I remember being fascinated with my mother’s dress up routine. The make-up, the sarees and the heels. Everytime I found myself alone in the house, I would wear my mother’s oversized heels and put on her favourite shade of red lipstick while preening at myself in the mirror.
As I got older, I went on to own lipsticks and other paraphernalia for my beauty case. But, over time, I suddenly lost interest in make-up as I began to read more about the industry’s unethical practices.
The thought of these cosmetics being tested on animals made me think about the cruelty aspect. Also, mica, which is an important ingredient in make-up, is unethically mined across India and employs about 22,000 children working for less than Rs. 30 per day!
Disguise Cosmetics—A Vegan Cruelty-free Brand
So, imagine my relief when I realised that these issues have in fact been acknowledged by a homegrown make-up brand.
Disguise Cosmetics, a small make-up brand based in Mumbai and founded in April 2018, has a range of 100 per cent vegan and cruelty-free products like lipsticks, and kajals among others. These products have been developed by three scientists Desiree Pereira, Shivangi Shah and Lakshay Mohendroo, who are also the founders of the business venture.
For Desiree Pereira the understanding and importance of cruelty-free products came very early on in life.
“I was lucky to have been exposed to negative aspects of consumerism from a young age. We were taught to be kind to the environment and animals. I even stopped buying firecrackers at the tender age of eight,” recalls 28-year-old Desiree.
Until now, Disguise has sold over 30,000 units of their products which have been used by over 8,000 people!
From Scientists to Entrepreneurs
The three entrepreneurs met while working at L’oreal. It was during this time when they thought of starting their own brand.
“When we decided to begin this venture, we realised that there was a genuine gap in what was available in the market and saw a scope in make-up design. We wanted our products to suit the Indian climate, skin tones and that they should be easy to use,” says Desiree who is a Biotech graduate from Manipal University and was working with ITC before joining L’oreal.
While, Lakshay is a Chemical Engineer who studied in IIT Delhi and worked at P&G. Shivangi graduated from the University of Mumbai with a Bsc degree and then pursued a master’s degree in Cosmetology and perfumes.
Disguise Cosmetics started their operations in April 2018 by setting up a stall in Mumbai’s Lil Flea market. They started with their signature matte lipsticks at that point.
“The response was phenomenal. We ended up selling over 300 lipsticks over the weekend. Out of these only about 15 of them were bought by people we knew. Rest, were people we had met for the first time. This gave us the confidence that there was indeed a customer base that would be more than happy to buy our products,” says Desiree.
One happy customer is 28-year-old Vaishali Iyer, a political analyst based in Bengaluru. Vaishali was always on the lookout for lipsticks that would suit her skin tone and she discovered Disguise’s make-up two years ago.
“I love the fact that they have all the ingredients listed and it’s all cruelty-free. They have lipsticks for every skin tone. My personal favourites are the lipstick in brown and nude shades,” she says.
Disguise’s matte lipstick shades range from the Burgundy Satin, Toffee Satin, Mauve Satin to brighter shades like the Fuchsia Explorer Satin and the Coral Satin. They even launched a line of liquid lipsticks. Their products are priced between Rs. 450 to Rs 700.
Vaishali now not only repurchases these lipsticks but also buys them as gifts for family and friends. “A lot of my colleagues use these lipsticks and recently for a friend’s wedding, we put together a make-up hamper which comprised of Disguise’s products,” she states.
Go Vegan-Glow Without the Guilt
So, what really is so special about these lipsticks?
Perhaps, the Unique Selling Point of the products lay in the fact that they are consciously produced. This means that these products do not harm animals or the environment and follow ethical practices in every step of the way.
“Since we were already working in the field of research, we came across reports on the cosmetics industry. These spoke about how it is unnecessary to test makeup on animals. This practice is absolutely not needed and we actually test all these products on ourselves,” points out Desiree.
Once the trio decided to make cruelty-free make-up, making these lipsticks completely vegan was a choice that came naturally to them. A common ingredient in most cosmetics is tallow, which is obtained by boiling animal carcasses.
“We avoid using any kind of animal fat in our products and have switched to plant based alternatives like argan oil, avocado oil and marula oil which are all ethically sourced. The same goes for the mica that is used in our cosmetics. We scrutinise the supply chain closely and ensure no kind of child labour is involved in what we source,” emphasises Desiree.
All of Disguise’s products are FDA approved and since they are especially cruelty-free, they even have also been certified by PETA.
Uphill Battles and Marching Forward
That path to a 100 per cent vegan, cruelty free brand has not been a bed of roses for the trio.
“I think one of the biggest challenges that we face is because of the self imposed restrictions while conceptualising and manufacturing our products. We research more and want to be better than other products in the market,” says Desiree.
However, Desiree says that compromising on their values as a brand is something they don’t want to indulge in.
Disguise also faces all the challenges of a bootstrapped business mentions Desiree.
“Since we don’t have deep pockets, we can’t really afford to spend too much on advertising or marketing our products. Often, we even end up taking a hit on our margins. But, what we really focus on is really delivering the right products and hope that with word of mouth, more people start using our products,” explains Desiree.
So, what does the future have in store for the trio?
Disguise now plans on introducing new products to the range that exists right now and explore more eco-friendly packaging.
“We want to introduce derma cosmetics in the future which have curative properties for the skin. In the end, we hope to be the choice for anyone who wants to make an ethical beauty decision,” says Desiree signing off.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)