It takes a lot of belief and conviction to start from scratch to create something of your own after leaving your cushioned job. That’s exactly what Rinzing Choden Bhutia, the co-founder of Agapi Sikkim, did. She took a bold step by quitting her corporate life in metropolitan cities such as Kolkata and Delhi to establish a unique, women-driven skincare brand back in her hometown, Sikkim. She wished to return to her roots and live a life that was both clean and green.

Rinzing embarked on a journey with her friend Varsha Shreshta to create a line of handcrafted skincare products that are sustainable, chemical-free, and made using rare plants from the Himalayan belt. “Apagi” derives its name from the Greek word for love, and it truly is a labour of handcrafted love. Additionally, the brand takes pride in being a women-led startup, contributing to efforts to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Sikkim. Agapi Sikkim is currently being valued at $1 million. 

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The Ingredients

When searching for ingredients for her products, Rinzing didn’t have to look beyond her home. Growing up in Sikkim, she often observed people using naturally growing plants to address various skin ailments as an age-old practice. “The plants we use have been employed for generations, passed down from one generation to the next,” she explains.

For example, when someone has high blood pressure, they extract juice from Mugwort (a locally found weed) and consume it—a practice known to normalise blood pressure. In the case of a cut, a simple remedy involves taking a leaf, squeezing it, and applying it to the wound to stop bleeding. Similarly, for conditions like eczema, individuals create specific concoctions that have proven effective for centuries.

Although used for ages, these ingredients are relatively unknown in the skincare industry. So, as the idea of Agapi Sikkim was taking shape in her mind, one thing Rinzing was certain of was her desire to create a line of products that harness these indigenously grown ingredients. “I didn’t really need specific training to know that these ingredients could work wonders on the skin,” she shares.

The co-founder uses ingredients such as avocado, mugwort, local varieties of aloe vera, hemp, etc in her handcrafted products. The company has sold hundreds of products countrywide including cities like Bengaluru, Kolkata, and several others in and around Sikkim. Agapi Sikkim has a range of products which include bath salts, masks, shampoos, scrubs, and essential oils

agapi sikkim skincare brand homegrown products himalayan plants ingredients Varsha Shreshta Rinzing Choden Bhutia

Beauty With A Purpose 

While designing her business model, Rinzing knew that she wanted to establish a women-run business. “I conducted my first training session in Kabi. If it were cooking or baking, women would flock for a free session, but soap making was unconventional. Despite that, I went ahead with it, and to my surprise, more than 20 women showed up,” she recalls, emphasising that this motivated her to continue conducting these workshops.

Once these women are trained, some of them are hired by Rinzing, while others are free to practice on their own. “I source their products. This way, they do not have to commit to a job and can grow at their own pace. I buy their products, and they get a chance to showcase their talent,” she says. Provided free of cost, Rinzing has trained over 400 tribal women in and around Sikkim so far through her workshops.

The most delightful thing about this is that there is a group of 10 women who have started their own brand after taking my workshop. This way, these women have not only the opportunity to learn something new but also make a living out of it,” she says. Rinzing also conducts workshops in rehabilitation centres. “These workshops are for people suffering from drug and alcohol addiction so that they can have an avenue of income later in life.”

Going Above & Beyond

Agapi Sikkim also partnered with the Skill Development Department under Government of Sikkim and is currently training 25 rural women on Skin Care Product Making Course in Kabi, North Sikkim. She collaborates with the government and self-help groups to reach women in the remotest areas of the state. While Agapi continues to grow, Rinzing keeps refreshing her knowledge of skincare science. She recently did an online course from Formula Botanica, an organic cosmetic formulation school in the UK.

Agapi Sikkim has already made significant strides by securing contracts with prestigious hotel chains such as JW Marriott and Taj Hotels. The brand’s products are now available in stores across North-East and West Bengal. With the infusion of funds from this landmark investment, Agapi aims to expand its product range and accelerate its growth trajectory, aspiring to become one of India’s top natural skincare brands.

The investors in this historic funding round include influential local figures in Sikkim, notable venture capital firms, and global impact investors. Rinzing expressed her excitement, stating, “Our mission is to empower, uplift, and redefine skincare while preserving the unique heritage of Sikkim. With this funding milestone, we are thrilled to have the opportunity to bring our vision to life.”

What Rinzing is doing with her brand Agapi Sikkim, is truly remarkable. She is not only thinking about her brand but is also taking active steps to uplift her community by helping them upskill. Our country and the world need more women entrepreneurs like her who take such courageous strides for society.