From Kajal Liners celebrating ancient traditions to its championing of BIPOC creatives, Priyanka Ganjoo’s brand makes a much-needed space for South Asian beauty lovers
South Asian representation in the beauty industry is sparse, but making room for a South Asian beauty brand whose roots and message stand strong has been an arduous but passionate mission of Priyanka Ganjoo. The birth of Kulfi Beauty came from the natural pleasure Ganjoo found in makeup, and the need to extend that joyful feeling to anyone who is made an outsider by the beauty industry.
Ganjoo’s emphasis on vegan and cruelty free products, as well as creating products to enrich South Asian skin tones and undertones, augments Kulfi Beauty’s values in authenticity, all the more vital in a world filled with mindless celebrity makeup collabs, a glut of misleading brands, and unsustainable products. The first product launch solidified a strong identity, featuring five colourful Underlined Kajal Eyeliners. Kajal is a staple in many South Asian households and is traditionally used to ward off ‘evil eye’. Every facet of the brand holds cultural significance from campaign names down to ingredients. Here, Dazed Beauty talks to the founder about self expression, traditions, and building a business.
Was there a specific moment where you knew ok ‘I just gotta start my own thing’? What really pushed you to start Kulfi? Has it always been a goal of yours?
Priyanka Ganjoo: It’s wild to me that I’m launching a beauty brand, given that I didn’t even wear makeup till I was 22! There are distinct moments that led to the creation of Kulfi. At IPSY as a beauty merchant, I was testing hundreds of brands and products. I remember I was reviewing loose glitter eyeshadows with my team, and we were having a serious discussion on trends and budgets. We opened the package and the glitter spilled all over us! I was covered in glitter and just burst out laughing. I had this aha moment like, wait, makeup is fun. As I started playing more with makeup, I found it hard to find shades that complimented by skin tone and undertone, even though I was in the industry and surrounded by product. For years, I kept waiting for someone else to solve the problem.
At the same time, I’ve always loved listening to entrepreneurial stories. On our road trips I often listen to the podcast “How I Built This” from NPR. One particular trip in early 2019 before I quit my job to start Kulfi, we played three episodes back to back. When you hear stories about how entrepreneurs start by addressing something they felt was missing, you start imagining yourself as the protagonist. That road trip was when I made up my mind that I was going to build Kulfi, and it would be fun, it would have shades that worked for our skin tones and undertones.
Talk to me about the team behind Kulfi? Would love to know about the team of creative collaborators that helped bring Kulfi into fruition?
Priyanka Ganjoo: Creating space for self expression is core to our mission. One way this manifests itself in creating space for up and coming South Asian and BIPOC creatives to showcase their excellence. Our campaign showcased diverse talent in front of and behind the camera. Our first partnership around giving back is with South Asian Sexual & Mental Health Alliance (SASMHA), which is an emerging organisation in the mental health space. We involve our community in building products. For example, we’ve shipped hundreds of samples of our concealers all over the US to get feedback on our formulations and shades. Our HQ team is South Asian. It's truly a space that’s by us and for us. I used to joke that if Kulfi never took off, I’d at least have a group of incredible women of color who supported me through it all. The team behind Kulfi works tirelessly with love and laughter to create and write content, build community, design, and develop playful products.
How do your traditional roots come into play in your company? Growing up in Delhi how do you incorporate this into your work and what do you sort of move away from?
Priyanka Ganjoo: We are inspired by South Asian culture and are creating our own interpretation of it that is relevant to Gen Z and Millennial South Asians. Some of my happiest childhood memories are eating kulfi (rich, creamy South Asian ice cream and the brand’s namesake) during summers in Delhi with my friends. Those were moments of carefree joy. That playfulness and nostalgia is what led to the brand being named Kulfi. South Asian beauty has been defined by patriarchal Eurocentric ideals for a long time. We are unapologetically challenging those suffocating and unrealistic expectations.
What’s your earliest beauty related memory?
Priyanka Ganjoo: I recently remembered this when I was doing a kajal look with pearls! When I was seven or eight, I was part of a school dance performance. I remember a girl next to me having these beautiful red and white dots inspired by chandan bindi art, and I asked my mom to make me the same! She didn’t have the materials so she made some quick dots using markers and her lipstick!
Of course, as a baby, my parents lined my eyes with kajal as a way to deflect Nazar; although, doing so wasn’t even really considered as a beauty ritual, but more of a protective act of love.
What ingredients do you feel are important to include in your line presently and hopefully in the future?
Priyanka Ganjoo: Our formulas are high performance. We want to lean into the heritage South Asian ingredients with intention and purpose. Our formulas will always be vegan and cruelty free. For the kajal, we’ve taken inspiration from the traditional formula to create a unique combination of emollients and waxes that help the initial creamy glide that sets to a rich paste of color. Our kajal is infused with moisturizing & soothing Aloe Vera Extract and Vitamin E Complex that acts as an antioxidant. We chose vibrant pigments that deliver rich colors from the first swatch to the last swatch. My favorite Kulfi Kajal shades Tiger Queen (terracotta) and Purply Pataka (Purple) are my new neutrals!
Who is your beauty icon?
Priyanka Ganjoo: Recently, I have been loving playful looks by Rowi Singh, Dynessa Myricks, Katie Jane Hughes, and Michelle Phan! They all have very different styles but they are not shy with color! I love the platform David Yi is creating with Very Good Light.
“South Asian beauty has been defined by patriarchal Eurocentric ideals for a long time. We are unapologetically challenging those suffocating and unrealistic expectations” – Priyanka Ganjoo
In what ways do you see the brand growing in terms of the beauty market and with products as well?
Priyanka Ganjoo: We are going to focus on the gaps we see in the market with shades that compliment our skin tones and undertones. The entire makeup aisle needs innovation. Complexion, of course, is a huge pain point we’ll address with upcoming concealer launch.
We’ll keep growing the space for our community and find new ways to engage to make them co-creators in our journey.
What is there a lack in the beauty industry in your opinion?
Priyanka Ganjoo: There is a rise in our collective consciousness of reclaiming and celebrating our unique beauty and celebrating the differences that come with it. Gen Z members don’t conform to the outdated ideas of beauty and perfection we grew up with. We are at the cusp of that shift and I’m excited that Kulfi can participate in and empower that change.
Five years ago, we saw the rise of the indie beauty revolution. The beauty companies that emerged in that time are mostly still catering to a Eurocentric look. While it democratised beauty for many, many of us BIPOC still felt left out. So many people don’t see ourselves in beauty. The new wave is creating plurality of BIPOC brands, beyond the checkbox. I’m excited by the innovation to come.
When do you feel most beautiful?
Priyanka Ganjoo: I feel most beautiful when I’m in the flow of creating something without being concerned about how the outcome would be perceived. It could be a makeup look, it could be cooking something I’ve never tried before. It’s the child-like creativity in me that when nourished makes me feel beautiful. I love this answer and it’s what inspired me to do a shoot with the products she sent me.
What is the future of beauty?
Priyanka Ganjoo: The future of beauty is radically inclusive. Having limited space for only a number of BIPOC-created brands and products isn’t enough for the industry to be truly representative. Indie beauty brands are filling gaps in the beauty industry and are now its driving force and changing the way consumers shop. From the overwhelmingly positive response we’ve seen for Kulfi’s launch, it’s clear to me that the beauty industry needs to celebrate and centre BIPOC in their narratives, instead of continuing to tokenise us, appropriate our cultures, and view us as an afterthought.
We grew up thinking that beauty isn’t something that could be possibly tailored to our wants and needs. While browsing in makeup aisles, we’d often think: ‘I’ll take what I can get’. Time and time again, Kulfi has been told: ‘Sorry, we already represent a Woman of Color brand’. There’s this long held belief that there is only room for a few BIPOC-driven brands, but a few is never enough.
We are hopeful to see intentional steps taken to break down this notion and change the narrative in the beauty space. To see many beauty brands founded by BIPOC. To see BIPOC-owned brands representing a variety of products, backgrounds, stories, personalities, and focuses. This way, younger generations will grow up viewing beauty in a more holistic perspective: ‘There are beauty products made for me, by people who look like me’. So they can experience beauty being for everyone, without feeling like they have to compromise on their individuality.
Photography Jessica Canje and LA Timpa, make-up and model Steph George, production Livre.