Indie beauty brand founders revisit their cultural identities for inspiration Advertisement

Raised around the globe, founders of 7 indie beauty brands revisit their cultural identities for inspiration

Back to the roots

By Mamta Mody  April 16th, 2020

Over the past few years, as the promising league of women-lead natural brands took over our beauty routines, we’ve been introduced to high-performance clean ingredients and decadent ayurvedic rituals that were earlier filed away for the ‘self-care Sunday’ that never happened. In some instances, it also gave the founders a reason to revisit their cultural roots. Whether it was two friends who discovered the healing powers of Ayurveda first hand or a Toronto-based exec who found the science behind her father’s home remedies, their brands have stripped away the less approachable elements of beauty and are bringing time-tested wisdom to a global audience.


The elevator pitch: Ayurvedic wellness rituals to beat urban stress

Divya Viswanathan and Amy Engel (who first met at Columbia Business School) discovered the true potency of Ayurveda when Western medicine failed to treat their personal health concerns. “Growing up in Mumbai, oil massages and powder shampoos were part of my family traditions. It wasn’t until I rediscovered Ayurveda as an adult that I truly came to understand and value these rituals,” says Viswanathan.

Taza AyurvedaTaza Ayurveda Nourish Nighttime Facial OIl

(L to R) Founders Divya Viswanathan and Amy Engel; Taza Ayurveda Nourish Nighttime Facial Oil

Driven by the passion to share these natural solutions, the duo is working with two ayurvedic medical institutes that are regulated by the Indian Ministry of AYUSH to create authentic formulations. Since the basic tenet of Taza is that the skin and gut are pathways to overall wellbeing, it was only fair to include a digestive supplement, an abhyanga body oil and a nourishing facial oil in their line-up.


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The elevator pitch: Doctor-backed skincare loaded with natural probiotics

What do you get when a practicing gastroenterologist at New York University creates skincare? A no-nasties range of high-performing formulas packed with natural probiotics and healthy superfoods. “After noticing how much better my patients looked and felt after a course of probiotic treatment—often their skin was calmer and clearer—I began to research its topical benefits,” says founder Dr Roshini Raj of her brand’s inception.


Dr Roshni Raj is the founder of Tula

Tula which means ‘balance’ in Sanskrit does exactly what its name suggests—soothe skin by nurturing its microbiome—with an extensive range that includes cleansers, face masks, primers and everything in between. “Probiotics are friendly, healthy good-for-you bacteria that work to improve your health, both inside and out. People with all types of skin are likely to see improvements in their complexions by introducing probiotics into their regimen—topically or by ingesting it,” explains Dr Raj. They lock in moisture, are clinically proven to reduce the appearance of inflammation and redness, and they also help defend the skin against age-accelerating environmental stressors and free radicals.


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The elevator pitch: A modern twist to Indian beauty rituals

Setting up Aavrani has been a cathartic experience for co-founder Rooshy Roy. Growing up in a predominantly white part of Michigan, she never fully embraced her dual Indian-American identity. “I spent no more than a fraction of my upbringing being my true self. Outside of our close-knit Indian community, I didn’t look like anyone else, and apparently, I often smelled like my mom’s kitchen,” says Roy.


Co-Founder of Aavrani Rooshy Roy 

Two years ago, as an adult on the lookout for non- toxic beauty products, Roy deep-dived into her Indian heritage to find holistic solutions. Through intense R&D and interviews with several Indian women, she discovered various facets of wonder ingredients, like neem, hibiscus and bakuchiol. All this information was poured into creating the Aavrani ritual that consists of an exfoliating turmeric cleanser-mask-hybrid that promises no yellow stains, a tea tree oil-infused toner, a coconut and rosehip seed oil moisturiser, and an almond oil eye cream. Watch out as the brand unveils a big makeover and new product this summer.


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The elevator pitch: Cruelty-free make-up for all genders and skin tones

Like any woman of colour, California-based Sarah Thomas never found the right shade of make-up for her skin tone while growing up. Foundations looked ashy, lipsticks never gave full-coverage, and even eyeshadows made her look washed out. “Bili Beauty is for all my fellow brown people who never saw themselves in the Saturday morning cartoons, the main lead in a romantic comedy, or as a face in a fashion magazine,” says Thomas on the inspiration behind her make-up line.

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Sarah Thomas 

Two years ago, she poured her love for make-up and business chops into creating a vegan, cruelty-free cosmetics. The result is a sharp edit of six creamy matte lipsticks and a palette of pigmented, vibrant eyeshadows that are perfectly suited for melanin-rich skin tones. Inspired by the multiple holiday trips to her family’s home town in Kerela, she incorporated interesting cultural nuggets into the brand in the form of artwork and make- up themes. For instance, the shades are named Creative Chechi and Adventurous Akka with little notes on the language it’s derived from and their English translation on the labels. Besides extending the make-up line, Thomas is also building a community that will share more insight on South Asian culture.


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The elevator pitch: Contemporary luxury formulas with a global appeal

“While living in London in my early 30s it became evident that there weren’t many skincare products by major luxury brands for my sensitive skin type and the ensuing concerns of oiliness, dullness and melasma. The idea of creating this brand really germinated at that time,” says founder Deepika Vyas.

beauty brand

Deepika Vyas 

For reasons, including personal tragedies, single motherhood and other entrepreneurial projects, it wasn’t until 2017 that she finally got around to it with her nephew Dr Tanuj Nakra, a triple board-certified facial plastic surgeon. Having lived in Nairobi, London and now New York, Vyas wanted to create a complete skincare routine that would speak to women around the world. So while Avya draws on the wisdom of past generations, it also embraces top of the line technology. “We are committed to creating formulations that are effective, whether it be our AVYA Qusomes, a nanotech molecule delivering ingredients deeper into the skin, or sourcing a colourless, odourless active ingredient of turmeric—tetrahydrocurcumin,” says Vyas.


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The elevator pitch: Clinically-proven ayurvedic skincare

When it came to developing her own clean skincare brand, it was very important for the former pharmaceutical executive, Lisa Mattam to ensure that the ayurvedic traditions incorporated in her formulas were also highly efficacious. And the brand certainly has bona fides: Toronto-based Mattam worked very closely with two ayurvedic doctors in Kerala who scoured Vedic texts to identify potent ingredients.

beauty brand Sahajan Oil Cleanser

(L to R) Lisa Mattam; Sahajan Oil Cleanser

“All our products have also been through extensive regulatory reviews, clinical trials and consumer testing—just to say that we don’t make claims that aren’t backed up by science,” she explains. Case in point: Sahajan’s bestselling Nourish Face Cream that has triphala and gotu kola. “The ingredients are both revered in ayurvedic texts, and have strong clinical results boasting a decrease in fine lines in 100 per cent of subjects within six weeks,” she says.


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The elevator pitch: Dosha-based vegan skincare

Abida Halstenberg truly believes that our most pressing skincare worries, like pigmentation, rosacea, and dry skin lies in treating the root cause. This may seem like a tough target to achieve, but leave it to her dosha- balancing formulas to give you a helping hand. Having spent her childhood years making face packs and cleansers with her grandmother in South of India, Halstenberg grew up with a strong passion for herbal beauty remedies.

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Abida Halstenberg 

After moving to England, her desire to return to the traditional ways lead to Samaya, a holistic skincare brand. It’s not just a complete skincare solution consisting of cleanser, exfoliator, face oil and cream, but also a daily supplement to strengthen immunity and improve tissue repair. The formulas are based on the ayurvedic principles of body constitution that believes vata skin tends to be dry, pitta skin sensitive and kapha is oily when imbalanced.
“Samaya’s formulations shatter the myth that natural products don’t deliver results,” says Halstenberg. “Our facial oils have paracress flower extract—aka natures’ botox—that shows 51 per cent improvement after one application. Besides this the oils also have tulsi, shatavari, neem, ashwagandha, and gotu kola that pacify specific doshas through daily skincare.”

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(L-R) Samaya Anti-ageing Cream for Pitta; Samaya Hydrating Cleanser for Vata; Samaya Anti-ageing Treatment Oil for Kapha