Kulfi Beauty's Priyanka Ganjoo on Finding the Joy in Wearing Makeup
Kulfi Beauty is a makeup brand that's just as colorful and joyous as the South Asian dessert it's named after.
Beauty industry veteran Priyanka Ganjoo created the brand in response to seeing so many brands inspired by South Asian beauty, but none that fully represented the diversity of this community — from the shade ranges to the people behind-the-scenes creating the products.
"Kulfi is really colorful and comes in different flavors like mango and pistachio and have a texture," Ganjoo says. "It really goes back to my personal journey of realizing that makeup can be carefree and fun. I feel like name really embodies what we want to do with the brand."
Underlined was created in part with feedback from the brand's digital platform, which showcases voices and stories that typically go unheard. Kulfi is also a part of Sephora's 2021 Accelerate program.
Inspired by the kajal liners from her culture, Ganjoo has created a high-pigment, smudge-proof formula that's also creamy and infused with nourishing skincare ingredients such as aloe vera extract and vitamin E. It comes in four shades, including black, brown, teracotta, and blue.
Ahead, Ganjoo shares her personal journey with makeup, why building an online community is so important for brand, the future of diversity in the beauty industry, and more.
Tell me about the "aha" moment that inspired Kulfi Beauty?
I had a very complicated relationship with makeup growing up because I didn't necessarily participate in it, and didn't feel like I was beautiful or like I belonged. When I started wearing makeup when I was 22, it was to cover up my genetic dark circles because everyone told me I looked tired. So, I always treated makeup as a way to cover up or detract attention. When I started working in merchandising at Esteé Lauder and Ipsy, we were always reviewing products. I remember we were once sent some glitter eyeshadows, and when we opened them, the glitter just went on all of us. I just started laughing, and in this moment I realized makeup is just fun, colorful, and beautiful. It doesn't have to come with all of this judgement.
What made me start my own brand came from the frustration I felt not seeing brands showcasing people who look like me or celebrating South Asian beauty. I saw brands that were South Asian inspired, but they didn't make shades for our skin tones. I had access to so many products in the space that I was in and I was still struggling to find shades for myself. I wanted to fill that gap.
How do you hope Kulfi celebrates South Asian beauty?
We think about this in all facets of our brand. Our products are designed to compliment South Asian skin tones and undertones, as well as enhance South Asian features. This doesn't mean other people can't wear our colored kajal liner, we're just centering around our community and involving them in the actual development process, too. On our digital platform, we share stories of South Asian people that are really beautiful and aspirational. Even with our campaign images, we tried really hard with our casting to show how diverse South Asian beauty is and not think of it as a checkbox. Typically in a campaign, you rarely see a South Asian person. And when you do, it will be one person and they're there in that lineup, but they're not necessarily being celebrated. With our team, we brought together emerging South Asian creatives to make sure the people who are involved in the brand also authentically share that experience, and I think that's the reason why we've come across as unique and fresh.
Why did you decide to launch with kajal liners?
We started with kajal liners because they're very significant in many South Asian cultures as well as Middle Eastern and Medditearean cultures, to some extent. Wearing kajal or kohl in our culture is considered almost not wearing makeup. We wear kohl to ward off evil eye, that's called nazar, and that's why our campaign is called "Nazar No More." What we're trying to say is that kajal has been used to ward off evil for generations, but it can also be used to express our beauty and individuality.
What sets Kulfi's kajal apart from the ones you were familiar with growing up?
Our have that same opacity; that really high pigment and a creamy texture. We combined those elements with high performance. In terms of play time, you can smudge the liner, but it really doesn't move at all once it's set — that never happens with the kajal I grew up with. We would often complain of raccoon eyes and smudging and flakes. We also follow the Clean At Sephora guidelines and our ingredients are vegan and cruelty-free. As far as colors go, typically you always have black kajal, but we wanted to show that you can wear different colors and just have fun with it.
Why was it important for you to build a community before launching any products? How do you plan to keep them involved as the brand evolves?
When I started started Kulfi, I knew there was a gap in representation, but when I started talking to people in the community, I realized there was a bigger emotional gap. We don't feel seen and we don't feel heard. So, I realized that before we create products, we need to create dialogue so more of us can see all of these stories. That's why the stories that perform best on our platform are really personal essays, whether it's about cutting your hair, colorism, or exploring your gender identity. Those voices have not been showcased anywhere and that's become a really big part of who we are.
We came up with the products we wanted to launch through our community. Our next product is going to be concealer. When we got our first round of samples, I sent out a survey on Instagram for people to test them. The response was amazing and I had to ship them around the country, but now I feel really confident about the shades we're going to showcase. We really thinking about how we can take that to the next level in the future.
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What are your hopes for the future of the beauty industry?
In the future, I hope the changes happening now continue to grow. With this change, more people can see themselves in beauty. Growing up, we didn't have that experience. For someone growing up to see there's a brand for them that's made by people who look like them or share their experiences is a really magical moment. This experience should be normal and not an exception. It's also important for the entire ecosystem to empower founders who are trying to create these spaces. Everybody needs to be on board to bring these brands to life and make the beauty industry truly inclusive.
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