Startups dream big about launching their products quickly. But what if one is been in a startup mode for the longest time? Beauty expert and naturalist Suparna Trikha has been in that mode close to two decades, she is now ready to launch her beauty range. Speak with her for just a little while and she can logically convince you to move towards nature. She doesn’t ask one to shun modernism but only asks one to be more responsible and do what we did years ago, be beautiful naturally.
Upon her return to India from England in 1979, she enrolled for English (Hons) at Hansraj College. After a short stint as a copywriter, writing on environment for The Hindustan Times and having worked with Pakistan International Airlines, where she had the most glamorous life of Ghulam Ali and Reshma singing to her while waiting for their tickets, she thought her calling was elsewhere. “I joined Shahnaz Husain’s marketing and communications team but by about 1995, I still wasn’t happy,” says Suparna.
This was also the time Suparna realised that women today are increasingly becoming aware of the products they pick up for their skincare regimen. Being close to nature, and coming from a family where her maternal grandfather was the Vice Chancellor and Chancellor of the Gurukul Kangri (of which Baba Ramdev has also been a student), it was quite natural that Suparna would be inclined to start on her own on the same path.
“Because of my maternal grandfather we had all the vaids visiting us. We were surrounded by nature and herbs. And I eventually started researching, speaking to vaids, and visiting gurukuls across the country. I started learning more about herbs and their healing powers, about bhasms and so on. I also started writing down my formulations and recipes. Armed with my updated knowledge and products, I set up a modest treatment centre at the basement of my home in New Delhi. I could not hire any designer so we did the interiors ourselves. We kept the look homely with traditional colours and furniture at an age when spas were going for modern and niche looks. But I knew my products and what I was getting into.”
Suparna ‘s first product was the banana bouncer for hair and the recipe called for a dozen bananas along with a mix of 37 herbs. This recipe makes hair healthy by nourishing hair and promoting its growth. “Every evening my friend and I would take charge of my mother’s kitchen mixie and grind all kind of herbs, lentils, brahmi, almonds, reetha, shikakai for my products and one day the mixie burnt out. I got a firing of my life and she threw us out of her kitchen,” laughs Suparna.
“I was at a loss because clients had started to come back and new clients through referrals were pouring in too. I do pedicure with hot milk as milk is a natural moisturiser and a natural de-tanner. What my clients also realised was that, when we said herbal, the products were as herbal as it could get. We did not use any fancy perfume to make the products smell better. They just smelt of the ingredients that I was using like neem, mint, camphor, clove, etc. Using natural products also meant a shorter shelf life unlike what was available in the market that could be used for a longer period,” she adds.
At the same time, Suparna started her column with the Telegraph which really established her presence in the world of beauty. She was giving talks and speaking at conferences and lectures about how she was not giving anything new to people and that she was just taking people back in time. With a clientele like Shubha Mudgal, Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das, Meera Nair coming for treatments and products that spoke for themselves, Suparna got into selling her concoctions as well. “Because of the volumes I was doing and the burnt mixie episode, my mother suggested that I get a chakki. Therefore, I got an industrial pulveriser in the basement. In between I also tried sourcing powdered products from the market and stumbled upon some adulterated stuff that put me off. I remembered my father telling me, ‘charge whatever you want, but never give in to quality. If it is almond oil you are giving then it has to be the purest almond oil with no synthetic oil mixed to it.’ So we went back to grinding our own stuff,” shares Suparna.
Making her products got her to think about branding. “Till now I was working under the brand name Suparna’s Aveda and for a long time people used to call me Ms. Suparna Aveda. It is only now that I am working on branding myself. In the process, I have acquired a land and constructed a factory where I will produce my range of products commercially. Well-wishers came with all kind of suggestions like –
Herbies, etc, but it got me thinking that, all these 18 years all that I have built up is my name and I should use it for my label – Suparna Trikha,” she shares. “There is no Indian brand on a global map, unlike the West where Nina Ricci, Estee Lauder which were founded by women and branded themselves just that. My aim is to have my products speak about the East to West,” she adds.Operatig in the niche market, she has had her fair share of success. She was commissioned to do a luxurious ubtan for the famous Sahara wedding, which took her six months to research. She studied what the Mughals used and created her own wedding ubatna made of powdered gold, silver, petals of different flowers, and dry fruits. It was such a hit that she caters these secret formulations, for destination weddings in Thailand, Mauritius, and Sri Lanka. While startups look for opportunities to be present in front of their audience after the product launch, Suparna has worked the other way round. Even before the formal launch of her range of products, she is already doing shows on NDTV and writes for nine magazines and newspapers across the world about beauty and healthy living.
For Suparna Trikha, the brand, “The licences have just come in about a year and a half back and I have learnt a lot about red tapism,” tells Suparna. “We have had people from across the world who has visited us for starting our franchises and so on. We are also looking at opening up treatment centres which have the same look and feel and treatment like our main centre. And we now finally hope to start retailing our range of 35 products soon! We are looking for partners who can take care of the marketing and I can just concentrate on making my formulations and recipes,” she says. She is also working on her second book which is devoted to men (The first book was in 1999, The Harper Collins Book of Natural Skin Care), because she realises that in India men have no idea of personal grooming and for any advice related to skin, acne, hair, etc., they ask their mothers, sisters, and wives for advice. She feels there is a serious lacuna in this space.
It was in 1998 when Vandana Shiva of Navdanya approached Suparna Trikha to make gulal. Post every holi she had women coming in with skin burns and irritations caused by the colours. Resultantly, she started making herbal gulal with rose petals and other flowers, which has now become a yearly ritual.
“Shiela Dixit (Former Chief Minister of Delhi) and our patron wanted us to go to various schools and educate children promoting environment classes with natural holi colours. So I came on panel with The Shriram School and Tagore International School to work with the children,” tells Suparna. “Then she egged us to do something for Diwali and we started working towards smoke-free diyas,” she shares.
Suparna has also found a way to help women become independent. Peaches, plums and rhodedendrons grow in abundance around her cottage in Ranikhet, so she buys the fruits and has trained the women and given them space so they can make fruit preserves.
From a startup, that has garnered cover credits for the Time Magazine, Suparna Trikha has come a long way, truly upholding the concept of Make in India.