Michelle Ranavat on bringing India’s beauty rituals to the world

Michelle Ranavat might be an engineer by trade but it was her passion for uncovering the beauty rituals of Indian royalty that led her to founding her fast growing beauty brand, Ranavat Botanics. “Sometimes I feel like I’m an excavator where I’m digging for fossils and trying to find these ancient relics. It tells us a little bit about what people before us may have done and that’s something that I’m just incredibly passionate about,” Ranavat told me when we spoke by phone. 

That passion has led her to achieving impressive milestones in the two short years since she launched her brand — retailing at Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Credo, a collaboration with Indian fashion designer Payal Singhal and her knack for finding “hidden gems” like the Kansa wand, an ancient Ayurvedic facial massage tool, have set her brand apart in the beauty space. I chatted with Ranavat to learn more about how she got started, her unique take on Ayurveda and how developing a clear brand story helped her connect with top retailers.

What inspired you to start Ranavat?

I studied industrial engineering and I have a Master’s in Engineering Management so I’ve always been into understanding how products are made, the ingredients, the chemistry behind it and bringing them to life. I was working at Lehman Brothers and when they went bankrupt, I ended up working with my Dad. He has a pharmaceutical raw materials company and I had the opportunity to travel the world and see how things like peptides and amino acids are made and it was just really very cool and exciting. It was something that I really had a passion for and then beauty has always been a big part of my life. And when I think about Indian beauty, I feel like it’s this heirloom that tells us something about where we came from and it’s a little nugget of the past. So, combining both of those passions was really what brought Ranavat to life. 

Image: Beauty Heroes

The origin story of the brand is rooted in the rituals of the kings and queens of India. Can you tell us more about that?

I think there are a number of different ways you can share the culture of India and how beauty relates to it. It’s such a big category and it’s almost impossible for one brand to do it justice. But my little sliver of inspiration is what the kings and queens used to do for their health and for their longevity because they wanted to live forever. So, they were using just the finest ingredients like  saffron and roses and all of these really elevated botanical ingredients in their beauty rituals. And so that’s where I saw an opportunity to bring India to the forefront. India should absolutely be part of the conversation when it comes to beauty. Not only do we have this amazing medicinal science but beauty is a huge part of our culture and there’s a history there that’s way deeper than just beautification on the outside. 

How did Ayurveda become the founding principle for the skincare line?

I always knew that when you talk about beauty in India, Ayurveda has to be part of the story. It’s a really sophisticated medicinal science but it’s not a luxurious experience. It doesn’t always smell very good or feel very good. I wanted to elevate it and have it work in the context of our day-to-day lives. We have an Ayurvedic doctor who we work with on ingredients and as a guide in the formulation process but rather than take a really strict hard stance on following Ayurvedic principles, I think of it more as a modern apothecary where I use Ayurveda as a tool and a guide but not as gospel. I think there’s a lot of room for people with unique ideas that want to find different ways of expressing what beauty in India means and what Ayurveda means because those are huge topics and I can only share my view of it.

India should absolutely be part of the conversation when it comes to beauty. Not only do we have this amazing medicinal science but beauty is a huge part of our culture and there’s a history there that’s way deeper than just beautification on the outside.

How do you come up with your products?

I like to start with the ingredients first, whether it’s Himalayan lavender or understanding why higher elevation Darjeeling (tea) is better and learn the history of how it’s been used before. I’m really into saffron right now and there’s something called the “miracle elixir” that people used to use in India with kumkumadi oil. I found that it worked but there were certain things that I didn’t love about it — it was a little too thick, the smell profile wasn’t great. So, I changed it a bit and made it my own and added five times the saffron content so while kumkumadi was the inspiration for it, it’s been modernized.

Image: Beauty Heroes

How were you able to get your products into retail stores like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom so quickly?

I think it was good timing with natural beauty coming into the forefront. Ayurveda is a very complex science and that’s made it really hard for a lot of people to digest but I found the story that I wanted to tell beyond “oh this was inspired by Ayurveda.” I think you have to have something a little bit more specific for people to understand and I feel like people were able to relate to the story of Indian royalty and combine it with an approachable version of Ayurveda. Also, I think the key is creating layers. If I’m talking to someone at Neiman Marcus, I’m not going into the brightening properties of carotenoids, I’m not really talking about that. I’m going to give them the brand story — that Indian royals thousands of years ago were using these luxurious treatments to help them live forever. Then, if someone wants to know what the ingredients are then you drill down and eventually people want to know more and you give them that information. But you can’t forget that this is beauty and people just want to feel good. This is something that someone’s doing for fun so if they’re confused and if it’s not something they are able to understand then you’re not doing your job.

What products are the best sellers from the line?

I’m always curating the line and listening to feedback because I don’t care to have a million products, I want stuff that’s really working. And so everything that I have now is absolutely something that people have connected with but if you look at the numbers, I would say that the Mighty Majesty Hair Serum is the number one performer. I think part of the reason is that both men and women really relate to hair loss. Hair is such a symbol of beauty and we don’t do enough, especially in the U.S., to protect it. Now, putting oil in your hair is becoming a little bit more mainstream but oil treatments are just so key to replenishing your hair health and unfortunately people wait till their hair is dry and damaged to do something about it. In the winter, I do see the Radiant Rani Brightening Facial Serum sell more so it kind of goes back and forth between those two.

How did you discover the Kansa wand?

I found it while searching and digging into the crevices of the internet about Ayurveda (laughs). And then when I went to India, I knew I wanted to learn more and ultimately stumbled upon the real manufacturer. They’re hand made in Ahmedabad (Gujarat) which is called the Bronze City because it’s one of their biggest exports. It’s expensive because it’s not adulterated and blended with zinc and other metals. The Kansa wand actually predates the jade roller and has been around since the Bronze Age in India when they learned how to fuse copper and aluminum together and found it had all these amazing purifying and alkalinizing properties.

What is its purpose in skincare?

The Kansa wand works on balancing the skin’s pH level by detoxifying the skin. So touching the metal to the skin and massaging it can actually balance your pH and reduce inflammation which can cause acne, wrinkles and dullness. That’s why this is different than the jade roller ––  you’re going to get lymphatic drainage, you’re going to get more circulation, you’re going to get brightness through the fact that you’re bringing new blood flow to the surface of the skin. All of those things are true for every massage tool but what makes the Kansa wand unique is the metal is actually balancing your skin and no other product does that. 

Watch Michelle demonstrate how to use the Kansa wand:

You just launched an incredible collaboration with designer Payal Singhal. Can you tell us more about it?

I’m so excited about this! I always wanted to collaborate with a brand that views creation as art, who use artisans not manufacturers and are just connected to the human spirit. When I thought of all of those things, there was one person that came to mind and it was Payal Singhal. We’ve been working together for over a year to come up with something that represented both of our identities. Payal’s done an incredible job of bringing the Indian silhouette beyond bridal wear into other defining moments of our lives and I thought that meshed well with my philosophy of making Indian skin care accessible and approachable for everyone, whether they’ve experienced India or not. And so there was just this amazing harmony between us and the collection includes the top three products from my line –– Radiant Rani, Mighty Majesty, and the Jasmine Tonique and then we have this beautiful silk scarf that Payal designed just as a great way to tie the collection together.

Ranavat Botanics just celebrated its two year anniversary. What’s been a favorite moment from the last two years?

Honestly, I would have to say it’s the moments when I’m making a difference in someone’s life. There’s a woman I met at an event in Dallas who ran up to me and told me how Mighty Majesty was helping her hair grow back after chemo and that she took one of my facial mists with her to the hospital when she was doing reconstructive surgery. Those moments when you’re making someone feel royal, empowered, beautiful and connected to their heritage, that’s what makes me the happiest. That was the exact moment when I knew I was on the right path and this was what I wanted to be doing.

Images courtesy of Grey & Elle and Beauty Heroes

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