Anita Lal© HelloIndia

HELLO! 100 Most Influential: Anita Lal

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Sanghita Singh

Why she matters: What does it take for a home-grown brand to become a celebrated name worldwide? Sanghita Singh finds out, in conversation with the woman who built the Good Earth empire, the foundations of which she laid in the simple tenets of purity of intent and being true to the Indian design ethos.

This is not the first time I’m meeting Anita Lal. But every time I see her, I come away slightly more enriched. She’s a history buff who loves to excavate interesting details on India’s art, craft and spirituality and has an encyclopaedic grasp over these subjects.

When we meet over a Zoom call after the infamous Himalayan floods, she pans her phone around for me to soak in the view. Snowy cumulous clouds against the backdrop of a brilliant blue sky, the vision from her Manali cottage, uplifting. Her latest venture, Sitara Himalaya, the 10-room uber luxury retreat is a stone’s throw from where she lives. On most days in Manali, she spends time conjuring up new designs, reading and trekking up to meet her team of yoga experts, teachers and healers. It’s an idyllic life in her hill heaven, where she’s offering the world a deep dive into Indian wellness treasures.

“We’re going back to the source. After all, what is ayurveda? It’s from the Vedas, right? Legend has it that it was right here that Rishi Vasishtha started this whole concept of yog, and Ved Vyas, our greatest sage, is said to have meditated in the vicinity for 12 years,” she shares, displaying her passion for the Indianness of things and their historicity.

Anita Lal©HelloIndia

For her, setting up a venture in the hills was no happenstance, but perhaps borne out of a primordial connection she’s had with the terrain. She was raised in the serene settings of Khadakwasla, and when she married Vikram Lal, former CEO of Eicher Motors, she became privy to the ancient knowledge of the Himalayan yogis that were subliminally shared with the family through letters (now being published as a book for their future generations).

These arrived for a few decades at the Mussoorie home of Vikram’s maternal grandmother and became a channel of cosmic wisdom for the family.

“Reading letters from the yogis was our post-dinner ritual with Vikram’s grandfather. As a young bride, I wondered what was happening. Later, I started understanding how wonderful it was…”

A Clan Of Achievers

Anita is grateful for this unusual guidance that was to become the script for her lifebook. The Lals are a family where every member is superbly successful yet firmly rooted. Anita shares a close working relationship with Simran, her elder daughter, especially in running Paro by Good Earth and Sitara Himalaya. Seven years ago, Simran branched out with her own label, Nicobar; Tara, her younger daughter, works in wildlife conservation, and Siddharth, her son, currently heads Eicher Motors’ legacy.

Anita brought up her three kids on the tenets of simplicity, right speech and right emotion found in the unity of bhaava and bhavana, expression and intention.

“The grounding and the value system of our family starts from my husband. What we learnt is that once you have pure intent, the universe makes things happen. This has been our guiding principle. You’ll be surprised, but we never talk about money. It’s of no consequence. It has its value, but it’s not what defines the family. What defines us is our relationships and values.”

The Goodness Of Earth

It’s the same value she extends to her brand, building it bit by bit to celebrate the core essence of India and its vast cultural repertoire. In fact, Anita’s biggest success has been in making occidentally-obsessed Indians rediscover their country and its ever-widening kaleidoscopic canvas. From candles to crockery, cutlery and clothing, her eclectic design vocabulary has not only raised the bar for Indian products but also resurrected Indian materials and designs from near-extinction. Whether it’s kansa or muslin, she found magic in their basic-ness.

“She has a very canny eye on the mood and needs of the times and people, and she’s very willing to take chances and not just follow the hackneyed business rules of yore,” says interior designer and friend Adil Ahmad, having both worked with Anita closely and known her as a friend for over 15 years. “She’s stuck to her core values of representing India in a crisp coherent design ethos to the world, which has set her apart from the rest of the market.”

From a single store that started in 1996 in South Mumbai, Good Earth now is a consummate brand with multiple extensions—with Paro by Good Earth, Sitara Himalaya and now Nityam, a skincare line.

“I used foreign products that didn’t do much good to my skin. After 25 years of researching Indian beauty rituals, I decided to launch my own range, a collection of plant-based formulations,” she explains. Simran is not surprised by her dear mother’s stupendous success and infinite ability to create.

“She’s a risk-taker who comes with an innate belief that it will all work out in the end—and it does for her,” Simran says.

Anita, At The Core

Anita Lal’s journey into entrepreneurship is intrinsically linked to her instinctive allure for all things, natural, basic and pure. There’s been no method to her madness, she confesses.

“I’m a free soul. I don’t need outside meditation. When I’m in the flow of work, that’s my meditation. But the problem is that in life, you have to start looking at commerce,” she smiles.

On some days, she wakes up at 4am and starts writing at the spur of the moment, and on others, she sleeps in. Mostly, she works on impulse.

“I admire her writing skills so much,” exclaims Adil. “Not many know, but she writes most of the content for Good Earth, and it’s almost lyrical!”

Simran also describes her mother as a true karma yogi. “She’s highly intuitive about what she does. She has a remarkable childlike quality about her. You’ll always see her in action, and yet, if things don’t go her way, she takes it in her stride. She can be highly detached,” she says.

Three years away from celebrating 30 years of Good Earth, Anita quotes from Ahmiyat (Relevance)–The Indian Way, a note on the brand philosophy she wrote on its 21st anniversary: “Whether it’s clothes or our home, our endeavour is to create products that elevate the experience of owning it. The quality of design must be thoughtful and products, mindfully made. The essence of culture is that it’s both timeless and of the moment.”

She and her brand remain true to these words, even as time and tide continue their cycle…

To see who else is on the list, grab the copy of HELLO! India’s August 2023 issue right here!