Too often, the best beauty stories go Untold, solely based on a person’s skin color, religion, gender expression, disability, or socioeconomic status. Here, we’re passing the mic to some of the most ambitious and talented voices in the industry so they can share, in their own words, the remarkable story of how they came to be – and how they’re using beauty to change the world for the better.
Up next: siblings Niki and Akash Mehta, the founders of Fable & Mane, a hair-care and wellness brand inspired by their Indian heritage and Ayurveda.
Akash: Our father’s been in the beauty industry for 40 years, predominantly in the fragrance world, so we’ve been surrounded by beauty talk since we were children. My background is in engineering, studying math and science for four years, but after I graduated, I knew sitting at a desk and coding wasn’t for me, so I went straight into the corporate world. I worked for Burberry and then Estée Lauder Companies, where I was in charge of social media for Aveda. Then I went to Dior in Paris where I was global digital manager working with influencers. It’s so funny: my father studied engineering, and lo and behold, he went into the beauty industry, and I went into the beauty industry. It’s a weird coincidence.
Niki: My background is also in beauty and fragrance, particularly working with my dad at Jean Patou, a luxury French fragrance brand. However, beauty has always been holistic for me and part of self-care remedies growing up. We were born in London but have Indian roots – my dad was born in Africa, my mom was born in India – and we ended up getting all of our wisdom from our grandma who used to come from India every summer and bring these incredible Ayurvedic ingredients that, at that time, we didn’t even know what they were – we just knew they worked wonders.
Akash: We would call them magic potions, and she’d massage these oils into our hair. Many South Asian households will have this exact memory: we’d have a train with my grandma doing a head massage on my mom and my mom doing a head massage on my sister. While she was massaging these oils she used to tell us stories, so story time, rituals, and hair care went hand in hand for us growing up. This is why we eventually named our brand Fable & Mane – fable meaning story, mane meaning hair. It’s inspired by those story-time rituals that we grew up with.
Unfortunately, our grandparents passed away and as we got older, we lost touch with our traditions, but later on we became more curious, especially as we became more in touch with yoga and mindfulness. We questioned what words like ashwagandha mean; we knew the word, but we discovered it means “strength of a horse” because it’s for strengthening your hair. At the same time, Niki started experiencing hair loss, and I had a lot of stress from my job at Dior.
Niki: When we decided to start Fable & Mane, I was working on a beard oil project in India for a cricketer. I did years worth of research on Indian hair and when that project didn’t go through, I had all this information on these incredible oils and I said, “OK, how long am I going to spend my time and invest time building [products] for other people? Why not create something of our own?” I was also speaking to our friends and family who oiled their hair daily but who never spoke about it because of the way it smelled. They didn’t make it a celebrated ritual, either.
Akash: We went to the market and we were like, “Why are there no Indian hair-care brands out there on the shelf?” So, we were on a mission to create products for us as consumers and to pay homage to our grandparents, but then to also share it with the whole world to enjoy.
Niki: The concept was literally a shower thought. I said to myself, How can we turn something from a routine to a ritual? It all effortlessly came together and my brother was really happy to join. When we realized it could be a business was when we went to Sephora with a pitch and a small vial and they loved it.
Akash: It was important that we brought South Asian representation to the market. Growing up, we felt that we were underrepresented. You would never really see a South Asian model on a billboard and even going to the beauty store, you heard about K beauty and the rise of J beauty, but never Indian beauty.
“There’s a lot of education that still needs to be done around Ayurveda, but we saw an opportunity to teach people about this really cool tradition and help them fall in love with it – I mean, shampoo was invented in India from the Champa flower.”
Niki: Ayurveda’s been around for 4,000 years so there’s a lot of rich heritage that we wanted to bring to a new generation that’s dealing with lots of stress, which can ultimately lead to changes in your hair and skin. What we wanted to do was bring these adaptogens from India that have been time-tested in the harshest conditions and have helped grow hair, which is what we’ve used in the HoliRoots Hair Oil as well as the rest of the range.
Akash: There’s a lot of education that still needs to be done around Ayurveda, but we saw an opportunity to teach people about this really cool tradition and help them fall in love with it – I mean, shampoo was invented in India from the Champa flower. That’s definitely why we were so motivated to link the brand to our roots and our heritage.
Niki: With the hair oil, however, we realized that education and awareness are the most important thing so that everybody can understand hair oiling, which I think is great not just for Fable & Mane and for Ayurveda, but also for the industry as a whole. In general, there’s so much more awareness now of Ayurveda; 10 years ago, I remember there wasn’t much information and people didn’t really understand it, but now people are more open to it.
There are Ayurvedic brands owned by people who aren’t South Asian and I have to say, I’ve learned a lot from some of them, like Jasmine Hemsley. She’s not of Indian origin, but how she’s gone there and then brought what she learned back with her inspired me to be in touch with my own roots. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Ayurveda brands that are owned by non-South Asians as long as they give credit.
Akash: As long as people are raising awareness and living the true values of Ayurveda – not reinventing it for their own vanity but actually modernizing it in an open way – that’s fine to me. It’s all about rooting it back to its origins, and once that’s done, I feel anyone can be an advocate and an ambassador.
Niki: Within the South Asian community, one real stereotype we had to address is the notion that all Indian women have long, black, silky-straight hair – it’s similar to what’s going on in skin care in India with the Fair & Lovely creams and the fact they never show dark-skinned Indian women. Even within India, there’s so much racism. A lot of Indian women, including myself, actually have naturally curly hair, fine hair, colored hair, and frizzy hair, so that’s why we tried to focus on a hydrating ritual first for all types and textures. We don’t want people having to go and buy 50 products just to do their hair.
These Ayurvedic ingredients are not selective – they do not discriminate. These are incredible plants and just because they’re found in India doesn’t mean that everyone in the world can’t enjoy them.
Akash: It’s important to make sure that we’re creating a South Asian brand that’s not just for South Asians because the first thing people said when we launched was, “Oh amazing, it’s an Indian hair-care brand for Indians.” And we’re like, “No, no, no.” These Ayurvedic ingredients are not selective – they do not discriminate. These are incredible plants and just because they’re found in India doesn’t mean that everyone in the world can’t enjoy them. Our mission was to formulate them for all hair types, which in the hair-care industry is quite unheard of. People have asked us, “Don’t you want to be specific? Every hair type is so different.” But we’re not a styling product; we’re about fixing the hair from the root, which is why our mission was to formulate a prewash oil, shampoo, and conditioner for all hair types.
Niki: Thinking back to when we started, there’s always that moment of pain or frustration that makes you want to create, and I think for us, our frustration came from the hair-care market. It’s so saturated but it wasn’t fun enough, it was missing the education aspect and that color on the shelf that I think a lot of makeup, skin care, even fragrance brand covered. We didn’t find shopping for hair care to be an enjoyable experience.
Akash: It’s the reason our packaging is so full of color – we use colors that my grandma used to wear on her saris with the tiger logo and the arches inspired by the Taj Mahal. When you pass the product on the shelf, we wanted you to be like, “Red, what’s that?” And that’s India – India is so vibrant.
We’re the first South Asian hair-care brand in Sephora, the first Ayurvedic brand in Sephora, and one of two or three Indian-owned brands at Sephora. This is why we have a mission to open up the beauty industry and make it a lot more accessible for new beauty brands. There are so many Indian brands out there already, they’re just not on mainstream platforms or retailers. We feel very fortunate – we had a concept and we LinkedIn messaged the hair merchant. We didn’t go to dad and ask him to connect us with someone – he doesn’t sell at Sephora, he doesn’t know that side of the industry well – but at the same time, we found comfort in having him and his knowledge of how to build brands. That accelerated our journey a little bit faster than maybe other people, but now we want to help more people do the same, so we’re really about supporting other South Asian and BIPOC brands.