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The founders of Ghlee, Hymnologie and Sahajan share how childhood memories inspired their Ayurvedic-rooted skincare lines.
Every culture has its teachings and learnings — preserved as pearls of wisdom and passed down from generation to generation. Growing up, I remember ghee (clarified butter) being a dinnertime treat. My mom would spread it on rotis and mix it into our rice for that extra-buttery goodness. Kitchen ingredients also seemed to find a way into my family’s beauty regimens, like homemade facial masks made of turmeric, yogourt and honey to soothe dry skin or coconut oil massaged into hair. Little did I know that years later, these routines would become a weekly ritual for me, too. And it was only when I became a beauty and culture writer that I realized how all these ingredients are tied to Ayurveda, which translates to “knowledge of life.” This centuries-old Indian healing system encourages natural therapies to regain a balance between the body, mind and spirit. Thus, Ayurvedic skincare and beauty products use herbs and plant-derived ingredients in a holistic approach to nourish the skin and hair, inside and out. Here, discover three Canadian-based South Asian beauty brands that have harnessed the powers of these traditions.
Co-founder Varun Sharma recalls his mom telling him to “just put some ghee on” his dry lips during cold Canadian winters. “He started tinkering with our dad’s ghee recipe and other ingredients like vitamin E and coconut oil and five months later developed Ghlee,” sister and co-founder Arati Sharma shares. The family business extends beyond the brother-sister duo. “My sister Deepika works on content, our mom fills orders and our dad manages the ghee production,” she adds.
Ghee is just beginning to gain popularity in North America: Used for centuries by South and Southeast Asians as a staple in the kitchen, the powerful butter is now popping up in grocery stores and trendy diets. And though it’s rooted in cuisine, “Ayurvedic medicine designates ghee as a salve to soothe burns and as a potent moisturizer to heal dry skin and dry hair, being rich in healthy fatty acids like omegas 3 and 9 and vitamins A, D, E and K,” notes Arati.
Ownership is especially meaningful to Arati, who has become frustrated with how South Asian and other cultures are being appropriated in the wellness industry. “It’s important for South Asian founders to lead South Asian products so that stories are shared through our lens,” she says. And she is paying it forward to other BIPOC women: Arati is also an angel investor, providing funding for women and BIPOC founders, especially in the e-commerce space, who often get overlooked by traditional investors.
Whether they’re donating to food banks or supporting local women’s organizations with self-care packages, Varun and Arati have community at the forefront of their brand, acknowledging and appreciating that their first and most loyal customers are within the community. “Our goal is not to try to represent every single South Asian and Ayurvedic ritual — just the ones that we, as part of the diaspora, have adopted from our immigrant parents,” Arati says.
It was a culmination of life events that led Dr. Jigyasa Sharma to found Hymnologie in 2020. She dealt with acne when she was a teen, learned about the adverse effects of synthetics and preservatives while studying dentistry and acquired a hyper-awareness of what harm the chemicals in her skincare could do during pregnancy. When she arrived in Canada with her husband and two children, she realized how heavily she’d been relying on the natural homemade skincare remedies of her native India, which made her decide to embark on the journey of becoming a beauty-brand creator.
Sharma pulled inspiration from her mother’s DIY skincare—organic complexion-boosting recipes that require minimal processing and are free of synthetics and parabens — to deliver skincare solutions that focus on the purity of their ingredients. “Bringing Ayurvedic skincare, like Hymnologie, to the Western world comes at a time when consumers’ knowledge of ingredients is intensified and the demand for all-natural, preservative-free products is high, especially after coming out of COVID,” she shares.
For Sharma, paying respect to the communities that have shaped who she is today is also key. Ingredients like chamomile, calendula and saffron are sourced from the foothills of the Himalayas, which are surrounded by the forest reserve — one of the world’s purest natural havens. She also wants to pay homage to the roots of this country. “Hymnologie donates 5 per cent of all profits to the Legacy of Hope Foundation, which endeavours to raise awareness about the history of the residential-school system as well as address racism and promote equality of rights for Canadian Indigenous peoples.”
Sharma believes that beauty is more than skin deep. “I see it in my children’s laughter, in my grandma’s hugs and in how we look after ourselves,” she expresses. “What you pay attention to becomes beautiful.” It is with this philosophy that she strives to create products that will not only evoke the senses but also offer a beautiful experience of self-love and self-care, creating a harmonious balance between mind, body and soul.
Sahajan comes from the word sahaja, which is Hindi for “intuitive.” Unexpectedly, it was mother’s intuition that compelled founder Lisa Mattam to launch the brand. “Sahajan started for me the day I told my daughter that she couldn’t play with my skincare because I was worried about what the chemicals would do to her beautiful young skin,” she says. In that moment, Mattam realized that the only products she trusted for her daughter were the oils and creams found in the tiny bottles her parents would bring back from their native Kerala, in Southern India. She came to understand that the homemade concoctions she grew up with, laden with ingredients like turmeric, triphala (a herbal remedy of dried fruits) and plant extracts ashwagandha and gotu kola, were more than family traditions — they were elixirs steeped in the science of Ayurveda.
“I studied deeper and realized that Ayurveda is the gateway to wellness and beauty,” shares Mattam. “I wanted to share the healing system with people in a meaningful way: leaning on the ancient texts, working with Ayurvedic doctors in India and marrying that with my previous background in pharmaceuticals to demonstrate clinically that Ayurveda delivers unparalleled results.”
Beyond her mission to give shoppers cleaner skincare, Mattam knew from its inception that Sahajan would involve giving back. In addition to the brand’s Lip Karmas, which were launched in conjunction with Plan International Canada’s Because I Am a Girl campaign, AccelerateHER by Sahajan was born this past spring. The initiative pairs businesses with volunteer mentors (all Canadian women entrepreneurs), the goal being to provide each cohort of women with an increased knowledge base to grow their businesses. And as Sahajan evolves with new innovations, so, too, does its success: Beginning this October, the brand will launch in-room at Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis, W and JW Marriott hotels.
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This article first appeared in FASHION’s October issue. Find out more here.