[100 Emerging Women Leaders] Meet the ex-L'Oreal scientists who decided to start their own D2C beauty brand

In this feature of 100 Emerging Women Leaders, we feature Desiree Pereira, and Shivangi Shah, who decided to launch Mumbai-based D2C brand Disguise Cosmetics in an effort to promote clean beauty.
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While working at the global beauty brand L'Oreal, Desiree Pereira, Shivangi Shah, and Lakshay Mohendroo felt there was a need for a clean, cruelty-free beauty brand. The trio – who were scientists and researchers at the company — also felt that most global beauty brands simply didn’t suit the Indian skin tones or climatic conditions. 

“And not to mention the ease of use. There are many people looking for a BB cream for example, that they can use every day. But most don’t find that in what we have,” says Desiree, a biotech graduate from the Manipal University. Shivangi has a master’s in cosmetology and perfumes, and Lakshay is a chemical engineer from IIT Delhi. 

Desiree, Shivangi, and Lakshaya

The trio came together for a common cause: clean beauty

“We had always felt there was a need for clean beauty brand and products that helped the evolving and conscious consumer. We had seen that the market was shifting and the consumer was becoming more conscious, aware, and informed about the products they use, how they are made, and what impact they have,” Shivangi says. 

The trio started Disguise Cosmetics in April 2018 in Mumbai from a small stall at Mumbai’s Lil Flea market. They began with lipsticks, and the team sold more than 300 lipsticks at that event.

“We focused on the products first. We worked on sourcing the right ingredients, testing them on different people, and taking their feedback. Only then did we launch the product,” Desiree says. 

Disguise Cosmetics offers lipsticks, kajals, and has recently launched glow sticks and other beauty products. 

The products are completely vegan, PETA-certified, and FDA approved. They avoid the use of any kind of animal fat and have switched to plant-based alternatives like avocado, marula, and argan oil. These ingredients are ethically sourced.  

All products are priced between Rs 450 to Rs 800, and are available online

The journey, however, had its challenges. From finding the right manufacturing partners to creating the products based on their value system and chain was difficult. The founders say they were particular that the supply chain was also “clean”, with no cruelty in terms of undue labour or child labour. 

The team also had to deal with the challenges of bootstrapping. “When you are bootstrapping your way, you need to be slower, you don’t have the needed capital to grow the way you need and want.” 

Another challenge they faced was as woman entrepreneurs. “They never think you are taking your business seriously. People always assume it is a hobby. You learn early on as a woman entrepreneur that you need to pick which battles to fight. Also, you learn to prove to people that you are good in your measure,” say the founders. 

An Avendus report says India’s D2C business is going to be worth $100 billion in five years. India has as many as 600 D2C brands – a number that will significantly grow in the next five years, and more than 16 brands with an annual turnover of more than $60 million. Some of the D2C startups in the beauty segment include Sugar, Juicy Chemistry, Mamaearth, Pilgrim, Plum, etc.

Disguise Cosmetics seems poised for growth, and is now looking to raise funds and add more products to its SKU list. 

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

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