Growing up in India, surrounded by the smells of spices at home and the essential oils of her grandfather’s business, Rithika Gupta accepted her family’s business—but she did not want a role in it.
“I remember telling my dad, ‘I’m not going to join the family business. I’m going to be my own person, stand on my own feet.’”
And she did. Gupta started her career as a computer engineer before opening and operating a restaurant in Bangalore. After she sold the restaurant, Gupta’s father approached her again. His business had taken a dip, and he wanted her help.
“I thought about it, and I said OK, but I’m not going to operate in the same space you’re in.” Gupta explains. “While it was all new to me and I wanted to learn from him, I also wanted to do things and grow the business my own way.”
In 2014, Gupta launched FP Aromatics, a wholesale producer and supplier of essential oils for the fragrance and flavoring industry.
FP Aromatics uses traditional, methodical steam distillation, which involves chipping away the bark and sapwood manually and crushing the heartwood before distilling, thus creating more potent oils. Before COVID-19, Gupta spent over six months every year travelling to remote parts of Asia, Africa and Oceania, sourcing the sandalwood required to produce the essential oil.
“We supply this oil to the bigger flavor fragrance companies, aromatherapy companies and different users of sandalwood oil,” Gupta says. “We have customers in South America, Canada, the U.S., Europe, Africa, Australia, and some parts of Asia and India.”
Over the next few years, she expanded into other high-demand essential oils, such as eucalyptus, lemongrass and lavender, as her customers struggled to find responsibly-sourced, high-quality options. “Customers would come to me and say ‘Rithika, I have a relationship with you, and I trust you. I want to purchase ABC product, but I don’t know of a reliable supplier.’”
Running a small business alone can be isolating, Gupta explains. But joining WEConnect International and becoming certified brought her into a community of like-minded businesswomen. “It’s also very encouraging,” she says. “You interact with each other and you learn from each other.”
In 2019, Gupta started Ollie, a retail brand that produces personal and home care products using high-quality, all-natural essential oils sourced from farms and factories using distillation. Ollie grew slowly—and then the pandemic upended global supply chains.
In Singapore, hand sanitizer became impossible to source and distribute. But, as a small, direct-to-consumer business, Ollie swiftly adapted to provide a commercial-grade product.
“Because we launched hand sanitizer relatively early on, there was a time when no one had stocks of hand sanitizer in Singapore,” Gupta says. “We were the only ones.”
For six months, Ollie’s website was flooded with visitors. “I would open up sales at 8 a.m., and at 8:05, we sold out for the day.” Gupta recalls. “And then we’d spend the rest of the day making these bottles and shipping these orders.”
Even as demand decreased through improved sourcing in Singapore, hand sanitizer remains Ollie’s bestseller.
This pivot to meet changing consumer demand won Ollie WEConnect International’s inaugural Rise to the Challenge Award in the Manufacturing Sector.
Gupta has also started to work with other small businesses in the WEConnect International network. “There’s a business [in Singapore] that makes masks, and [the owner] wanted to introduce a mask sanitizer as part of her product range,” Gupta recounts. “We connected through one of the training sessions at WEConnect International … and we made the product for her.”
For Gupta, these connections are just as fulfilling as securing meetings with larger companies. “It’s soul-filling,” she says. “You know that you are helping a fellow woman-owned business while also helping yourself. You’re sort of growing together.”
Ollie continues to grow and launch new products. It is working with other local artisans to fill smaller wholesale orders. Committed to sustainability, Ollie has invested in 100% recycled, custom-made plastic bottles, and is preparing to ship throughout Southeast Asia and eventually to the United States.
“I’m hoping that we get to a point where Ollie is the preferred product people want to use for their home, and everyone has their cleaning shelf full of our products.”