Two halves of a whole: the Holy Lama story, Part 1

 This is a tale told in two parts; a heart-warming and truly tasty story of enterprise, ethics, empowerment and initiative. The most incredible edibles should leave a good taste in your mouth both because of their taste and the tale they tell – and Holy Lama is a case in point; a brand that gets further under your skin the deeper you dig.

Holy Lama Spice Drops

So what’s the drama about Holy Lama?

Whole spices are all well and good, but sometimes you just don’t want the bother of ‘bits’. And pre-powdered spices are, well, rarely good. Holy Lama’s Spice Drops, on the other hand, are lovely, lively elixirs that add a proper punch of true flavour to food.

…Or drinks, or confectionary, or whatever else you should chose to use them in. Each diminutive droplet delivers a highly-concentrated dose of just what it claims to on the slim glass phial. A drop will stop you in your tracks – and certainly stop you piddling about with paltry powders.

But these perfect potions are not new. No – Holy Lama Naturals was established in 1938 with Mr. D V Deo’s migration from Goa to Kerala, where he established not only a new home but also the first commercial vertivert plantation for the production of essential oil. The talented chap fast became known throughout the land as the pioneer of Indian essential oil production.

The next invention of the awesome alchemist was a line of spice concentrates – known in India both then and today as ‘Masala Drops’. As the drops hopped over to the UK much later under the guardianship of Mr. D’s youngest son, Vijay, they dropped that name and assumed a new alias suited to a new alien demographic – ‘Spice Drops’.

Vijay Deo in Bhutan

Vijay Deo in Bhutan

Olfactory expert Vijay knows his nose, and sniffed out the potential of the family business at an early age. In the early 1980s, he spent almost 10 years honing both his craft and his senses in Bhutanese Himalayas; where the local Lama’s gift of a talisman inspired the ‘Holy Lama Naturals’ name.

The millennium marked 40 years of industry experience for Vijay, and the start of a new chapter for Holy Lama Naturals. Along with an expanded Masala Drops line, Holy Lama bodycare collection was born. Back in Kerala, Vijay and wife Vijaya sought support from unemployed women with their manufacture – providing local ladies with jobs and opportunities aplenty.

It’s no surprise that the enterprise gained Holy Lama Government recognition for its work with women. In fact, the factory females make up over 90% of the workforce even today. Hooray for them – determined ladies leading the way when it comes to makin’ bacon for the family. Or Spice Drops, even, seeing as that’s what earns their bread-and-butter.

But working for Holy Lama doesn’t just give a girl cash to splash. The factory’s wonder-women are, proudly skilled individuals with self-confidence to spare and independent means. A job doesn’t just mean work for these women – for many, their fellow factory staff fast become family.

Holy Lama Spice Drops factory team

At work, Holy Lama employees are classed as casteless equals, irrespective of age, religion or circumstance.  If you can get your tongue around the word, ‘kudumbashree’ expresses it best – meaning ‘the enhancement of a less-privileged family through female empowerment.’

And creating strong women has happy consequences for Holy Lama Naturals. Physical robustness is a must when working with one’s hands; the method used in the making of the majority of the company’s products. Soaps come in hand-sewn slip-cases; a single case of the staff’s commitment to affording each and every item a little tender loving care.

Holy Lama’s lifeblood is its willing and well-treated workforce – the company simply couldn’t afford to do these women wrong. It might all sound rather ‘right-on’; but it’s a spot-on system that’s earned the company an excellent reputation.

But in a material world, all that would count for diddly-squat if the product quality fell short – and Holy Lama’s resoundingly does not. High-quality raw materials have a low footprint; mainly sourced within the company’s home state of Kerala from farmers known to the family for 70 years.

Vijay hand-harvesting

Vijay hand-harvesting

 Holy Lama’s ‘no-credit’ principle means suppliers don’t wait anywhere near that long for payment. Indeed, it’s in their accounts before you can say ‘Saffron Spice Drops soup up suppers’. Wages for factory workers aren’t just fair in amount; they’re also just in that the same fair-and-square sum applies to both genders – and it’s above the local average and subject to increase in line with inflation.

The entire staff is trained in multiple areas; the mastery of various disciplines meaning daily mobility within every area of factory operations and frequent variation in one’s work. These multi-skilled workers are in much demand – although as you’d expect, no-one’s in a hurry to flee the fold.

By now you might have an inkling that Holy Lama has good karma coming its way. More so still when you learn that the company also supplies free Ayurvedic treatments for Parkinson’s Disease to the local community in honour of family sufferer, Diwakar Deo. Reducing waste to less than 1% by using sustainable materials and methods, minimising the carbon footprint, is surely yet another giant stride towards attaining nirvana.

And Holy Lama’s happy karma just keeps on coming from the way it works in the UK. Packaging comes courtesy of home-based women workers, and those do-gooding goods are stored with the womanly workforce at the female-fronted distribution centre, Tass Ltd. The British Association for Fair Trade Shops & Suppliers is a big fan of the brand, making it a member.

So remember the Holy Lama name – the little company from humble roots is destined for big fame.

There’s a lot to Holy Lama, and that primer is a mere (Spice) Drop in the ocean. Next week, I gab with leading lady Gouri Kubair about superchef supporters, sustainable spice, and all things nice…

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