What is the problem you’re trying to solve?
Human skin is like a sponge. An average female will absorb four pounds and six ounces of chemicals every single year from blush, foundation, shampoo, conditioners, deodorant, body lotions, hand cream, eyeshadow, lipstick, nail polish and more.
Cosmetics often contain unnatural, and even potentially toxic ingredients, such as parabens (used as preservatives which have been found in to breast tumors), colors sourced from insects and synthetic colors (which are suspected carcinogens and contain heavy metals such as lead and cadmium). Additionally, a typical brand-name lipstick contains chemicals such as butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and tocopherylacetate, which have cancer and immunotoxicity concerns, according to EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.
What is your solution?
Seleste Cosmetics started with wanting to create a natural lipstick for my personal use. The idea came when my mother and I went shopping with my brother Akash, a chemical engineer. While waiting in line at the cosmetics counter, Akash decided to read the ingredients and was taken aback. Even with his background, he was unable to comprehend many of the ingredients contained in the product.
Since lipstick is the cosmetic that is most prone to being ingested (c. 3.5 lbs over a lifetime), we spent a year developing and testing a lipstick formula that is 100% natural, vegan, paraben-free, cruelty-free, and gluten-free. We started out in the kitchen testing ingredients we understood. We experimented with fruit pigments like tomato extract, and blueberry extracts. We found these are insoluble in oils but kept iterating till we found the right ingredients. We then worked with formulators in labs to create the right consistency for the products that we felt confident and proud of using ourselves.
In September 2018, we expanded to highlighter, bronzer, lip balm and eye cream.
What was the inspiration behind Seleste Cosmetics?
Our formula is packed with natural ingredients that repair the skin and lips. The vibrant colors for Seleste Cosmetics are extracted from natural pigments such as micas and clays, which seal in moisture and prevent dryness. We wanted to leave the choice to our customer where they don’t compromise on the functionality of having high pigmentation/coverage/desired effect and still get a product they feel good using on their skin. Consumers today are increasingly wary of the ingredients that go in making their food. Similarly, we at Seleste Cosmetics believe they should become aware of the ingredients that go into making their makeup.
We were very clear on what we wanted to stand for:
- We are transparent. We list all our ingredients on our website.
- We believe in simplicity. We are proud to say we use only eight simple ingredients in most of our products, most of which you find in your kitchen. Our packaging is minimalistic including the product shade names which are mere numbers (For example #001).
- We believe in being a business with a conscience. Our hashtag is #SmileWithSeleste as by buying the products, not only are you making a difference for yourself but also in someone else’s life. We use 5% of our income towards social initiatives. Our first was providing medicine to anemic girls in a small village in India called Gopinenipalem. This even encouraged local authorities to further donate hygiene products to the girls. Our second helped provide braille kits to blind students in Mumbai. We see through that the money is used properly and actually makes an impact and are involved throughout the process.
- We believe in embracing who you are. We are a brand focused on the everyday person from diverse backgrounds and genders. Our branding is around being silly and having fun!
- We believe in understanding our customer. We write hand-written personalized notes to our customers and encourage them to reach out to us. One of them mentioned that our old lipstick cover didn’t fit a standard lipstick holder and so we changed it!
The name Seleste is inspired by the word “celestial”, which means supremely good, or heavenly. Our cosmetics are made ONLY from simple and natural ingredients: for example, our lipsticks have coconut and avocado oil, our bronzer gets its color from cocoa powder, our lip balm consists of aloe; ingredients that you and me can actually pronounce.
Who is the team behind Seleste Cosmetics?
The team has its roots in Alberta, Canada where I worked prior to coming to HBS and where the other two founders received their chemical engineering degrees.
The team consists of me, Akash and Sravya Kalyanapu, also a chemical engineer.
I oversee growth strategy and branding. Akash oversees business logistics, ingredient sourcing and distribution. He was acknowledged as the Top 30 under 30 in Alberta for sustainability. Sravya oversees on going product manufacturing, accounting and advertising. She is also Miss Northern Alberta, Canada 2017!
How did you get started?
We started with me using the product and I fell in love! We then ventured to summer markets and noticed people liked our product. Once we launched online in October 2017, we were blasted with positive reviews and started to think about making this bigger.
We have bootstrapped our way so far and only spent under C$1,000 on marketing through social media ads up until September 2018. Our growth was driven by story coverage from local media channels and word of mouth.
Now that we have expanded our product range, we are looking for funding to start pushing marketing including reaching out to online influencers on YouTube, Instagram, and other social media to increase online traction. We want to continue growing our #SmilewithSeleste campaign that will feature local women wearing our product, and their story on our social media to display the brand is for everyday women. Each day is a learning experience, but we hope to stay nimble, and stay true to our values.