As a child growing up in India, Priyanka Ganjoo never felt like she had permission to take an interest in beauty. In South Asian cultures, it was perceived that women only wore makeup to garner attention from men. And as a brown-skin woman, the Eurocentric beauty standards that were praised in her community also made her feel like she wasn't meant to participate in beauty culture. In fact, she only began wearing makeup at 22 years-old after growing tired of hearing coworkers say she looked tired due to her natural dark circles.
While Ganjoo initially had a complicated relationship with makeup, she found herself fascinated by the business aspect of beauty and began working for companies like Estée Lauder and Ipsy. But during the years she spent working in beauty, Ganjoo never felt represented in the brands and products hitting the market. "I always felt like an outsider," she says. "In the years I worked in the beauty industry, I didn’t see myself in it. South Asians were rarely represented at the forefront, let alone celebrated for their beauty. Despite the rise of thousands of indie brands, I kept waiting for that one brand that celebrated and centered South Asians in its narrative. All I found were brands that tokenized and appropriated our culture with 'South Asian-inspired' collections; however, they weren’t even creating shades that worked for our skin tones."
In the years I worked in the beauty industry, I didn’t see myself in it.
In 2019, Ganjoo decided to commit herself to making space for her community in beauty, and her two years of work has culminated in the launch of her makeup brand, Kulfi Beauty. The brand aims to celebrate South Asian beauty and make playing with makeup a joyful experience for all. "Our vision is to present to the world an empowered South Asian, who is not only comfortable in their own skin but thriving in it," Ganjoo says. "We create products designed to compliment South Asian skin tones and undertones."
The brand's first product possesses a rich history in South Asian cultures: kajal. "Wearing kajal is so embedded in our culture that often, it's not even considered makeup," Ganjoo explains. "In our traditions, Nazar refers to the evil eye, and kajal is used as an amulet for protection against it." Available in five pigmented and creamy shades, Kulfi Beauty's take on the ancient eye cosmetic aims to redefine it as a self-expression tool.
When developing the brand's eyeliners, Ganjoo took cues from the traditional formula but made a few tweaks. "Traditionally, kajals were made in the kitchen by burning almonds (a source of vitamin E), collecting the black ash, and mixing it with ghee or castor oil to make a thick creamy paste," she says. "Aloe vera was also used in some recipes for its cooling and healing properties." The eyeliners' final formula boasts moisturizing and soothing aloe vera extract, safflower seed oil, and vitamin E complex that acts as an antioxidant.
What Ganjoo loves most about the kajal eyeliners she created is that they flatter skin of color and can be worn in numerous ways. "It can be quite trying and discouraging when it comes to finding shades of makeup that won’t wash out our skin; even black eyeliner can do so by appearing gray on us," she says. "Our kajal eyeliners are formulated to prevent this and complement tan and deep skin tones." Some of her favorite ways to wear the eyeliners include color-blocking two shades along her waterline and eyelid, smudging them on her eyelid like eyeshadow, and swiping them across her lower eyelid and dark circles as a way to embrace them.
It can be quite trying and discouraging when it comes to finding shades of makeup that won’t wash out our skin.
As she embarks on this new chapter as a beauty brand founder, Ganjoo intends to create shade-inclusive products and cultivate a community that supports underrepresented voices. Kulfi Beauty's blog "Bites" publishes powerful essays from BIPOC storytellers. And the brand has also launched an initiative to partner with mental health organizations like the South Asian Sexual & Mental Health Alliance (SASMHA) to host guided workshops around the intersection of mental health and beauty. "I seek to foster an environment that encourages South Asians to be unapologetically confident and comfortable in our skin," Ganjoo says. "Ultimately, I want Kulfi to be the catalyst for more South Asians to be heard and take up space."