Design Impact, Kaleidoscope & ODAM
Paruva Kaalam: Fair Trade Soap
Organization of Development Action and Maintenance (ODAM)
Paruva Kaalam: Fair Trade Soap
• Beautiful collaborative process
• Real, authentic, emotional
• Great execution, balance of modernity and tradition
Paruva Kaalam: Fair Trade Soap
This project required business expertise, unique marketing and design skills, and an in-depth understanding of the local Tamil Nadu community and its resources that could only be acquired by living on-site. The team’s goals were to:
• Develop a product that appeals to western consumers but reflects the local values of the rural Tamil Nadu community producing the soap.
• Empower the women of Southern India who face significant employment challenges and hold the potential to significantly improve community life by providing meaningful, ongoing, profitable employment and skills development.
• Maximize the use of materials, resources and processes already available in Thiruchuli.
• Leverage packaging design to instantly communicate the compelling story behind the soap while effectively competing against large brands.
• Work in partnership with the local non-profit to build a community-driven business using effective business principles while ensuring they have the capability to continue those principles long-term.
• Embed design thinking into the non-profit for long-term benefits beyond the project.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
In recent years, there has been considerable progress in bringing design attention to areas of social inequality. Even with this increased emphasis on social design, many designers lack a direct conduit to fully immerse themselves in philanthropic design work. Engaging designers on-site with organizations for on-going collaboration is essential to creating effective, meaningful solutions.
The work featured in this entry has been pioneered by individual designers leading a non-profit organization who, due to the success of Paruva Kaalam handmade soap, have since broadened their program to include international design fellows for new and on-going social design projects in other communities in India. For Paruva Kaalam, the design team started work with an open mind, allowing them to act nimbly and without preconceived notions of what the community needed. They worked with the mindset that if the social sector wants to improve processes, create ground-breaking solutions, and base decisions around the aspirations of those who receive their services, they need to engage closely with the design process.
A flexible approach to daily work allowed the team to learn from the community while also leveraging knowledge available in the social and development sector. Once embedded into the non-profit design model, the team used design expertise and international business experience to support the success of the soap product and business program.
4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
Living on-site in order to ensure the best possible results, the team thoroughly researched local materials, resources and processes to be sure the creation of the soap leveraged resources in Thiruchuli.
• To understand the business model, the team had to understand the roles that fair trade, import/export, and non-profits would play. In India, the team formed relationships with soap makers, small business owners, non-profit leaders, large fair-trade exporting companies, essential oil producers, accountants, attorneys, local carpenters, and local scientists. In the US, the team formed relationships with large and small retailers, fair trade distributors, skin care experts, media outlets, and business experts—in addition to our team of graphic and product designers. Although it took time to build this network of experts, it was well worth the work as all of these relationships played a vital role in the success of the product.
• The team examined western consumers’ buying patterns and knowledge of fair trade goods, conducting audits at both multiple mass and specialty retail stores. After collecting samples of soap, chocolate, tea, coffee, and other responsibly-marketed goods, two key themes emerged. The first theme boasted an environmental, ingredient-based story while the second emphasized the social and cultural impact of the product.
• Based on the two themes, the design team developed a range of concepts that emphasized different parts of Thiruchuli’s story. Twenty one-on-one interviews took place in India and the U.S. to find a story that resonated with consumers and felt authentic to the producers. Users preferred hearing about the impact that the soap had on the people in the village. However, environmental benefits still played a role in the development of the product. The ingredients became elements that helped users get a sense for a place that few people have experienced before.
• The team worked with locals to balance the native scents of Thiruchuli with scents familiar to the western consumer to create four appealing product choices.
• Finally, the team embedded business development skills for future use within the non-profit. They were active in each step of the intensive research, market audits, community brainstorming, prototyping, packaging and user interviews. For example, the team led a co-creation session with people from the village which was well received by the participants. The team taught brainstorming techniques and had users draw ideas for packaging, name the soap, and choose scents.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
Paruva Kaalam represents a successful design solution because the product takes advantage of natural resources and co-products of the region, employs women with fair wages, empowers women to become entrepreneurs and establishes an outlet for selling the product. The project most effectively matches a need (fair employment of women) with a want (western citizens seeking to support the underprivileged).
• The project focuses on empowering Thiruchuli women, who can significantly improve community life with income and production of a value-added product. The soap enterprise is operated by women in local Self Help Groups. Profits are directed into local community development programs.
• The glycerin used in the soap is a natural co-product of the non-profit's small scale biofuel production and maximized the community’s existing resources.
• This work resulted in the development of a new for-profit company that generates funds for further community advancements.
• The finished product appeals to western consumers while representing the values of Thiruchuli. The team worked with locals to balance the native scents of Thiruchuli with scents familiar to the western consumer to create four appealing product choices.