Investing in a girl has the highest Return in Investment in Society, says Sahil Dharia

Sahil Dharia, CEO, Paree
Sahil Dharia, CEO, Paree 

Paree, one of India’s fastest-growing Indian feminine hygiene brands is the brainchild of Sahil Dharia, former Wall Street honcho, clocking a turnover of Rs. 70 Cr annually. Paree understands the needs and many avatars of an Indian woman and is currently selling sanitary pads to over 10 lakh women pan-India and still counting.

In 2012, Sahil launched Soothe Healthcare Pvt. Ltd. and under it started a subsidiary called Paree Sanitary Napkins in 2015 to manufacture sanitary pads. Today, Paree has two fully-automated and high capacity manufacturing units in Greater Noida and Saina Nehwal is one of the shareholders of the company. Today, the company has tied up with 130 supermarket chains and Kirana shops with retail touchpoints in lakhs spread across India.

Here are a few excerpts from the interview where Sahil Dharia, CEO, Paree speaks about his journey with HelloPost Team:

  1. Tell us something about yourself and your company.

My career began at Wall Street with investment banking firm UBS Investment Bank & I moved to India to help set up MNC Reuters here.  Having spent years in India, setting up & scaling the company, and sensing the opportunity here, I decided to give up my green card and quit my job to become an entrepreneur. I started my first business in generic Pharma at age 19 and owing to a stint in teaching at a leading MBA college (Symbiosis), I realized that I want to invest in Health or Education.

In 2012, I set up Soothe Healthcare & launched brand Paree sanitary pads in 2015. Paree is a premium quality sanitary pad brand from an innovator company. Brand Paree caters to the personal hygiene needs of the many avatars of the progressive Indian woman. 

  1. What made you start Paree?

When I quit my job in 2012, only 12% of women used hygienic means of menstrual hygiene protection (Plan India NGO study). Now it’s close to 18%-23% of girls drop out of school at puberty as parents don’t know how to manage her cycle (UNICEF data).  75,000 women die of cervical cancer in India with an additional 150,000 diagnosed each year (Min. of H& FW data). Finally, perception about sanitary pads is either taboo or fluff –in the feminist domain while the focus should be on Women’s Heath & productivity.

Do you know if Women’s workforce participation rate matched the men’s, our GDP would jump by 26% (Booze study)? This is significant and there is a huge REAL cost to society of not including women in the workforce. 

These facts and figures made me realize that there is a need to focus on and address women’s hygiene issues with the right products.

  1. What were the initial challenges that you have faced in your journey?

The journey of setting up Paree has been personally & professionally rewarding. The first challenge was setting up the business as it was the mindset barrier. Initially, no one believed in my idea. Quitting a high paying job at an MNC to start a sanitary pad business was not digested by many people, everyone told me that only 12 percent of the women in India use sanitary pads and there is no market or future for this industry.

Persisting that there was a large market potential basis my research as a former banker & with a vision of being deeply entrenched in this category, I invested in a manufacturing facility. Over the years, the company has also raised several rounds of funding and is backed by iconic investors both domestic & foreign. 

The second challenge was to set up the manufacturing unit which took me almost two years and several approvals. Today, Paree has two fully automated and high capacity manufacturing units in Greater Noida. 

The next challenge was to make a reliable and quality product. One of its kind in India, right now Paree offers the best in class pad construction using state-of-the-art raw materials. In addition, the company holds high-quality certifications in India and abroad and Paree sanitary pads have been tested and proved to be the fastest absorbing napkin that can absorb in just 3 seconds.

The fourth challenge was to set up a robust network of distribution. Sale of sanitary pads is an offline business that requires the business to travel far & wide to reach out to many Kirana stores, the backbone of Indian retail. Only one percent of the sales come from online. Today, Paree is available Pan India with distribution across channels: Retail outlets, Modern Trade outlets, Pharmacies, and leading e-commerce portals along with strong distribution tie-ups in place with Walmart, Metro, Reliance, etc.

Finally, building a company of talented and high performing teams. I am a firm believer in the fact that women’s contribution is very important both in business and the economy. Paree now has an incredible & highly motivated team drawn from the best educational & MNC backgrounds which comprise of 40% of women employees overall & 80% women at corporate office level

  1. What has been your biggest achievement in this journey?

My biggest achievement is in getting the ecosystem to believe in our vision of improving the quality of lives of the community we live in. This begins with attracting a good talented team & up to building a pan India distribution network where the channel chooses to invest in our product & people. Notably, distribution or last-mile access is the barrier to entry in consumer business & team Soothe has done a fab job of it.

  1. As the nation grapples with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, do you see any major impact on the personal hygiene market?

Definitely! We are seeing a surge in personal hygiene demand. Awareness of health and hygiene has increased tenfold and maintaining good immunity is vital in fighting the virus. In lieu of this, menstrual hygiene is also of utmost importance as women are more susceptible to infections during their period. People have become highly conscious about cleanliness and maintain hygiene within themselves and their environment. Preventive care is recognized as a way to reduce the chances of infection; therefore, consumers are investing more in hygiene products to ensure their safety.

  1. How personal hygiene market is set to rise amidst this pandemic?

The personal hygiene market will continue to see high demand amidst the pandemic as consumers would not want to compromise on their health in any way. The world is more health & hygiene conscious now and the willingness to spend wallet share on items of personal hygiene has gone up. Subsequently, the sanitary pads market is also expected to grow and benefit during this time. Women are adopting sanitary pads as well as existing users are open to changing pads frequently to maintain hygiene.

Consumers will also increasingly try to identify with brands and products that they can trust. Paree has invariably been ahead of the curve when it comes to women’s hygiene. We want our products to solve real problems that women face during their periods like heavy flow. Our HeavyFloChampion pads absorb in 3 seconds and keep you wetness free.

  1. What is it that motivates and drives you?

I’m a Banker- so money is a very good motivator!

However, we also draw inspiration from Mr. Tata’s philosophy of ‘Good for Company, Good for Community’.  See my pad keeps a girl in school, if she goes to school, she gets a job & if she gets a job then her family of 4 is better off.  At Soothe Healthcare we say investing in a girl has the highest Return in Investment in Society.

Above are big motivators for my team &me!

  1. What are your future plans?

Paree manufactures premium hygienic sanitary pads, but we plan to expand and widen our market as we will soon be other personal hygiene products to our portfolio. We are an innovator company and invest in R&D to ensure we provide customers with better products for their hygienic needs. We are growing rapidly and with the increasing awareness of health and hygiene, we will take this as an opportunity to continually develop our products as per the needs of our consumers.

  1. Who is your role model?

Ratan Tata’s philosophy of ‘good for company-good for community’ is our inspiration.  Further, our core values – Customer Centricity, Integrity, Innovation & Driving for Results also borrow from the legendary entrepreneur’s charismatic yet effective leadership style. 

  1.  Anything else that you would like to add?

I would also like to share that Paree is a women-centric brand, so we understand the many avatars of Indian women. Our overall workforce at Soothe Healthcare comprises of 40% women with 80% Women as Corporate office staff.  The CEO’s direct management team as well includes 64% of women. This means we understand the needs of our customers & strive to work harder to address them, especially because even the board & shareholder level include strong and inspirational women like Saina Nehwal. It is Paree’s endeavor to continue being a brand that women can trust.