Beauty isn't always inclusive and often erases the cultures and communities behind "trending" ingredients and practices. Aware of this, Shaz Rajashekar and Kiku Chaudhuri, sisters and founders of Shaz & Kiks, are reimagining beauty and hair care.
"So much of our origin story and what was the impetus for starting Shaz & Kiks is really personal," says Chaudhuri. It stems from their sisterhood, their desire to work together, and the way they grew up as first-generation Indian Americans.
They spent every childhood summer in India, visiting their mother's family in the foothills of the Himalayas. "Our grandma and grandpa were great practitioners of Ayurveda," says Chaudhuri, noting that in everyday Indian life, people simply incorporate these practices into their day-to-day. "It's just normal, how you take care of yourself. And it's just something that's ingrained, something that has been passed down for centuries."
Chaudhuri explains that historically, Indian households have had multiple families living together. "There's many people living in households which means many women, many young kids and aunties, and multiple grandmas. And that's one of the wonderful things we experienced was that the whole practice of taking care of oneself was collective, it was a bonding experience. It was something that we did together."
Every day, their grandmother would go to her garden, collecting different herbs and flowers and would share the science and knowledge behind the plant ingredients with all the girls and women of the family. She'd then create various recipes in her kitchen for them all to indulge in. "In mid-morning after the morning tasks were done, all of the women would get together at the courtyard and we would spend time [together]," massaging oils into one another's scalp, hair, and all over the body, she says.
When they began talking about starting a line and creating products, the pair was inspired by these practices and ingredients. "We wanted to take them out of the South Asian community, which is primarily where they've been living for so many years, and wanted to share them globally. We also wanted to take the stigma out of the fact that these were only for Indian people or for South Asians...we really wanted to give them a global presence," explains Chaudhuri.
Most importantly, they want everyone to benefit from, enjoy, and appreciate these plants, "but there is so much storytelling and attribution that gets missed," says Chaudhuri. The pair decided to be a part of the narrative and share the knowledge of the origins of ingredients that are used in wellness practices, linking them back to and giving India and South Asian heritage its rightful credit, adds Rajashekar.
Traditionally these products and ingredients are created in real-time by hand, but the duo was aware that not all of the ingredients were accessible globally, and they began to focus on different types of product development, delivery systems, and understanding the modern-day customer in India, North America, and the rest of the world. For example, with their first product, Back to Your Roots Scalp and Hair Prewash ($38), they've maintained the Indian and Ayurvedic concept of oiling your hair by using the same ingredients, but changed the experience slightly so that the oil isn't in raw form. In doing so, the pair is honoring the practice, while expanding its reach.
They also aim to educate people about the order of hair care, with the pre-wash being the first step before shampoo. It's made with over 20 flowers and herbs that promote these benefits and has the consistency of a creamy mask that's easy to massage into your scalp and leave in without feeling thick or oily. They also recently released the Unearth Yourself Balancing Clay Hair Cleanser ($42) and Unearth Yourself Nourishing Naram Conditioner ($42).
The foundation of each product is to nourish the follicles, balance the scalp and strengthen the strands with hero ingredients like shikakai a soapnut rich in saponins and antioxidants that are the same pH level of the scalp and hair and used to offset naturally higher pH of water and shampoo; reetha, a soapnut high in saponin, a natural alternative to surfactants or cleansing agents, which gently cleanses and removes excess oils, debris, and bacteria; and amla, a berry high in vitamin C and fatty acids to strengthen the hair. "Part of this whole thing of reimagining the hair-care routine is also we want to get away from of really concentrating on the end result...good hair is healthy hair," says Chaudhuri.
The line provides an inside-out approach to the hair and beyond the products, Chaudhuri and Rajashekar want people to explore, share, and celebrate their culture and to feel transported to their grandparent's kitchen. "Growing up, it wasn't really cool to be brown, it wasn't cool to be Indian. We love being Indian but we had always felt like we couldn't be fully that in the outside world," says Chaudhuri. "We really want to put a stake in the ground and we want to share how cool Indian beauty rituals and Indian culture and Indian practices are."
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