Imagine for a moment you just landed your first job out of university at a luxury skincare company in downtown Chicago. It’s your second day on the job, so you take extra care to perfect your outfit, hair and makeup, because even though you are young, you understand the importance of looking the part.
Later that day the tall, glamorous ex-super model, who also happens to own the company, walks into the store. She walks right up to you and declares to the store, “Get this girl some concealer!” Make-up artists rush to your side, frantically applying concealer to your under-eye area, but it’s a lost cause. Every shade is too light. You are left with makeup caked on your face and a brand-new complex.
That is exactly what happened to Pinki Patel, and exactly why she and her sisters founded Vasanti Cosmetics.
Heidi: How did that moment result in launching Vasanti Cosmetics?
Pinki: Of course, I became obsessed trying to find makeup to help with my new issue. So, I’m actually grateful to her and in awe of what she created. It didn’t deter me; it inspired me. It made me realize that in this industry you have to look a certain part and it really fueled my curiosity.
It also started the conversation with Monal who was back here (Toronto), who is a childhood friend and like a sister. I would call her and say, “can you believe that happened?” At the same time, I couldn’t find anything to cover up my dark circles.
Naturally, Pinki became obsessed trying to find a solution for dark under-eyes, but everything she tried felt heavy, or the color was too light and didn’t match. Meanwhile, she and Monal keep talking about the problem. Not only were the solutions out there thick and clumpy, it was also 20 years ago – way before the variety of color shades we have now. There was a clear gap in the market, especially for women with darker skin tones.
Heidi: Who was the first one to say, “We should do this ourselves. The product we need isn’t out there, let’s go make our own concealer”?
Pinki: Well, I didn’t stay in Chicago long. I came back to Toronto and got a job in a cosmetics lab where I could learn [about formulas]. I got my foot in the door by telling them I would do whatever it takes to be present and learn.
Heidi: I have image of you in my head as a mad-scientist dressed in a white lab coat, frantic hair, and muttering to yourself, “I will make the perfect concealer for ALL WOMEN!!”
Pinki: That’s a true picture! (Laughs) . That was exactly me!
Heidi: What did you study in school?
Pinki: Believe it or not, psychology.
Heidi: So, you didn’t have a chemistry background. How did you even land the job?
Pinki: It was a couple of entrepreneurs who started the company. Between the cosmetics lab and the manufacturing floor there were maybe 15 people, and I got a job in the front retail store. The owner had taken a liking to me. She let me ask her a thousand questions. Eventually, she brought me into the lab and gave me a test.
She wanted to understand my ‘color eye’. She showed me a picture, and said, “this half of this face has a color (tone), and this half of the face has the same color, but it is slightly different. Describe how they are different.”
I was able to talk about the color difference I saw. All she said was “ok”, but she started giving me odd tasks here and there – to see how smart I was, I guess. Eventually, she brought me into her office and asked if I would assist her in anything she needed done.
I said, “no problem! You tell me to do something, and I’ll do it.”
That’s how Pinki got herself an apprenticeship. Eventually, she got to work alongside another women, who was a PHD chemist, and according to Pinki “was incredible”. She was kind and patient with Pinki answering all her endless stream of questions. She also shared details about the ingredients and what went into creating formulas. The knowledge and experience Pinki gained in the lab became the baseline for the formulas Vasanti Cosmetics still use today.
Pinki: Our concealer was developed from understanding the details of each ingredient and what went into [other] formulas that made those products look so ashy on my skin.
Heidi: And you had the perfect test subject!
Pinki: Exactly. It really helped to be there and try all the different products, learn about color theory and what makes skin tone. It was an incredible experience.
Of course I kept calling Monal with all my ideas. Finally, she said, “Pinki! We’ve been talking about this. You keep talking about his over and over again. If you want to do it, let’s just do it!” It was Monal who said, “Let’s make this happen!”
Make it happen, they did. Both women were still working their full-time jobs. Pinki was at the cosmetic lab and Monal, only 24, was running the finance department for an amusement park. The concealer wasn’t quite ready by launch, so they started with a few more universal products that didn’t need to be color matched, like a few lip colors and a cream eyeshadow.
Pinki’s “perfect concealer for all women” was not far behind, however. It was one of the company’s first products, and the formula was perfect. So perfect, in fact, that the product is exactly the same formula today as it was when they launched 17 years ago.
Heidi: You had to be only 23-24 at the time. Did you know anything about starting a business? How did you and Monal go from, “let’s make this happen” to actually running a business?
Pinki: Monal did have a business sense. Her thing was, “You have the creative side; I have the business side. We can do this!”
Then Priti, my other sister, was out in Vancouver trying to find herself. In our family, she was the one who was supposed to be the doctor. We called her and said, “You don’t really know what you want to do with your life, want to start this thing with us?”
Heidi: You two really know how to sweet-talk somebody!
Pinki: (laughs) Right! But she came on board. Of course, we are all doing this part time. We all had full-time jobs too. It was a passion project for many, many years.
Heidi: So, what did you do? This was well before social media. Today people can throw up a website in a couple of hours, advertise on social media, and voilà, they have a business. What did you do 17 years ago?
Pinki: We made a website. It was very basic. We didn’t have the templates we have now with website tools. We got our revenue through trade shows. We did every women’s and bridal trade show we could find. Anything where we could take our concealer and put it on as many people as possible.
We knew we had a great solution for women who didn’t know they could cover up their dark circles.
Heidi: The beauty industry today accounts for $445 Billion, and new beauty entrepreneurs are thriving against household brands. I image that wasn’t the case almost 20 years. Did people think you were crazy for taking on the likes of L’Oréal, Estee Lauder, etc?
Pinki: It’s kind of funny. When we started, we just believed in the solution and knew that most women had already tried those brands. Our girlfriends would tell us stories about going to the department stores and leaving with “makeup face” and couldn’t wait to wash the product off.
Pinki, Monal and Priti launched the company and quickly brought on Gargi. Being the natural sales person, of the sisters Gargi worked the Vasanti Cosmetics kiosk at a mall in Toronto. She spent her days doing makeovers and socializing the brand while Pinki and Monal would cover evening and weekend shifts after leaving their day-jobs.
Heidi: At what point did you realize you have a fully functioning company and leave your jobs?
Pinki: It was probably about 7 years in, and Monal was the first to go on full-time.
After the kiosks, we were able to get into a couple of actual stores in the mall. Then we were lucky, in 2007, to partner with Shopper’s Drug Mart, which is like a Sephora and CVS combined. We are still in the stores today.
Heidi: I received my bottle of Vasanti BrightenUp in a Fab Fit Fun box, and I was immediately hooked. I have to imagine Fab Fit Fun gave Vasanti a ton of exposure. How did you start partnering with them?
Pinki: The subscription boxes have been our #1 way to market into the U.S. After Shoppers’ Drug Mart, we partnered with Birchbox, which was our very first entry into the U.S with a sample of the exfoliator. It immediately became one of our hero products. The subscription boxes have been incredible partners.
We started with sampling 50,000 bottles, just to get BrightenUp into people’s hands, but it came back with so many incredible reviews and feedback that we have now sampled over 4 Million tubes through various boxes.
When developing that formula, I had no idea it would take off like it did. I wanted to it to be the very best exfoliator we could develop and as natural as possible. I developed it with my wish list of perfect ingredients. But the way it ended up working for so many people, I could have never planned for that.
Heidi: It’s really incredible because it feels so light when you use it, but you also feel like you are getting a really deep exfoliation at the same time. Other products I’ve used always felt too light or too rough. But, in that one solution I’m getting the best of both worlds.
Pinki: I Love that!! And that’s the thing; I hated that the scrubby exfoliators felt like they were scratching my face. I did some research and found that papaya would be more gentle. What makes BrightenUP really special though is the aloe gel base. It doesn’t compromise the effectiveness of the exfoliation but makes it feel gentle.
Heidi: Another reason it’s winner for me is because it is cruelty free. Was that a conscious decision on Vasanti’s part?
Pinki: Absolutely. That is something we really believe in. There are other ways to test ingredients without testing on animals. Brands have a choice to either test on animals or not. Maybe back in the day you would need to test on animals so as not to hurt humans, but now, with all the technology, there’s just no need. I’m shocked that brands are still doing that. It’s disappointing.
Heidi: I think the main reason some brands still test on animals is because they sell into China, and China requires products be tested on animals.
Pinki: We refuse to sell in to China because of that.
Heidi: I think that’s important. The more brands that stand up for what’s right for the brand, and the animals, the sooner China will change their requirements also.
Pinki: Exactly. I think that’s already in the works. We did get approached to sell in China, and that was our main concern. We won’t sell in to China until the regulations changed.
Heidi: Is Vasanti a “natural” line?
Pinki: It’s a lot easier in skincare to go all natural because there are so many high-performance ingredients that you can use. Color cosmetics is a little difficult, because you’re missing out on performance when you go all natural.
So here’s where I’ve come to a balance, I will use as many natural ingredients as I can for the base formulas. If I need high-performance then I’ll go to a synthetic ingredient. If I can get accuracy and high-performance using natural ingredients then I will 100% go that way. The only thing I won’t compromise on is preservatives.
For me, no matter how much someone wants to take care of their product(s), most people are busy and won’t. I don’t want to put that onus on my customer. They should have a perfectly preserved, high-functioning, and bacteria free product as long as possible. We don’t use Paraben, so we did tests to get the most effective and high performing preserving system without using Paraben. If you look at BrightenUp, for example, it is 99% natural.
Heidi: And that 1% is for the safety of the customer?
Pinki: That, and we do use a fragrance that we tried to get 100% hypo-allergenic. Nothing can really be 100% hypo-allergenic because you can’t test at 100% of the population. So that’s the 1% and a balance we feel comfortable with.
I have a product called Age Is Only A Number for when I turn 40. I decided I was going to make the post potent formula I can possibly make. It’s amazing because I’ve combined a face oil and serum and made it pretty much 100% active.
But, Age Is Only A Number is only 95% natural. For me to develop the most potent, high-performance formula for wrinkles and anti-aging I use a lot of beautiful, natural ingredients, like botanicals, but there’s some newer technology in ingredients that actually shows results faster, so you see instant results.
Heidi: So, you still have that mad chemist in you, don’t you!?
Pinki: Absolutely! My passion is the development. I’m still hands on working with the chemists. In fact, Age Is Only A Number is 100% my formula.
After getting to know Pinki a bit through our interview, I believe that she would have found her way to starting Vasanti even if she hadn’t been humiliated by her boss all those years ago. It’s clear that developing quality, effective and luxury skincare was Pinki’s destiny.
Today Vasanti Cosmetics is a multi million-dollar, international skincare company and I don’t see them slowing down. I am not affiliated with Vasanti Cosmetics, so consider this comment one from a raving fan, not the author:
BrightenUp is the very best product I’ve ever used on my face. Ever.