje

It's the search for skincare products minus chemicals that made Churchgate-based fashion designer Reba Mukherjee turn to her kitchen.

A few years ago, when she was dealing with pigmentation, she consulted several skin specialists, but the treatment they prescribed didn't provide a long-term or complete solution. She turned to her refrigerator and started applying tomato juice and cucumber juice with aloe vera. Her skin cleared up and soon she started handing creams—recipes which she got from her friends who are into naturopathy—and serums to her husband and then daughter. Her list now is a vast range of everything you'll need in your daily care essentials—avocado shampoo, flaxseed anti-aging gel, under eye cream, coconut body cream, Vit C night serum, almond dry face wash, neem face wash, aloe day cream, kumkumadi oil, papaya face gel (skin repair and sunscreen), orange face gel, tomato face gel, cucumber face gel and onion and herbal hair oil.

Mukherjee's coconut body cream. Fashion designer Reba Mukherjee started making products at home to fight a pigmentation problem. But when friends demanded that she make them for them too, she began to retail the line. Pics/Ashish Raje

The products became so popular among friends that she now retails them. She makes them in the morning and ships them off by the afternoon. A 100 ml bottle could cost R300 and will last you 10 days. Most of the products need to be refrigerated. Mukherjee warns, "I tell everyone to test the product on their skin to see if they are allergic to it, and then continue the daily care." Serums come with their own instruction: wear at night and wash off in the morning.

And the proof that the creams work? Reba refuses to share her age. "Let your readers guess when they see my photograph."

Make this at home

Toothpaste
Mix baking soda, bentonite clay (available online), sea salt, bamboo charcoal powder, coconut oil and peppermint oil. Make it to a consistency that you like. Can be refrigerated or kept outside.

Bio-enzyme

Put the citrus peels in a plastic bottle, add water and a teaspoon of jaggery. Over the first few days, gas bubbles will form and you need to open the bottle regularly to allow it to burp. It takes three weeks to ferment in summer. How do you know you are on the right track? There's a thin layer of white fungus that forms on top. As you get there, the peels start to get slushy and you see that they are being broken down. "The whole thing smells like rotten juice," says Gopinath. Once done, put it through a sieve and transfer the liquid into the bottles. You will see the bacteria sitting at the bottom, so shake it before every use."

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