Growing Naturally

  • Ancient Living provides employment opportunities to rural women, for instance, in its packaging units and for collection of herbs and other raw materials. Photograph courtesy Kalyani Gongi
  • Along with premium organic products, the company offers traditional hand-made games and ethnic products. Photograph courtesy Kalyani Gongi
  • Kalyani Gongi (left), founder of Ancient Living, at the Fortune/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership program in 2016. Photograph courtesy Kalyani Gongi
  • To ensure quality, Ancient Living collects the raw materials for its products only from certified farms. Photograph courtesy Kalyani Gongi

Ancient Living produces organic Ayurvedic skin and hair care products and creates sustainable livelihoods, especially for rural women.

Kalyani Gongi, founder of Ancient Living, an organic wellness product company, grew up in the lap of nature. Her lineage goes back to four generations of farmers in the state of Telangana.

“I was surrounded by rich and bountiful nature, which made me ecologically sensitive,” says Gongi. “My father [B.N. Rao] spent many years growing different species of medicinal herbs and aromatic plants. I, thus, gathered valuable knowledge about the healing qualities of these plants.”
This inspired her to establish Ancient Living in 2010 to cater to eco-conscious customers who value organic products, made of farm-fresh herbs and essential oils.

The first batch of skin and hair care products were made mostly from the herbs grown in its own farm. Later, as the manufacturing unit expanded, the company started sourcing raw materials from other sustainable organic farms as well.

To ensure quality, the raw materials are collected only from certified farms. “We take pride in ethical buying and selling practices. The in-house R&D [research and development] team also inspects and tests the raw materials that are procured. We are a GMP [Good Manufacturing Practice]-certified company,” says Gongi.

How are Ancient Living products different from other Ayurvedic products flooding the market today? “Our vision is to enrich consumers’ lives with premium organic wellness products that are safe and ecofriendly, with a superior level of value and quality, based on India’s age-old Ayurveda principles,” says Gongi. “Our products are free from synthetic dyes, perfumes, additives, parabens, phthalates and sulfates. They are also cruelty-free. All our products are wrapped in earth-friendly craft paper and are biodegradable.”

Gongi feels that people are more conscious about their health and environment nowadays. “They are looking for alternate lifestyle wellness products that are chemical-free, organic and ecofriendly. Today’s consumers are willing to pay a little extra over chemical-based products,” she says.

Creating sustainable livelihoods for all stakeholders—farmers, artisans, suppliers, wholesalers, retailers and customers—is a philosophy Ancient Living believes in.

There is also a conscious move at Ancient Living to employ women from economically weaker sections of the society, so that they can be empowered. “We have started VIDYA, a women empowerment program,” says Gongi. “We believe women are key agents for achieving socioeconomic and environmental changes that are required for sustainable development in society. We provide training to women, enabling them to polish their skills and add value to our products.”

Ancient Living takes a threefold approach to retailing of its products. “One, customers can buy from our exclusive experience stores and e-commerce portal ( Two, our products are available in more than 200 organic stores across India. And three, our products can be purchased globally from leading e-commerce sites,” says Gongi.

She shares that the process of establishing the company entailed some difficulties in the beginning, particularly as a woman entrepreneur. She came across people who believed that women are not suited for the business arena. But Gongi took everything in her stride. “Challenges are everywhere; in any business. But, if you make a world-class product and provide the right services, the product will sell. My focus is to make world-class organic, luxury products, and this is where all my energies are focused. My consumer is my investor, and I do my very best to provide best value for this investment.”

Gongi was a part of the Goldman Sachs-funded 10,000 Women initiative, an entrepreneurship program of the U.S. State Department, as well as the FORTUNE/U.S. State Department Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership in 2016. She also participated in the 2017 Global Entrepreneurship Summit held in Hyderabad.

“I have benefitted both on personal and professional levels,” says Gongi about these programs. “Mentoring and leadership sessions, and sharing of ideas and experiences motivated and inspired me to create a larger impact in my community. They gave me the opportunity to learn, share and grow with other women leaders from various parts of the globe. I realized that all of us have a common desire to contribute to our communities.”


Ranjita Biswas is a Kolkata-based journalist. She also translates fiction and writes short stories.