Taboo topics and shameful subjects are being embraced by a new generation of beauty founders who are crafting products that reclaim their childhood and culture. From brands like Ranavat to the new color cosmetics range, TooD, each is rewriting their narrative to restore and celebrate what they once kept hidden, from body differences to personality traits.
“Modern beauty brand founders are releasing products that are in direct response to decades of being isolated, left out and frankly overlooked,” said Dr. Deepika Chopra, the Optimism Doctor, visual imagery expert, founder of Things Are Looking Up and host of the “Looking Up With Dr. Deepika Chopra” podcast. “More and more brands are starting to understand the value both from an inclusive standpoint in regards to the greater good of humanity, but also the success factor of their brands in sustaining relevancy by celebrating themes and topics that tap into vulnerability and acceptance.”
According to Sarah Barnes, content marketing manager at Trendalytics, Gen Z brands have been a huge driver of change, branding and storytelling, helping the consumer to feel seen and represented, especially when these brands are entering a space that a consumer was ashamed of before. The proof is in the numbers. According to Trendalytics, brands like TooD and Topicals’ social actions and posts are on the rise. TooD’s social growth is up 100 percent compared to last year, while Topicals has increased 128 percent compared to last year.
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Driving these increased rates is authenticity and a personal narrative consumers can relate to. Color cosmetics brand TooD is a testament to that. For as long as she can remember, founder Shari Siadat was ashamed of her unibrow, a subject she is currently writing a children’s book about. “The whole concept of my book is how can I visually tell kids that the uniqueness that makes you different is your superpower,” said Siadat. “Then I thought about how kids love watercolors and drawing all over. So why not draw on yourself? And for me, I wanted to paint my eyebrows. That is how TooD was born, to have colors and crystals on parts of myself that I held in shame.”
In June, TooD launched its latest product, BioGlitter, on its website Toodbeauty.com. The product is a eucalyptus cellulose-based glitter that biodegrades in at least 28 days in natural environments. The collection can be applied anywhere — face, body, hair — even teeth. “I want to bring people out of their shells,” said Siadat, “and encourage everyone to be who you would be if you didn’t live in fear, show me through your makeup.”
Similarly, skin care brand Ranavat, which is sold on Ranavat.com and select retailers like Neiman Marcus, Credo and Thirteen Lune, among others, is a deeply personal journey to founder and chief executive officer, Michelle Ranavat. “As a first-generation South Asian American, I had this dual version of myself where there was this hugely Indian part of my upbringing through my parents, but also this focus to assimilate and be a part of American culture, which I also wanted to do,” she said.
Ranavat, which has tripled in revenue every year since its launch in 2017, is all about leaning into and educating on Ayurvedic ingredients and traditions in Indian culture. For example, Ranavat wanted to demystify the tradition of hair oiling, which helps to repair and protect hair from aggressors. “When I used to visit India as a kid, my grandmother and I didn’t speak the same language, but she would bring me over and start oiling my hair,” said the entrepreneur. “That connection that we had was our mode of communication. And so every treatment that I create has to share that story and some sort of deeper meaning, whether it’s part of South Asian culture or the science of Ayurveda.”
Ranavat’s latest launch is Flawless Veil, a saffron-infused mask created to resurface and brighten the complexion. For the reveal, Ranavat shared stories of how four tastemakers shed their superficial layers in a content series called Reveal Your Aura. “Storytelling has to be deeper than beauty,” she said. “It has to be something that evokes emotion because that’s what sets us apart.”
Kulfi, a color cosmetics collection created to serve the skin tones and undertones of South Asians, comes from the founder’s upbringing and feelings of inferiority. “Growing up, I never felt beautiful,” said Priyanka Ganjoo, who created the brand. “For a long time, I thought it was my individual experience, but after speaking to a lot of South Asian women, I realized that it was systemic. A lot of us felt this way because we didn’t see ourselves in beauty and what was considered beautiful in our culture and in society.”
Ganjoo started wearing makeup when she entered the workforce because people kept telling her she looked tired all the time. But as she got older, Ganjoo realized makeup and beauty can be a means of self expression. That ethos gave way to Kulfi’s first product launch on Kulfibeauty.com, Underlined Kajal Eyeliner.
“Starting with Kajal came from the South Asian community and realizing that this was a product no one had reimagined and re-created colors that compliment our skin tones and undertones,” she said. According to industry sources, Kulfi Beauty has earned a six-figure revenue within six months of launching in February 2021.
To further share the experiences of South Asian and other people of color, Kulfi has a digital platform called Kulfi Bites, where each week, a community member writes a personal essay about their experiences, beauty culture and mental health. “We started this last year and now we have a community of 25 contributing writers,” said Ganjoo.
Kulfi is currently building out its product assortment and in spring 2022, it will reveal a range of concealers, which have so far been tested with over 200 to 250 South Asian women of all different skin tones.
The launch is timely. Trendalytics reported average weekly searches on Google for brands that have taken an inclusive approach to branding are growing rapidly. Topicals search is up 69 percent to last year, while Megababe, the size-inclusive personal care brand, has increased 18 percent to last year. In comparison, larger brands like Maybelline New York, and L’Oréal are showing declining search rates, by 18 percent and 10 percent, respectively, albeit off of a much, much larger base.
And it makes sense since brands like Topicals are dialed in on their customer. “As a woman of color, I noticed a lot of the products I grew up using were not properly tested to care for people who looked like me,” said Olamide Olowe, founder and CEO of the brand. “A lot of brands were also promoting this unattainable “perfect” skin. I knew firsthand how having these skin conditions affected my self esteem and, eventually, my mental health. That’s why at Topicals, we take the focus off of having ‘perfect’ skin and making the treatment experience more enjoyable.”
Topicals’ goal is to make science accessible, bringing in clinical information to social media platforms like Twitter and breaking down chronic skin conditions and new ingredients in a playful way. “We show people with visible skin conditions living life in full color on our website and social channels,” said Olowe, whose brand is sold d-to-c and on sephora.com. “We’re also really intentional about product packaging. Before Topicals, consumers weren’t showcasing their ointments on social media.”
Meanwhile, Megababe, whose revenue since launch has increased three times year-over-year, was also built on what some consider a taboo personal experience. “I started my platform and I quickly realized that I wasn’t the only woman with thigh chafe,” said Katie Sturino, body acceptance advocate, founder of Megababe, and author of “Body Talk.” Megababe is currently sold on its website, Target, Ulta, Nordstrom, Goop, and other specialty retailers.
Thigh Rescue, an anti-friction stick to prevent chafe, was Megababe’s first launch in 2017 and is still the brand’s bestseller. “Thigh Rescue became the whole narrative and ethos for the brand,” added Sturino, “which is that we want to address problems that women have been made to feel bad about.”
That narrative is a story a lot of consumers want to hear. With products like Le Tush for butt acne and Chest-o Presto for chest and back acne, Megababe, according to Trendalytics, is growing at a 5.1 percent rate on social media. “Coming in with humor and normalizing the conversation and showing consumers that lots of other women need this product makes people feel less alone,” said Sturino. “Women don’t need anything else to feel ashamed about.”
“I have recognized this upward trend (which is a silver lining to this absolutely harrowing year) in honoring and valuing oneself with all the imperfections, vulnerabilities and strengths,” added Dr. Chopra. “The truth is, optimism is not about being positive all the time, it’s about validating and sitting in whatever your true feelings are, recognizing inner strength, and remaining curious as to how you may grow, even if you don’t know how or when just yet.”
TooD Bioglitter, $26
Founder Shari Siadat created color cosmetics brand TooD to decorate the areas of her face she held in shame. Her latest launch is Bioglitter, a eucalyptus cellulose-based glitter that biodegrades in at least 28 days in natural environments.
Ranavat Flawless Veil Resurfacing Saffron Masque, $75
Inspired by her Indian upbringing, Michelle Ranavat melds modern alchemy with Ayurvedic ingredients. In July, she launched Flawless Veil Resurfacing Saffron Masque, infused with saffron and papaya enzymes.
Kulfi Underlined Kajal Eyeliner, $20
Created to serve the skin tones and undertones of South Asians, the five-shade Underlined Kajal Eyeliner reimagines the colors of a traditional product.
Topicals Faded and Like Butter, $36
Founded by Olamide Olowe, Topicals is normalizing the conversation around what is “good” skin. The brand’s first two products include Faded, a brightening and clearing gel, and Like Butter, a rich whipped hydrating mask.
Megababe Power Wash, $14
Founded by body acceptance advocate Katie Sturino, Megababe’s latest launches are two new scents (Rosy and Soapy) of Power Wash, an active body exfoliator containing natural walnut shell, glycolic acid and AHAs.