Are you someone who loves make-up? Do you like looking at your most prized collection of lipsticks with pride and constantly see yourself browsing online for the right shade to go with the right outfits? Well, you’re not alone. Make-up can make or break any look and thus, is an inseparable aspect of how one presents themselves. And most of us do not really think of words like ‘animal cruelty’ or ‘vegan product’ while making purchases.
But, these words speak of the dark, ugly truth of the make brands we so love. Research conducted by Humane Society International, an animal welfare organisation, estimates that about 500,000 animals die across the world due to the tests conducted on them by the beauty industry.
It’s also true that the cosmetics giants earn profits off the insecurities people about the way they look. Thus, humane and responsible beauty brands are the need of the hour.
While working as a make-up artist two years ago, Mumbai-based entrepreneur Kajol Mahendra Bafna, had the same epiphany which unfolded new avenues for her.
“I found that most of these brands focus on telling people how their make-up can allow them to look like a completely new person. However, the whole idea of make-up is to help you embrace yourself by enhancing your own beauty,” says the 23-year-old. Furthermore, Kajol realised that using such brands was clashing with her ethics too. “I follow the ideals of not harming any other being. So, I knew that I wanted products that are cruelty-free,” she says.
This is the point where Kajol decided to start her own make-up brand and she was very clear about the value system based on which her company would be founded.
Thus, Kajol founded ‘Boss Lady’, a vegan, natural and cruelty-free cosmetics brand in February 2019. Her products are made using ingredients like jojoba oil, sunflower wax, almond oil, calendula wax among others.
Since they began their operations, Boss Lady has launched about 15 products that comprise different shades of lipsticks, eyeliners, and highlighters.
Forging her Own Path with Vegan Beauty Products
Although Kajol had always been interested in make-up, the decision to take it up as a career came much later.
She graduated from Jai Hind College in 2017 with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science. In the same year, she enrolled for a Master’s degree in Political Science from Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey (SNDT) Women’s University. But, just after a year’s time, she realised this is not where her passion lay.
“I knew that I wasn’t doing something I loved and as I loved make-up, I knew that is the path I should be embarking on,” says Kajol. So, with a clear vision in her mind to become a make-up artist, she enrolled for a makeup artistry course spanning five months from MUF, a make-up and hair style training institute in Mumbai, passing out in 2018.
Once she finished the course, she started freelancing as a professional make-up artist with a studio in Mumbai. She would also visit the Mumbai Fashion Academy (MFA) as a makeup instructor while taking up small gigs on the side for events like weddings and editorial shoots.
“The weddings and the editorial shoots in itself had so many different kinds and styles that I could experiment with which depended on if it was a day look or a night-time look,” she says.
Kajol adds that this experience was very instrumental as it helped her learn about different skin tones and skin types which furthered her understanding of make-up and the needs of various skin tones and facial structures.
“However, there was no stable income in this as it solely depended on the number of clients I would get. So, I started applying for different online make-up e-commerce companies which were offering positions for a make-up artist who could create web content for them,” she says.
While waiting to hear back from these companies, she started her research on cosmetic companies. This research is what led to the founding of ‘Boss Lady’.
Starting from Scratch
Although the company began its operations in February 2019, it was registered in August 2018. Building a make-up business without knowing how to prepare the formulations was a big challenge for Kajol. So, she started looking at manufacturing units that were already producing makeup that matched her values of vegan, cruelty-free and all-natural products.
For this, she traveled all the way to Delhi and later Tamil Nadu to meet with such manufacturers but these earnest attempts did not bear any fruit.
“These manufacturers wanted larger orders and when I would calculate how much they’d charge per unit, the costs would shoot off the roof,” recalls Kajol. Disheartened, Kajol came back home, decided to take a step back and think about how she would manage the manufacturing bit of the operations in a feasible manner.
“Someone from MFA was conducting a workshop on how to make cosmetics at home. I was immediately interested in that and there I learnt how to make lipsticks,” recalls Kajol.
“I realised I had been going about it all wrong by looking for manufacturers elsewhere when I could actually make it from my kitchen. I started experimenting with ingredients like almond oil, natural pigments, sunflower wax among others,” she says.
Kajol says that it took her months to perfect the formulations but she finally came up with a usable batch in early 2019. Since it was a small business at the time, she had to figure out the logistics and find manufacturers of packaging. She also had to get her products tested at a private laboratory for safety measures.
For the first few months, she took orders on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. She gradually launched her website in May 2019 when the orders started flooding in.
“We organised a special Mother’s Day sale on the website and I launched some new colors at the time. Some of these shades were named after famous women like Frida Kahlo, Rosa Park, and one shade, I named after my mother, Dimple,” she says.
The response to her vegan products during that period was phenomenal and that gave her the confidence to stick to business ideas and improve her products even more.
Scaling the Business like a Boss
Although her small business was doing really well, Kajol knew that she wanted to scale her operations. To do that, she would need to get an FDA license which she did not possess at the time.
“Also, making the lipsticks at home wasn’t feasible anymore if I wanted to scale up. Thus, my search for the right manufacturers began again,” she says.
She found the perfect manufacturers in Belleza Italia, a manufacturer based out of Mumbai. These people not only possessed an FDA license for large scale manufacturing, but they also followed her ideals of veganism and chemical-free make-up, with all ingredients being ethically sourced.
“They were so helpful when I got in touch with them. Once it was finalised that they would do the manufacturing, we discussed the shades, the ingredients to use and even the packaging,” she says.
It was only in December last year when she relaunched her lipsticks with help from the manufacturers. Deciding to seek help from experienced manufacturers gave Boss Lady’s vegan products a new twist and also helped them garner customers.
Devashree Nampurkar for instance, first discovered Boss Lady’s products through an influencer online in January this year. What really attracted her to the product range were the colors and the packaging of the lipsticks.
“The shape of the lipstick cover is so interesting. It was almost like a locket that you can wear with a tiny metal plate attached to it that had the company’s name,” she says.
She also fell in love with the unique shades and ended by buying the ‘OMG OMG OMG’ lipstick and the ‘Hug all Day’ waterproof eyeliner. “Both of these products are really amazing. The vegan lipstick is a mix of wine and the mauve shade and you just need to apply one stroke and it will last you all day. I am looking forward to trying out more of their products,” she says.
Challenges of a Young Entrepreneur
Kajol runs a one-woman show and hence, her day is jam-packed with things to do. She starts her day by going to the temple and once she is back she helps with the household chores. Once she is done with her breakfast, she goes to her small studio where she ships orders, plans meetings and marketing strategies. The journey this far hasn’t been a piece of cake for the young entrepreneur.
Kajol adds that since she is young, people often do not take her seriously. “People would constantly keep asking me in meetings if I knew what I am doing, what would be my contingency plan when this failed, how do I know if my idea is going to work. But, I have always believed in myself and that has helped me until now,” she says.
She also has a few words of encouragement for small business owners like herself.
“Becoming an entrepreneur is fun and exciting but it ain’t easy. However, you should never give up. Put in all your creativity, skills, passion and hard work in what you do. Make sure what you are doing is to create an impact and always be mindful of the environment while doing your business,” she says
So, what lies ahead for Boss Lady?
Kajol informs that she is currently working on developing and launching a summer collection that would comprise beautiful shades. “I have always believed that makeup should be inclusive and it’s for all genders. So, in our focus group who try our products, we have most women and men,” she says. She’s confident that it would be well received by people.
“Becoming a billion-dollar company is not really my vision. In the long-run, I want to become a household name without having to compromise on my values. What I really hope for is that Boss Lady’s products become a part of everyone’s vanity bags,” she says signing off.
*An entrepreneur you admire.
Ans: Kari Mehta, founder – CEO, Humans Of Bombay.
*New tech that can transform the future of small businesses
Ans: Plastic-free sustainable packaging materials.
*One value that can help small businesses thrive
Ans: Being true to yourself about your brand values.
*Any app/software that helps you manage your work
*Your favourite book
Ans: Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini
*In my free time I ____…
Ans: Watch films, spend time with my family & organise/ clean my home/studio
* Before this interview I was ____…
Ans: Working in my studio
*Something they don’t teach in college but is important to run a business is
Ans: How to do taxes, negotiate, and deal with failures
*One question I always ask people while hiring is ____…
Ans: What is their biggest failure
*Best advice you ever got is to ____…
Ans: If you ever cry, stand up while you do it.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)