This story originally appeared in ROSE & IVY Journal No.12
The stars aligned for Nina Davuluri and Rooshy Roy, when they met by chance after Nina delivered a keynote speech at the University of Pennsylvania. Rooshy, who is currently studying at Wharton Business School, attended the talk Nina was giving about diversity and cultural competency. Upon meeting, the two instantly bonded over growing up as first generation Indian-Americans, their mission to redefine what ‘beauty’ means and their desire to make a positive impact on the world. Together they founded aavrani, a skincare brand that calls upon ancient Indian rituals that harness natural ingredients and ultimately supports the greater good. “We donate a portion of our annual revenue to the Shanti Bhavan School, which empowers children from impoverished backgrounds by helping them take control of their lives and bring positive change to their families and communities,” says Rooshy. “Every single U.S. dollar provides a student with their classroom needs for a day, giving us comfort around our pledge and our commitment to make a real difference.” As Nina puts it, “I never thought turmeric and coconut oil would lead me to my business partner, but they did.”
What was your professional background before launching aavrani?
Rooshy: I was born and raised in the Detroit area surrounded by a strong community of Indian American families, who fostered an enriched, cultural upbringing. I moved to New York after college to work in investment banking at Goldman Sachs then private equity at Warburg Pincus. After six years in finance, I decided to pursue an MBA at Wharton, where I just so happened to meet Nina. That first conversation swiftly evolved into a partnership, and I am so grateful for it.
Nina: Prior to winning Miss America, I was in the process of applying to medical school; needless to say, my life quickly took another turn overnight. Shortly after, I found myself as an advocate and speaker on diversity and cultural competency. I later went on the produce and host a reality show called Made In America focusing on empowering young South Asian women to break their own stereotypes.
What inspired you to venture out and see start your own brand?
Nina: Growing up in a South Asian household, I was influenced by the traditional notions of beauty in our culture. From the time I was in elementary school, I experienced comments like, “You would be so much prettier if you were lighter.” The morning after I won Miss America, I remember reading international headlines saying, “Is Miss America too dark to be Miss India”? A flood of insecurities came back, but I decided in that moment, enough was enough. I wasn’t going to have anyone’s opinion of my skin color dictate my success, beauty or intelligence. Creating aavrani was so much more than just skincare for me—it’s who I am, what I believe in, and everything I stand for.
Rooshy: The sudden stress and anxiety I experienced in the early days of investment banking caused me to break out in ways I’d never experienced. When I’d visit home, my mother would come up with solutions by using ingredients from the kitchen. I remember turmeric masks being the most effective. She’d make the formula, dab it directly on my skin and after just a few days, my acne would be calmed. When I’d return back to New York, I’d long for that solution but I couldn’t find it in any store and I didn’t have the time or energy to make it myself. This was the acutely personal pain point that inspired aavrani.
Do you think that the beauty world is finally doing their part to be inclusive?
Nina: We’re standing at a time where the industry is finally understanding the strength and value in diversity. It’s not simply an afterthought; it’s shifting to be the expectation. For me, true representation is when people can walk into the beauty aisle and feel that their culture and traditions are truly accepted and more importantly, celebrated.
What are some of the ancient Indian skincare rituals and ingredients that you keyed into?
Rooshy: Throughout our formative years, our Indian culture had a huge impact on our approach to health and beauty—from our grandmothers and mothers applying raw coconut oil in our hair to making turmeric masks to cleanse and nourish our skin. As we grew older and busier, we began using a variety of other skincare products, but we longed for something that worked like the way our childhood remedies did. We wanted to share these very ingredients and create a South Asian inspired ritual that would be safe, effective and stand the test of time.
Why was it important to you that aarvani incorporated natural ingredients?
Nina: Natural ingredients are at the very core of ancient Indian beauty rituals, so it was imperative that we incorporated them. In reviving the time-honored self-care practices that these women have used for centuries, we deliver products that effectively leverage them. Turmeric, for example, is a powerhouse ingredient; it’s an anti-inflammatory, antiviral root that combats hyperpigmentation and acne.
The brand’s mission is to empower women, something that you extend to your Shanti Bhavan School initiative. Can you tell us more about your involvement with this inspiring cause?
Nina: Through my thousands of conversations across the country, it made me ask myself what empowerment truly means. Now more than ever, companies are throwing this word around as a marketing technique. However, in order to truly talk about it, we need to start at the core and for me that was education. Unfortunately, millions of girls around the world face barriers that prevent them from attending school that boys simply do not. As a female founder, it’s incredibly important to provide young women with the opportunity to find and use their own voices through education--this partnership does exactly that.
Rooshy: Philanthropy has always been a huge part of our lives, so working with a charitable organization was the one of the very first pillars of our business. This partnership is a small way of honoring our parents’ sacrifices and paying it forward. I will never forget my visit to the school in Bangalore. I witnessed children, who would otherwise be begging for change on the streets, and who couldn’t read or write just 18 months prior, reciting their poetry homework one by one to their class. I was immediately moved by the school’s measurable impact. We donate a portion of our annual revenue to this cause, which empowers children from impoverished backgrounds by helping them take control of their lives and bring positive change to their families and communities.
Discover the aavrani Ritual
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