A lot like love

Jessica Jayne moved to the mountains for love. Three years on, she’s brought a whole lot of it back for the rest of us with her steadily growing and immensely popular beauty label, Pahadi Local.
Her story is one of chance discoveries and serendipitous encounters. A driven entrepreneur, Jessica started her merchandising business when she was all of 23. As a self-confessed type-A personality, sitting still was not one of her strong suits so when she found herself in Simla, 45 minutes away from the main town, with nothing but the mountains and monkeys for company, she got to working and discovered her now famous, Gutti Ka Tel, quite by happy accident. “Gutti Ka Tel is the singular reason why I’m here, telling you about Pahadi Local”, says Jayne. Essentially Apricot kernel oil, it’s a no fuss, multi-purpose oil up in the hills. Locals use it in everything from their food to their skin. It’s so commonplace, it’s not even a thing—just a backyard remedy for everyday living. But powerful and healing nonetheless, something Jessica discovered when she started using the oil. “I fell in love with Gutti Ka Tel and all the natural, everyday household products that people were using. Their origins ranging from fruit orchards, salt deposits on lakes, pieces of actual mountains and honey that looks like ghee collected only fifteen days in a year—they fascinated me”. With time she started sharing the oil with her friends and family back home in the city. As its popularity grew, Jayne and her mother, along with her good friend Kanika Vasudeva, started selling the oil in little glass bottles to people they knew. This went on for a year—like a bit of a test-run for the real deal. Once Jessica realised the potency of this venture, the entrepreneur in her took over and she launched her label with just the oil and Gutti Khal (apricot meal scrub). In just three short years, Pahadi Local has grown to have over 18 products from locally sourced honey and nuts to Himalayan clay, lake sediment salt and more. And aside from the success of its own online shop, the brand now also retails out of Good Earth stores across the country. In the wake of its growing popularity, we caught up with Jessica to talk about her journey so far and what else she might be bringing home from the Himalayas in the near future.
Can you describe to us your journey as an entrepreneur so far?
My journey so far has been about discovery, dreaming big and dedication.I have been fortunate to discover the pure goodness of our magnificent Himalayas. My dream is to share these local secrets with as many people as I can while making sure the processes along the way are fair and ethical. I’m 100% dedicated to learning daily and paying attention to every single detail.

We love the name Pahadi Local. It’s so authentic to the brand.
Yes. The name is befitting because all our products are locally used and sourced only from the mountains. It was actually something I came up with while watching a stunning Shimla sunset. (I know, this story has the best setting!). I’ve kept our nomenclature pahadi so you’ll will find our product names—Gutti Ka Tel, Gutti Khal, Pushpa ri Mao and so on—maintain the real authenticity of the source.

Were you always particularly drawn to natural beauty products?
I’m a no-fuss beauty regimen woman. The easier it is to use, the multiple benefits in one product, the better. But yes, I’ve always been drawn to naturally beautiful, strong and healthy skin.Pahadi Local’s journey has been one of discovery. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
I have literally walked into people’s homes and rummaged through their shelves and boxes to see what they use. I asked a lot of questions—what are you cooking with, what are you eating, what is this honey, where is it from and so on. So I discovered everything in local households. And for the locals it’s no novelty it’s just everyday backyard stuff. After I discovered all these genius things, I started my won research, going to the orchards, talking to the locals and that’s really how I got acquainted with all these wonderful and super potent local goods.

From selling to your friends to taking the brand into the market—what kind of know how did you need?

Oh a lot! There was and still is a lot of market research, accountability and responsibility for all that a brand claims to be, product trial runs which by the way I am the first guinea pig for. I have tested each and every product on myself first for a period of three months or longer even to see how it reacts to different weather conditions, skin, so and and so forth. If I don’t believe in it, you’ll never find it on the shelves. I also had to learn things like harvest timings and how weather conditions are important to our goods. Then there’s things like lab testing, relationship building with orchardists and villagers, branding and packaging. So it’s been a lot of work and a lot of learning. But I’m happy.
How did Pahadi Local get from being something you shared with friends to a full-fledged business?
Homegrown. It is only with the help and support from so many friends and family along the way that turned Pahadi Local into the business that it is today. Many of my good friends from photographers, engineers, lawyers, businessmen to designers went out of their way to help me make this dream come true. A year ago, I partnered with a very old and dear friend, Udit Sheth who is a strategic investor. He is a maverick entrepreneur, building spectacular sports stadiums across the country. He has a keen interest in fitness and wellness. Thus it was a good fit to take his business sense on board and learn about strategy while keeping my vision constant, which he as well as Shvetal Vakil, my mentor and company director both shared. I consider myself lucky that the rest of my team understands the philosophy of advocating luxury in simplicity by staying committed to the source. This partnership has enabled Pahadi Local to scale from 1 product in one year , two products in the second and here we are today with eighteen products in the third year and counting.

It must be a huge challenge though?
I’d like to believe a challenge is learning and I’m still learning. It is only when things get difficult, that the takeaways are more rewarding than the stress. My primary challenge is introducing the market to lesser-known skincare and wellness from the mountains. One has to have enough trust in me and the brand to go out there and give it a chance. Logistics for Pahadi Local are tough given that we get our products from all across the mountains- Kangra, Kinnaur, Spiti, Kashmir and Leh, Ladakh. Different climates, different topographies, landslides, no proper communication, it goes on. I also personally look into branding, packaging, sourcing and creative. So I have my hands full.
Where all are your products sourced from?
Himachal is where I was comfortable to start Pahadi Local because of the time I spent in this region and the people who work with me are more like friends and family than colleagues. But we’ve widened our work area and now also source our products from Kashmir, Leh and Ladakh. We also intend on going further into the Himalayan landscape.

Why do you think this sort of sacred local knowledge is so lost on us?
We don’t look hard enough. I think we are not taking enough time out and just appreciating the simple things. This is where the true richness of tradition lies.

What do you love most about what you do?
I love that I can be as real as I am. Every day allows me to be very creative, a little temperamental with a whole lot of soul. Also I am able to meet, interact with and learn from powerful women who have been so encouraging and supportive of the brand. It’s also very gratifying when you get messages and emails from people saying that Pahadi Local products made a difference to them. There are people who’ve had skin allergies for years and just a few months of the old or sediment has completely cured their allergy and that kind of thing is priceless. It makes work totally worth it.So your risk paid off then?
Absolutely. You can never know what something can give you or what you can give something unless you try it and I’ve been an entrepreneur so I’m good at trying. I’m not afraid of failure.

Do you employ local village people?
Yes, this is a big part of Pahadi Local. We have an initiative called Pahadi Empower that works towards sustaining source points and their communities. One example would be the hardworking women from three villages in Ladakh who handpick our tea ingredients (rosehip, lavender, sea buckthorn).

And what of sustainability?
Sustainability is paramount. I think we’ve all reached a time in our lives where we can give back when we can. Our business practices include fair trade, we work with structures mirroring cooperatives in local villages.We are committed to this and I’m not just saying it. In September we will be conducting a free cervical cancer and other women related medical check up in Ladakh for the same women who collect our teas.

What does the future hold for you?
I hope to sustain Pahadi Local with all that it had stood for from day one.Local. Pure. Simple Luxury.