Being Auroville’s largest unit comes with its own challenges and responsibility. We spoke with Laura from Maroma about growing their business up from a hut in Aspiration community, and about some of the socially and environmentally responsible decisions management has taken over the years.
In 1977, a group of young people in their 20s from Aspiration gathered around Paul Pinthon with the aim of starting an industry in Auroville. They were inspired by The Mother’s extensive commentaries on flowers and their messages – and wanted to create something beautiful. Keeping her words in mind, Paul and his team decided on incense – a popular item in the region – as the basic product, and began experimenting with the manufacturing process.
Paul and his team asked for financial help from some Aurovilians who had extra means, and hired a few workers from the nearby Kuilapalayam village. They then created the first line of 12 fragrances in a hut in Aspiration, while others worked on handmade paper, silkscreen printing and packaging. After incense, they expanded to make candles and body care products such as soap and perfume.
As the business grew, the simple keet roof huts were replaced by modern buildings made with ferrocement. At the same time, the village of Kuilapalayam also transformed, Laura says. In the beginning, Maroma helped them by digging two bore wells for the village’s water needs. Economic changes are seen, for example, in the modern houses many people now have, with indoor bathrooms which weren’t there before.
Protecting the Environment
Palm oil is an environmentally disastrous component in many consumer products, linked to serious problems such as deforestation and the loss of habitat for endangered species like the orangutan and Sumatran rhino. To this day palm oil plantations continue expanding, as corporations use this cheap oil in a wide range of foods and cosmetic products, sacrificing nature for profit.
Six years ago, Maroma completely stopped using palm oil, replacing it with organic, locally-sourced coconut oil as the base for soap and body care products. Maroma receives its coconuts from the surrounding region, monitoring each step of the process as the fruits are opened and dried, and their oil extracted.
As the understanding of corporate responsibility evolves around the world, Maroma felt called to become certified Fair Trade. While they were already committed to the workers’ wellbeing, this required management to really take time to get up to date on current practices.
Besides ensuring fair wages and worker’s benefits, Maroma also has regular meetings with the workers to get their advice and suggestions on what they feel can be improved in their workspace.
Contributing to Auroville
It took a while for Maroma to become profitable – at the beginning the unit was barely getting by. It wasn’t until 1994 that it became established enough to begin contributing money to Auroville. The first donation was to Auroville schools, and then to the Matrimandir, still under construction at the time.
Later on, Auroville’s Central Fund was formed, which allocates contributions in an organised way. Maroma is able to contribute regularly to Auroville thanks to a special reserve fund they’ve set up, which takes 5% of all income and can also be used for renovations, employee retirement and other sudden expenses.
Laura loves being able to help Auroville through this work, and feels that her personal journey is deeply connected to Maroma’s work and progress. The unit is currently working on new gift sets, and are about to launch a new line of double-scented, spiral incense sticks.
“No matter what we go through – and sometimes it’s very difficult – we get through it and we grow together. It has been an interesting process”, she concludes.
Maroma’s line of incense is available at the Auroville Online Store.