As many sectors suffered because of the pandemic, the beauty and wellness industry wasn’t an exception. With colour cosmetics suffering a blow due to the face mask mandate and being stuck indoors, it became a task for beauty brands to stay afloat. However, the industry navigated its way through these 18 months of lull and survived. While skincare and wellness brands came out as fair winners, makeup brands also found a way to stay relevant.
During this time, while we used beauty as a way to rewind, there was a surge in homegrown labels from beauty entrepreneurs who aimed at bridging the gap between quality and affordability of beauty products in the Indian market. TBH, it is extremely challenging to launch a beauty brand in India; from stringent regulations in place to setting out manufacturing units and sourcing raw materials, it’s an overwhelming task. To do so during the pandemic definitely added to the list of challenges that these women dealt with and aced. Most of these labels did manage to come out of it even stronger. We spoke to five female entrepreneurs to learn more about what went on behind the scenes. Swipe right to see what they had to say!
1. Shamika Haldipurkar, Founder, d’you
For d’you, the brand that jump-started their stint with the multipurpose serum Hustle, working on new product development across different countries and cities was a taxing task. Further, the increased costs and production delays due to the impacted global supply chain were situations they were thrown into unprepared.
So, it’s crucial to know what kept the brand going. Answering this, Shamika reveals, “The bright future we see for d’you and love the brand has received so far keeps me motivated through all the challenges. A big driving factor for me is innovation. I started d'you to infuse product innovation into the beauty industry in India, and that keeps me motivated to keep doing something unique with every launch.”
But motivation may run sparse in stressful situations. Shamika confesses, “Having launched in the middle of a pandemic, working through various challenges and with limited resources is in the DNA of the brand. We launched the brand with bare minimal resources and I was doing the job of probably 10 different people. Good things take time, and results are mostly never immediate. So it’s the faith in your vision and efforts that keeps you going through the anxiety so you sail through it.”How did the brand manage to not only survive but grow? Shamika attributes that to the USP of their launch. “I fearlessly dreamed of offering something very different and unique to the Indian market, and the uniqueness of the product picked up traction in the market,” reveals Shamika. She further elaborates, “With d’you it wasn’t just the brand’s visual appeal, which I admit is very important, but also the product performance which got us the success in such a short time. The brand spent close to two years in R&D making just one product, and it’s this product that got them recognition in the market. “I entirely credit the business growth of the brand to our product performance,” she adds.
2. Rameshwari Seth, Co-Founder, Neemli Naturals
Clean, vegan, innovative, and wholesome, Neemli Naturals is already a staple on many beauty vanities. The brand witnessed a shift in the beauty habits of consumers where digital sales grew exponentially, given the lack of movement in outlets. Rameshwari, while talking about the challenges the brand faced after its inception, says, “People turned to skincare during this phase. The bigger brands had to share a piece of the pie with homegrown beauty brands that started to reinvent the skincare game. A major challenge, however, was the sheer number of local skincare brands that popped up during this time. We really had to work hard on expanding our digital footprint in terms of ads and content.” Adding to this, she also reveals the challenges the brand dealt with regarding the supply of the products. “We did experience phases where some of the products were out of stock due to the prevalent restrictions. Overall, however, we did see a growth spurt during this phase given the consumer sentiment of self-care,” she says.
Homegrown labels have proven time and again that they are made of grit and steel and willing to take any challenge head-on. The secret behind Neemli’s consistency is the art to adapt to the changing environment. “We're always trying to listen to our customers to give them a better experience,” reveals Rameshwari. She further elaborates, “It's also essential to keep tracking the results of our efforts. This gives us an understanding of what we need to do more of and what we need to pull back on. It's also very important to focus on things that are relevant at the moment.” While talking about learning from her experiences, she says that we have our share of ups and downs, but eventually, it always comes down to trusting the fact that we have wonderful, high-quality products that show results.”
3. Sukriti Jindal Khaitan, Co-Founder, asa Beauty
asa beauty, a clean makeup brand that makes skincare-infused make-up products already boasts of a cult following (us included!). Despite the incredible formulations and minimal packaging, it wasn’t always easy for the brand to hit it off right. Sukriti reveals, “Launching the brand was a challenge during the pandemic as we had to change our approach and adapt to a digital medium only. This made it impossible for us to give our customers the in-store experience that we initially planned on. Working from different cities for me and my mother-in-law was another challenge, but it also acted like an opportunity in disguise, as it helped us bring two different perspectives to the brand and understand different audiences.”
Elaborating on the vision of the brand, she says, “The brand was born with a desire to help the contemporary Indian woman to embrace her true potential through clean formulations of makeup with deep-rooted beliefs seeped in its core values of ‘purposeful beauty, purposeful luxury and purposeful living. As a first-of-its-kind brand in the country, with all of its products made in India, asa aims for a clean awakening, a path of life that is built on choosing good not just for oneself but also for the larger community and the planet.”
She further elaborated, “I am also keenly aware of the endless wastage generated by the beauty industry. To counter this, we started curating and designing aluminium - an endlessly recyclable material - casings. Additionally, we also created a smart and accessible refill programme that ensures that customers can sustainably replenish their products.”
To work through the pandemic and drive the brand to the success that it is today, Sukriti credits her mother-in-law and her undying support. “As a woman entrepreneur, I knew the consumer base and I’m extremely grateful to see the brand made for women and by women doing well in the industry,” she says. However, she also talks about the challenges of being a business owner. “It is a nerve-wracking task but being patient, persistent, and resilient in every situation is essential. Having my mother-in-law’s support through every step of the way is something I can't be grateful enough for,” she adds.
4. Prachi Bhandari, Co-Founder, AMINU
For us, AMINU understood the assignment for the need for quality products that work fast and effectively. “For a Make in India brand – sourcing good quality ingredients and environmentally friendly packaging in the pandemic was challenging for us,” revealed Prachi. “But what kept us going was people loving the products, its touch and feel, and efficacy,” she reveals.
Prachi gave us an insight into the unique brand name as well. “Aminu means meticulous work in the fields of science, medicine and mathematics. For us, the name brings infinite patience to develop intricate skincare products that are high performance, multi-tasking, clean and at the same time ecstatic to use. Our vision is to keep innovating and to develop high performing, multi-tasking skincare products that are safe for the skin and environment,” she adds.
So, what kept Prachi, and the brand, going during the pandemic? Just running the process like a well-oiled machine! She attributes the brand’s success to the menial yet functional approach of the products. “The brand grew by giving an easy access to the goodness of nature and science, and effective products. We have always shared light on the right skin education, and responsibility towards the planet and the consumer. All this while being minimal at heart,” she concludes.
5. Prasanthy Gurugubelli, Founder, Daughter Earth
A conversation about amazing homegrown beauty brands will be incomplete without Daughter Earth. Prasanthy revealed, “The pandemic saw massive delays in the supply chain leading to delayed launches with money getting stuck, the physical and emotional well-being of my team, my family and myself - these were the top three.”
This can be especially challenging when you are deep diving into formulations that lay the backbone of the product line. “I wanted to bring world-class formulations using clean, planet-friendly, and kind ingredients without having to compromise on the efficacy. I see a serious lack of R&D and performance-oriented formulations in beauty and I believe we are changing that. I want to build a brand that outlives me.”
While motivational, it’s aspirational to be in those shoes. So, what kept her going? “As an entrepreneur, one aspect that drains me the most is the number of decisions that need to be taken across various areas of work. I try to minimise this by letting my team take the decisions, and step in if course-correction is needed.” she reveals. “ This helps me focus on building a product line and a great brand. When things don’t work my way, I try to get as much sleep as possible and meditate. For motivation, I read, I speak to people who’ve done well, and I travel without any devices which helps me with perspective and some much-needed rest,” she elaborated.
How did Daughter Earth survive the pandemic? “We focused on the most important things: being good in general even when times were troubling, being great at bringing exceptional formulas to the market, and doing everything in our hands to build the brand. On the business side, we prepared for scale early on, and therefore when lockdowns were announced, we adapted very quickly too," revealed Prasanthy.