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Direct Sourcing

Direct Sourcing


Dear Friends,

I hope that all of you are enjoying this wonderful contemplative time of year which in many cases has special significance according to each person's unique approach to life. Today I am going to endeavor to share a little bit more about how one may go about the direct sourcing adventure and still maintain one's sanity.(Well maintaining one's sanity may not be possible but at least you can enjoy the many experiences that will unfold) But for those of you who have a passion for relating to plants and people of different cultures, perhaps sponsoring a distillation of a particular aromatic plant, etc the information that follows may help you begin your own special project. 

First of all I think the word "passion" is of key importance. It may be that in your studies and your direct experiences with various oils, you have had some powerful spark ignited in your consciousness that draws you to a particular plant or part of the world where that plant is grown. This type of experience can be the beginning of your quest. Such a feeling will often propel one beyond ones seeming limitations so they might do things that are not normal for them. This is precisely what happened in my own life and so it is the way which I can most easily relate too(although there are numerous other vantage points through which one can enter the domain of direct sourcing) Before I ever thought of getting involved with the world of aromatic plants, I felt a strong attraction to go and live in India and so at the age of 20 I took off for the "land of my dreams" and ended up spending the next 6 years farming in a small rural community in Karnatika State. Living a simple life close to the land began to open my eyes to the wonders of the natural world and being in an area where aromatic plants were found in great abundance also opened my nostrils. Seeing and smelling these precious botanical treasures as well as visits to traditional incense shops, flower markets and perfume houses began to fuel my imagination and at that time the idea was born to explore this subject in deeper detail when the opportunity presented itself.

This is the "seed experience" which eventually led me to get involved with India's essential oil industry in an intimate way which has in turn gave me the courage to relate to distillers and extractors in other parts of the world. In truth, save for this deep experience of living near the land and growing to love India, her people and plants, I did not have any of the qualities required to start and run a business on a practical level. That part of the equation has been learned by many experiences, many of them not so pleasant but important none the less. No doubt it is a good thing to have a lot of good ideas but at the point where one wants to translate them into a physical plane reality, one is going to also have to learn the laws that govern that particular arena.

Okay, next on the path to direct sourcing. I think it is a tremendous assett to educate oneself. It means getting involved with the plants and people that work with those plants as distillers, farmers, scientists, etc. No doubt one can derive a lot of benefit from studying the literature on the subject. I myself spent over 20 years reading all that I could about aromatic plants, distillation processes, application in perfumery, cosmetics, etc and it was definitely a meaningful experience. But in the end it did not whet my appetite for actual experience. In fact the things that I read only increased my desire to see things first hand and when this longing finally began to dominate my consciousness, I started writing letters to every distiller in India I could find addresses for in hopes that someone in that ancient land would be willing to teach me something about the subject. It was an utterly naive thing to do but it came out of the sincerity in my heart and miraculously I received two invitations to come to India and learn.

The first was from Synthite Industrial Chemicals, Ltd in Kerala State. They are experts in floral absolutes(tuberose, mimosa and jasmine) and spice oils. The other was from Ramakant Harlalka who told me to come to India with my camera and he would personally escort me to the major distilling regions of India so I might learn the inside story of the industry. So that is exactly what happened. First I spent a wonderful 10 days with the kind people of Synthite visitng spice and flower growing regions of Tamil Nadu and Karnatika and seeing how these plants were distilled and extracted. That experience taught me more in a brief few days then I had learned from reading many books. At the end of that visit I traveled back to Bombay in Maharastra State and met Ramakant and that began the chapter of the adventure which is still evolving. Over the next several years I made many trips to India(3 times a year) and traveled with Ramakant to many regions of the country where he kindly showed me the inner workings India's ancient and modern aromatic traditions. On one of the very first visits he told me in a frank but gentle way, "Christopher, do not even think of selling any essential oil, attar or absolute until you have educated yourself about the processes involved in their production from field to distilling unit." Fortunately he had the patience to teach me and it is through his kind efforts that the foundations of White Lotus Aromatics were laid.

I mention all these things because I firmly believe that many good things are around us which may not be visible to the mind's eye. If one has some deep longing to do something there is a whole universe of mutual attraction that will help bring that thing into manifestation. As one develops their focus of attention and brings their life in harmony with their ideals, incredible things may happen. It is possible that it may take months, years or even decades for the doors to open up but there is a great power in the concentration which each one of us has. So the only purpose in mentioning the specifics of my own adventure is to encourage any of you who may feel that something is impossible to reconsider it as definitely possible.

At that time I began this exploration(and even now) I earned my living is a gardener. I was in a fortunate position of having control over my day to day schedule so that scheduling the trips to India was in my hands. I was fortunate also to have a wonderful clientle who understood my eagerness to investigate the world of India's aromatic plants.(And of equal if not greater importance was the love and support of Suzanne who believed in what I was doing) In this way I could leave for 2 week periods of time 3 times a year. Basically every bit of money I earned went toward the learning process. It was definitely a cheap bargain because a whole world of experiences opened up that by slow degrees enriched my understanding of the subject. In this regard I think practical education is a great assett in developing a business. It may be that there are no immediate financial returns while when one is becoming absorbed in the subject but later one may find that their success both personally and financially is in large part due to the things one can share on a practical level. And I can say with great certainty that there is a type of simple joy that comes in helping others understand a subject which one also had to learn from the ground up. No dollar value can be placed on such exchanges. Why??? Because everyday one is both sharing knowledge and learning many new things and even if one does not have a lot of money that heart grows ever richer in such endeavors. I think if the quality of our everyday life is rich and meaningful than one can say truthfully that they are the wealthiest of the wealthy.

Now on a much more practical dollars and sense level if one gets involved in direct sourcing, whether or not the above mentioned experiences form part of their quest, they are going to have to consider how to develop meaningful long term relationships with the people supplying the oils. One may have all sorts of good feelings about the plants and the people but the farmers, distillers, etc have to make things work in a practical way. It means crops have to be grown and tended, fertilized and harvested, distilled, etc. It takes money to do these things. So on the side of being a responsible buyer, one has to plan to take care of their financial obligations in a straightforward way. Also one has to learn to order in quantities appropriate for direct
sourcing.

So what does that mean? First of all there are an increasing number of small and medium sized distillers and extractors who are happy to work with small entreprenuers providing minimum purchase requirements are meant. There are also some excellent resources in the form of people who are personally involved with distilling and also network with distillers within the country they are working. The latter category of people often serve the needs of an small entreprenuer very well because the range of oils they offer is greater than can be offered by a small distillery. A lot depends on what market one is serving as to what one will buy and in what quantities. But a general rule of thumb for direct sourcing is that one should be buying in 10 kilo quantities either of a single oil or a variety of oils. This number is selected because most door-to-door courier services like UPS, Fedex, DHL etc have special rates on 10 kilo boxes. One may pay almost the same shipping rates for 1-2 kilos as they would for 10. So let us talk a bit about courier services. This is something that did not exist in such a sophisticated form several years ago. Nowadays almost all parts of the world are serviced by international courier services.

What does it mean for the small entreprenuer. It means that you can have a shipment sent to you from India, Ethiopia, South Africa, Hungary or wherever and that package will be cleared for you by the courier service and brought to your doorstep. Their fees for clearing the package are very nominal($20-$40) as compared to having a customs broker clear your package from an international airport($150-$300) But one must also be vigilant about tracking their package from the point of origin to their doorstep. A tracking number is issued for every package that is sent and from that day onward one should be following the progress of the package. Generally one can receive a delivery from almost any part of the world in 4-8 working days. Often US Customs has some sort of question or paperwork that they need done and this is acheived by them faxing the document to you and then you faxing it back. Sometimes they may ask for obscure information like the CAS numbers for an essential oil. That is easy to solve by going to your web browser and typing in the name of the oil followed by CAS number or simply CAS. There are a few little tricks like that but in many cases the representative for Fedex or UPS etc will help you figure out what needs to be figured out. I think I have received well over 30 consignments of 10 to 100 kilos over the past several years with relatively little problems.

Then there is the issue of sending wire transfers. This is by far the most convenient means of doing a transaction. You can even set up an automatic account with your bank where you can call up a special number and they will be able to do your wire transfer by phone. Certainly a lot easier and less time consuming than going down to the bank. A wire transfer usually costs the sender $25 or so. It is very important to remember though that most distillers require prepayment. Most do not have the ability to take credit cards so wire transfer is the preferred mode.

Once one enters into a relationship with a distiller it is important to establish oneself as a regular customer. As we live on the physical plane it is possible that small miscommunications can take place but they are in most cases easily solveable. After a few orders things will settle into a pattern which generally proves comfortable to others. But it can happen that one simply may not resonate with the company or distillery in which case it is best for everyone not to proceed forward. But that determination needs more times than one order or transaction to make(in my opinion) I would say that a lot of genuine committment needs to be there on the part of those who decide to get involved in direct sourcing. The people working on the production side are facing many issues which we may not be aware of. They have to pay the farmers for their aromatic crops, often in advance, they have to produce oils without exact knowledge of how much will be sold, they sometimes face crop failures or reductions that cause them to raise prices, etc. It is a vast network of cause and effect where the consequences of the vagaries of nature are readily apparent. On this side, unless we have actually seen the intricasies of such operations we may be think that an oil magically appears in the distilling vessel. Nothing could be
further from the truth. But if one does find some distiller or extractor that they feel comfortable with then incredible things can happen that may have seldom been done before. In my own experience I have had the opportunity to sponsor the extraction of blue, white and pink lotus in India and white rose absolute in Bulgaria. I have also been able to have an active role in traditional attar production which was necessary because this ancient art and craft is dying out. Now I am involved in several incense projects which concern cultivated agarwood and will visit Assam in March to see that industry for myself. It is just to say that many opportunities exist for such projects and as you become acquainted with a company and the part of the world they are working in you may be able to sponsor some special oil that is dear to the heart.

I think I have covered the basics of the subject and what I have not written down you can intuitively grasp. The whole subject revolves around vision and practical reality and in this regard I have come to realize that many more things are possible than one might think provided one is ready to work hard for it and always hold in their heart a tremendous appreciation and gratitude for each and every part of the process which includes environments, plants, people, and all the seen and unseen factors of which the universe is composed.

For those wishing to get started in direct sourcing, you are free to get in touch with me and I will share with you a few of the genuine distillers I have had
the opportunity to work with.

Friendly regards,
Christopher McMahon