Interview: Author Sadichchha Adhikari on WOC Founders and Obstacles in Beauty Innovation
The beauty industry isn’t built for our success.
(Originally published on Beautyocracy.com, September 2022)
Beautyocracy caught up with Sadichchha Adhikari, author of Beautiful People: Women of Color Decentralizing Innovation in Beauty, to learn about her book and why she felt motivated to write about women of color founders in the beauty industry.
Sadichchha’s family owns threading salons in New York City – a legacy she speaks fondly of that shaped her view of beauty from a young age. She was familiar with beauty environments all her life but became aware of the significant differences between her intimate, South Asian upbringing versus what’s considered to be the mainstream beauty industry in America. Despite growing up in the epicenter of all things beauty and fashion, she recalls a lifetime of having difficulties finding makeup in her shade:
“My interest in beauty started and was immediately plagued with either ‘I don’t know how to use these products’ or ‘there are no products for me on the market’; that feeling of not being able to find the right things that work on me has always been there. I just sort of always thought it was my fault. I just didn’t know how to do makeup well enough. I’m not a makeup artist,” explains Sadichchha. “Slowly, as I started exploring the beauty industry, I realized it’s not me; it’s a systemic problem of products not being produced for me.”
Reflecting on the lack of options for someone with her skin tone was the beginning of a deep dive into exclusionary practices in the beauty industry. With her business background as a reference, Sadichchha went into research mode, wanting to understand why exactly the industry presented the same issues for people of color consistently over the years and why the needle hadn’t moved when it came to inclusion and representation in significant ways.
“If you look at a lot of the CEOs of major beauty companies, they’re all white men,” she plainly states. “[As a result], what we have are these seven or eight conglomerates basically coming out with the same products over and over again, and these products are typically catered to white women.”
She was surprised to discover that there wasn’t much room for founders of color to succeed in the first place. What seemed to be a lack of entrepreneurs of color was actually highly motivated and inspired women of color getting shut out from the outset – with no clear way in. With manufacturing being centralized and run primarily by the seven or eight conglomerates Sadichchha mentions, women of color founders have a fighting chance at innovating and creating new products in the space.
Against all odds, prominent founders of color have been changing the industry in recent years, like Deepica Mutyala of LiveTinted and Nancy Twine of Briogeo. Their path and legacy are inspiring a whole generation of founders to come. Sadichchha connected with these founders and got into the nitty-gritty of industry obstacles and how challenging it can be to create inclusive products that don’t resemble what already exists.
“What it means to decentralize innovation is to create communities and create independent brands that are so successful that they are starting to slowly chip away at the conglomerate-driven model that is the beauty business today. And those are the companies I write about. Beautyblender is one of them. Tatcha is one of them. AAVRANI is one of them. LiveTinted is a really big one; they’re doing a lot of really great work in community building around their products.”
As for Sadichchha, her passion for beauty has extended to becoming a beauty founder herself. With friend and business partner Grace Strmecki, she recently launched In Good Company, a seasonal nail polish subscription system that takes the guesswork out of finding on-trend, vegan, cruelty-free, and 10-free colors. The service focuses on sustainability by providing a recycling program for returned polish bottles and donates 5% of revenue to social causes.
Sadichchha’s ongoing focus is to push inclusion further and to make the success of women of color founders even more possible. She believes it’s not always easy to decipher if a brand is genuinely committed to inclusion and is determined to make the process of discovery easier for consumers. “I want to get better at making accessible beauty more accessible,” she says with a smile.