How aardae takes india’s best clean beauty brands to the international market for the first time

Shweta Gupta and Darshana Balagopal

Co-founded by two passionate entrepreneurs, Shweta Gupta and Darshana Balagopal, Aardae is the first curator that brings top Indian and international conscious beauty brands to customers abroad, putting homegrown brands on the global map.

Built on an ethos of environmental sustainability and ethical production, with a carefully curated catalogue of over 40 high performance brands known for their clean, organic and cruelty-free values, Aardae will be launching in Singapore soon, and will be expanding across South East Asia shortly.

The co-fo are the first women entrepreneurs to be members of the coveted Founders Club, a business accelerator programme by The Circle.

Aardae is the first all-women founding team to be part of the coveted Founders Club, a business accelerator by The Circle, providing business and financial advisory to early-stage startups and help them scale fast.

Aardae was conceptualized when the co-founders noticed a specific gap in the current business scenario – the absence of a conduit that provided top Indian brands with viable foreign distribution and promotion.

They built their business model to fill this niche, with an eye on the phenomenal growth of the global organic cosmetics market (13%, as opposed to just 5.5% growth in the overall global cosmetics market).

The Indian organic cosmetics market itself has been growing at a whopping 25% annually, with an exponential increase in educated consumership that is curious about processes and ingredients and eager to adapt a holistic, nature-centric approach to beauty.

The sector’s rapid growth in the country has also been made possible by investments to the tune of USD300 million over just four years.

Bringing their passion for conscious beauty together with their dynamic entrepreneurship sensibilities, Ms. Gupta and Ms. Balagopal developed Aardae: a platform that makes available curated conscious beauty solutions for women in untapped markets, who are looking for the finest clean, organic, non toxic self care products from beyond their known brand radius.

The superior performance and efficacy of the over 1000 products in the catalogue have been proven through Aardae’s in-house consumer testing, a part of the stringent curation process.

Among the brands that will be available in Singapore for the first time through Aardae are Dot & Key, Juicy Chemistry, OCEGLOW, Purearth, Earth Rhythm, Omorfee dozens more.

Hong Kong-based Purearth is also in the catalogue, and the co-founders are keen to add more Indian and international brands soon.

Many of these brands will enjoy international distribution and visibility for the first time through Aardae.

Speaking on Aardae’s vision, Shweta Gupta says, “We strongly believe that independent Indian beauty brands already have what it takes to compete on the global market, and what we have done is to bring them together on a unique platform that allows them to do just this.

This is what we provide at Aardae: an equal playing field in which these amazing brands, the quality and efficacy of which we can personally attest to, can shine.

We have curated a rich catalogue of some of the favourite brands that are preferred by India’s conscious beauty consumers, and which we trust will fare well abroad too.”

Speaking on Aardae’s contribution to the fast-growing space of conscious beauty, Darshana Balagopal says, “Conscious beauty is a space of vast promise and growth, both in India and internationally.

At Aardae, we recognize this, encourage it, and create more opportunities for brands in the sector.

Consumers too are more educated than ever, curious about the ingredients and composition of their products and aware of their environmental footprints, and we are in alignment with the same.

For instance, our catalogue promotes cruelty-free brands, not just clean ones, thus catering to a committed and knowledgeable market.

We developed Aardae as a unique platform, one that not just fulfills a niche but actively inspires growth in the segment by providing greater leverage and reach for top homegrown brands.

The company is currently bootstrapped and they have personally invested 1 million dollars. In terms of the revenue they are looking at 5 million at the end of the first year from the Singapore market. 

Tell us about your journey?

Aardae started a year ago and when you say about good things that came out of covid, is one of this our baby.

The thought process came in literally during the covid times when you know I think our whole lifestyle itself had changed, what we eat, what we put into our system, the way we exercised and with that added on to that obviously the skin care routines.

I think during that time also 3 months where international brands you couldn’t shop them. We were looking out for a lot of home made curations that you know we thought lets go back to basics and that’s when we started our research on this particular field and we realised that there were so many brands from India that were actually doing well in this particular market and especially during covid that their production had increased and the need for them had increased and had the same efficacy compared to the products that we were using with the chemicals, so then why would you need chemicals in your system was one of our major questions.

Shweta Gupta

Then we had to figure out what were the good chemicals that the body needed and what were the synthetic chemicals that we had to bifurcate.

So, I think that’s where the process started which was literally last July and its been one year since then.

What and who was the inspiration for starting Aardae?

There was no such inspiration but other than like I told you we both were just willing to understand what is it that is exactly needed today in the beauty skincare market, you know what was the shift that can happen or is happening is what we wanted to identify and so it started right from us.

So, the inspiration is us and then our families and friends. So, we started buying these products from various brands and started dispersing it to our families and friends and they started seeing an entire change in their skincare and in the way how their skin started reacting to these wonderful products and so then the entire journey started.

Usually international brands come to India, yours is the other way round, please share details?

So that’s exactly what it is. India is always been an open market and we open our arms and welcome everybody because we also know that India is one of the largest markets.  

Infact it is not one of the, it is the largest market in South East Asia. I mean China is not even considered now anymore after India because of literally the way the population is distributed in India.

We have people from different segments trying out different variations and pricings in any brand product that is needed, so it is the most hottest market and hence why everyone wants to tap into India but what about our home grown brands is what we first thought about, that they need a visibility and they are as good as the international brands that are being out there in the market but no one knows about it.

Darshana Balagopal

So, what we did is we went onto select the top 50 brands from India, it was a huge curation that we did in identifying them, understanding their efficacy, their branding, their vision and obviously their vision had to be aligned with us.

If we are going into various markets which first is Singapore and then we are going into Malaysia, each market demanded their own what you call as a specific as it is a segment.

They needed their own target segment to be – when you go into Malaysia you need halal free products and there is a major population of Muslims there and they are very accustomed to a different type of skin care regime.

So, our products and especially our brands need to understand this and curate if needed products for those kinds of markets.

So, we handpicked those kinds of brands, rather the ones that we took to Singapore are only for the Singapore market and they cannot cater to the world or say other segments or anything but they are highly concentrated because Singapore even for their haircare they are very much into straight hair and into chemical treatment and they need more products that can add moisture to their hair, remove the oiliness from their hair and to anti-frizz their hair.

They do not want curling products or anything. And this also goes for the skin, they are very ingredient friendly and that’s how they search for their products.

Infact they are not having a very big brand loyalty and they search for ingredients in the Singapore market.

It was very important for us and our brands also to have the same vision, understand where we are going with them and we are taking them to be placed on the same platform and compete with these international brands.

Which Indian brands will be available on your platform?

3. Brillare
4.Conscious Chemist
6.Dot and Key
8.Earth Collective
9.Earth Rhythm
11.Fix My Curls
12.Fizzy Fern
14 Global Beauty Secrets
15.Ilana Organics
16.Juicy Chemistry
17.Just Herbs
19.Love Organically
20.Myra Veda
21.Mystique Earth
22.Natural Vibes
23.Neemli Naturals
27.Ozone Signature
28.Perenne Cosmetics
30.Ras Luxury Oils
31.Roots and Herbs
32.Rubys Organics
34.Shankara Naturals
36.Sova Skincare

On what basis will they be judged as good brand?

The basis of judgement as I have already told you, we are looking at obviously the vision was important and then the brand as a whole in terms of their website, their marketing what they have been doing it has to have the standard of what Aardae also has.

Then the overall packaging and the product and finally the most important which is the efficacy and for that we did an entire market study, we had basically done sampling in India, for the Indian segment because there is a huge Indian segment in Singapore also and we did a sampling-based study in the Singapore market with the Singaporeans and expats.

Internationally, what is the perception of Indian brands?

Well, we still haven’t created a perception as such because Indian brands are not readily available.

However, our brands like Forest Essentials and Kama are the brands that infact people know about as they have internationally marketed themselves and they are available in a lot of markets and therefore they know these brands and so when they know these brands, they think this is how the Indian Ayurveda or Indian organic brands stand, so that is a good thing as such brands have given the rest of the Indian brands a very good way to lead.

And apart from that most of our brands are also present in the European continent. The Europe is absolutely different.

They are also very much involved to understand the Indian ways of life and they very much appreciate it and they love Indian skin, so they believe in the Indian brands and products and a lot of them have been distributed by small distributors in the European continent and they are becoming very large.

Why choose Singapore and not India?

India is definitely a market we are looking at but like we said we wanted to have a presence in Singapore as it is a very good test market for the world.

So, Singapore has expats, your South East Asians, Indians and they have a wide variety and it’s a smaller market with the largest different kind of segments available at just one area.

So, it is even smaller than a size of Chennai if anything. So, it is very important for us to test our market and Singapore is the eye to the world.

What are the investments done?

We have invested close to 2-3 million dollars already as a bootstrap company.

Expected revenue

We are looking into an expected revenue from Singapore itself for the first year of 5 million dollars.

Do you plan to get funding through an investor, in future?

We are looking in another 3-4 months since we will be expanding on a very large platform to the world and we will be looking at investors coming on board.

Will you also come out with an IPO to become a listed company?

IPO is pretty far away but this is what every company’s dream is and hopefully in 5 years we can reach that stage or even sooner.

Who are your competitors, already existing in the market?

Competitors in this particular market, we can only compare ourselves to the International ones, which is Credo and Follain and they are only present in the US as of now. So, the South East Asia does not exactly have a clean beauty platform yet and ours becomes the first.

Expansion plans?

Yes we have, the whole of South East Asia, Middle East and India in our minds and the third and fourth year into Europe.

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