Growing up with one foot in two distinctly different cultures (but not fully belonging in either) is an experience common to many first-generation Americans. For Rooshy Roy, the founder of Ayurveda-inspired skin care line Aavrani, one of the most defining elements of her childhood was a sense of alienation from her culture of origin and country of birth. Her loving, well-intentioned Indian immigrant family expected her to live up to the good Indian girl archetype, which Roy couldn’t relate to, while her brown exterior excluded her from fully belonging to the clique of white girls that populated her Michigan suburb. Says Roy of her upbringing, “I always felt I needed to compartmentalize my identities as opposed to unifying them into one lived experience that has its own quirks and sense of identity.”
Nowhere was this push and pull more apparent than in both cultures’ approach to beauty. Her friends were everything she was not — blonde or brunette with blue and green eyes and pale skin. They wore eyeshadow and lip gloss to school, some had perms and highlights. “Beauty seemed to be the thing that everybody was gravitating towards,” she says. “It was very glitz and glam, with a focus on color cosmetics. That’s what I was so hungry for because I thought it would give me access and the ability to fit in with other people.”
In a plot twist surprising to no one, Roy was allowed to do none of those things. When everybody wanted to tan, she had to avoid the sun. When every member of her basketball team was shaving the peach fuzz off their limbs, Roy wasn’t permitted to shave hers. Chemical treatments for the hair? Absolutely not. “Everything I wanted to do as it relates to beauty in the U.S. just got a no from my parents because if it didn't add value to my general well-being, then it wasn’t worthwhile.”
Roy’s parents — like many South Asian immigrants — believed that dabbling in these sorts of beauty practices at a young age were harmful, physically and mentally. “My dad was so ultra-pragmatic that he couldn't understand the emotional element of wanting to fit in,” she explains. “It was very much, ‘Well, if you start shaving your hair it will grow back thicker and longer and you'll have to do it forever and you can accidentally cut yourself’. I guess he also wanted to keep me as much in my youth and innocence as possible.”
Like many teens, she navigated that by shaving in secret in the locker room and getting to school early so she could put on makeup before class, making sure to wash it off before going home. It also solidified that she couldn’t fathom how her parents’ indigenous beauty practices were worthy or of value. “I thought, how can a turmeric mask or hair oil be beauty if they're letting me do it? If they're saying it's good for me then it's definitely not cool.”
That’s not to say Roy was a stranger to Indian beauty rituals. She spent months in Kolkata, India every year with extended family, regularly slathering on turmeric face masks and hair oil. However, she never really thought of these as beauty treatments, because her family didn’t see them that way. “It never felt like a pursuit of beauty — it felt like a pursuit of health and general wellness,” she says. “We were always doing [treatments] because they were either good for the volume and thickness of your hair or the inflammation on your face, so I didn't even make the connection that that was really beauty.”
Roy finally connected the dots years later in business school, where she met Aavrani’s co-founder Justin Silver. Their conversations encouraged her to share her childhood beauty rituals and ingredients like turmeric, which are so embedded in South Asia’s health and wellness practices, with a wider audience. In doing so, she created something that had been missing from her life growing up. As she says, “Had I even known that a brand like this existed as a child, I can't even imagine the impact it would have had on my self-esteem.”
Roy and Silver started Aavrani in 2018 while still in business school; their star product was a turmeric mask exfoliator that is still at the core of Aavrani. But a few years in, Roy grew uneasy. Just as she felt like she didn’t quite belong in her skin and identity, she started feeling similarly about Aavrani — the façade didn’t quite reflect what was inside. She was confident that the formulas they had tested were quality, and the name still spoke to her. It was the branding and packaging that felt increasingly fraudulent. She had fallen into the trap of creating a cookie cutter brand identity that was expected from an Indian beauty brand. It was beautiful, an earthy green color palette with hints of gold, but it was not her. She realized that just as she had never seen herself reflected in the archetype of the good Indian girl, similarly, her brand too had to find its own path.
Aavrani 2.0 was born in summer 2020. The packaging is an electric blue, Roy’s favorite color (she was told it was too ‘manly’ for a beauty brand but chose not to listen), with whimsical pop art illustrations on the outer cartons. Roy sees a parallel between her own identity as an Indian-American and Aavrani’s. “I feel like the brand has given me a sense of closure around that internal conflict that I've always felt — am I Indian? Am I American? Am I both? I'm no longer trying to harmonize around that tension, I'm owning the wholeness of it, and that’s bred so much internal peace for me.”
Roy hopes a beauty-loving audience will connect with the actual products, but she’s equally invested in cultivating a mindset in which the pursuit of beauty and wellness are interwoven. Because of her Indian upbringing, the subliminal message she initially resisted (and has since embraced) was that if wellness comes first, beauty will follow. It’s also a timely reminder that wellness is at the core of most modern beauty practices, which has redefined how the West looks at beauty in recent years (an idea that the East has been practicing for centuries).
To maximize that learning, Aavrani has launched Holistic Beauty Rituals, a series of guided self-care videos, each one aiming to bring beauty and wellness closer together: a guided meditation while masking, words of affirmation in tandem with serum application, face yoga while moisturizing, and manifesting along with eye cream. Roy stresses that these guides need not be used only with Aavrani products, but are for anyone who wants to turn their beauty routine into a wellness practice.
Today, Roy sees Aavrani as the embodiment of what she wishes she could have been growing up as an Indian American: a blend of the best of the East and West, confident in both those identities. Seeing how the brand has resonated with so many others brings Roy validation that Aavrani was something that girls and women of color needed. “You can't be what you can't see,” she says. “That’s the motivating force behind doing this.”