Founder and CEO of luxury Ayurveda beauty brand Forest Essentials
Mira Kulkarni came up with the idea for Forest Essentials in an era when oils from factory waste, synthetic scents and adulterated herbal extracts were used to make ‘Ayurvedic’ beauty products. “I made handmade soaps and scented candles as a hobby,” she recalls, “and I was disturbed by the fact that most manufacturers used substandard materials to keep prices low. That was when Ayurvedic soaps were perceived as a cheap substitute for those sold by MNCs.”
Mira aimed to sell high-quality Ayurvedic beauty products to compete with popular international brands. Her first step towards setting up her venture was to visit Ayurvedic facilities in places like Garhwal and in villages in south India, which were considered the hub of Ayurveda. Mira explains, “I realised then that while Ayurveda relied on cold-pressing oils (obtained through pressing and grinding fruit or seeds with heavy granite millstones), the manufacturers looked at it as an oldfashioned and expensive method. Most companies used machine-made processed oil. Ayurveda also requires picking of fresh herbs at certain times of the day, when they are most potent. But this requires skilled labour. To save costs, many Ayurvedic brands resorted to using dry herbs stored in dusty godowns.”
Mira insisted on organically grown unprocessed oils cold-pressed by hand, commissioning only pure plant, herb and flower infusions, and sourcing the purest steam-distilled essential oils. It took Mira over two years to come up with her first product. She started with a limited range of soaps and oils in 2000. Today, Forest Essentials has 150 products for skin and hair care. To Mira, luxury is excellence. “Excellence means paying attention to the smallest details. What has made Forest Essentials a luxury brand is its commitment to using the freshest and purest ingredients, and following the original intricate, tedious processes.” Over the years, Mira says that she has seen “a phenomenal change” in the Indian consumer. “Today, there is no sense of guilt when spoiling oneself. There is much more spending power, more independence and more aspirational buying.” Mira’s favourite in the Forest Essentials range is the Soundarya Serum, made with 24-karat gold, saffron, ashwagandha, sweet almond oil, sandalwood and clarified cow ghee, which “dramatically improves elasticity, leaving the skin radiant with a satiny texture”.
With over 30 company-owned stores throughout the country, Forest Essentials is now looking at making its presence felt abroad. In 2008, it tied up with French highend cosmetics giant Estée Lauder and by 2015, it aims to expand to the Middle East, UK and Japan.