Priyanka Ganjoo grew up in New Delhi and never felt pretty. It’s a common feeling among girls in India, where domestic magazines use European models and billboards advertise skin bleaching products recommended by Bollywood stars. Make-up and beauty standards are Eurocentric (“fair and lovely”) and emphasize slender figures, while women like Ganjoo have darker skin tones and undertones.
On her first job in Singapore, employees of the then 22-year-old Ganjoo regularly told that she looked tired because of pronounced dark circles – a common characteristic of South Asians. She had never put makeup on before, but she was looking for it now. However, as she neared a beauty counter in a mall, she was referred to a whole cornucopia of other products to hide many of her distinctly South Asian features.
Ganjoo was also embroiled in a larger social dilemma: “In South Asian culture, when you wear red lipstick or very dramatic or bold looks, people think you are trying to attract male attention and it is universally looked down upon.”
Creative Director Badal Patel helped create the visual identity of Kulfi Beauty. The packaging is … [+]
She got a job in the beauty industry business. Although Ganjoo criticized the lack of variety of products, he was drawn to the excitement of a changing landscape. Independent brands challenged large conglomerates by harnessing the power of the internet and communicating directly with consumers through influencers on platforms like YouTube. During her time at Estée Lauder, she was part of the Retail Strategy Team. At IPSY, she helped set up the merchandising team, the main task of which was to find and grow the newest and most interesting indie brands.
But this democratization did not go fast or far enough for Ganjoo. The beauty room excluded many and she personally struggled to find colors that complemented her skin. She still noticed a lack of marketing campaigns with women who looked like them.
“I felt like I got to a point in my career where I wasn’t as happy as I was before because I hadn’t made sense of what I was doing.”
Finally, she decided to create it herself. She quit her job in April 2019 and started Kulfi Beauty. Ganjoo spent six months doing market research, sending out surveys, and conducting focus groups in person and on Facebook when the pandemic broke out. She flew back to India to better understand the beauty product ecosystem. She posted on LinkedIn, checked the responses, and scheduled more phone calls to discuss them. She would notify new followers directly on Instagram and try to solicit their experience.
By September 2019, she had created a brand personality and visual identity. Kulfi Beauty was supposed to be a brand designed by South Asians for South Asians – its name comes from a beloved, centuries-old dessert that is native to the subcontinent.
Kulfi Beauty products complement brownish and deep skin tones and tones, creamy pigments and malleable formulations. Ganjoo and Badal Patel, the creative director, felt that makeup should be used as a tool for self-expression. They wanted their products to feel fun, playful, and solemn.
Or maybe their work is inevitably rebellious. By accentuating rather than hiding the South Asian nature, they clashed directly with colorism, patriarchal standards of feminine “modesty” and the allegations that makeup should only attract men and hide imperfections.
“What was unlocked for me was realizing that there is this emotional void that so many of us grow up in and don’t think we deserve to be beautiful. Celebration and confirmation were therefore a central pillar of the brand identity. “
“Nazar No More” or “Evil No More” is the slogan for Kulfi Beauty.
The brand’s first products are kajal (cabbage) eyeliners, an integral part of traditional South Asian culture. Mothers apply the gunpowder to their newborns to distract the Nazar, or the evil eye. It is also widely used as a beauty product by adults. “We wanted to communicate that we want to use beauty and makeup as a medium for self-expression. With the slogan “Nazar no more” we will not apologize for ourselves, we will define beauty through our gaze and reject the masculine gaze that has defined beauty for us for so long. “
It is common in many cultures to ward off the evil eye, but Ganjoo reinvented Kajal and tailored it to the needs and desires of the South Asian consumer: a high pigment and a creamy glide without the usual raccoon eyes. Then, with the right mix of waxes and plasticizers, she repeated the formula across shades. Ganjoo’s kohl is unique in that it can be applied and smeared within fifteen seconds of application. It’s also vegan and cruelty-free. The packaging is biodegradable and recyclable.
The pandemic disrupted Ganjoo’s plans. She had planned to raise funds in March and then start in November 2020. “Everything was shut down, no one took calls, definitely no one wanted to invest in a beauty brand,” said Ganjoo.
Even the time span for product development slowed. The labs weren’t working, the samples were coming out of the lab very late, and the mail would take weeks to ship. The answers were also difficult to analyze. “Feedback was hard to cut because beauty is so visual. It’s easy for me to see what it looks like on you and you tell me how it looks on you, ”said Ganjoo.
The compromised fundraising required ingenuity, but it also unexpectedly enabled Ganjoo to build a community. She started Kulfi Bites – an authentic storytelling place for underrepresented voices that deals with all sorts of social taboos: colorism, cheat syndrome and fat phobia. The goal is real and heartfelt content, not clickbait, and Ganjoo has since expanded the conversation to Clubhouse, the invite-only chat room app.
Priyanka Ganjoo’s kohl is unique in that it can be applied and smeared in fifteen seconds … [+]
“Bites is a place where you feel seen and heard. And just as much about the visitors as about the people who read. I’ve written a couple of posts and found this process so cathartic for me to express myself, and I think that’s my hope: that we will continue to build it as a space for dialogue. “
Kulfi Beauty is part of Sephora’s Brand Incubation Program to Grow Brands Created by BIPOC, Supermaker’s Entrepreneurial Dream Project, and Gold House’s Spring 2021 Accelerator.
Investors are quickly flocking to celebrity and machine learning-powered brands or artificial intelligence-based solutions rather than looking for sustainable, long-term partnerships, she claims. The beauty industry is limited to serving women in color. “It was honestly a very daunting experience as most investors failed to understand the opportunity and had many different reasons to say no,” said Ganjoo. “They didn’t think I was the right person for this. I’ve heard very often that there are already women from color brands or South Asian brands and we didn’t need another. I always thought that if I was white, would I be asked the same question? “
When asked why the brand is not suitable for all races, Ganjoo replied, “Everyone is welcome to try the product, but we are South Asian with no apology and our goal is to center the South Asian consumer.” that this is reflected in every aspect of their business.
Although she was unable to connect with an institutional investor, Ganjoo was encouraged by the experience and realized that there are smaller angel investors out there who believe in her and her mission. Later that year, Ganjoo is hoping to pursue a starting round but in the meantime is focusing on operations and making sure she and her team connect with and understand the early customers.
Right now, Ganjoo is welcoming something that is disheartened in the sheltered corporate world she left behind and the subcontinent she grew up on: vulnerability.
“I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that vulnerability is a superpower. Since I started a business during a difficult time, I have been very open to everyone in my life about the way we work. Now I’m not afraid to say I don’t know anymore. “