From working at Lehman Brothers and being laid off during their bankruptcy period in 2008 to founding RANAVAT, a skin care brand retailing across US and Europe, Michelle Ranavat finds a mention amongst ‘Top 50 Influential Global Indians.’
RANAVAT is also the first South Asian-Founded Ayurvedic Skin-Care Brand to be at Sephora and Harrods.
Speaking to The Better India, Michelle says, “When I was laid off in 2008, I spent time in my father’s pharmaceutical company where I got to learn about sourcing, packaging and product development. It was the time spent there that led to me creating RANAVAT.”
‘Setbacks taught me to be resilient’
After working for four years, being laid off was difficult, Michelle recalls. But this period taught her resilience in the face of adversity. She also attributes many lessons she has imbibed over time to her parents and upbringing. “My two biggest takeaways from my stint at Wall Street were attention to detail and work ethics. These two have held me in such good stead all through,” she says.
Michelle spent the next few years working with her father in his pharmaceutical company. In 2016, she delivered her second baby and soon thereafter, started experiencing severe postpartum hair fall. This led to her search for a homemade solution to tackle the problem.
She says, “As a first generation Indian, I wanted to find a way to connect with my culture and share it with others. I loved using ingredients like saffron, turmeric and ashwagandha on my skin — but I didn’t see them in mainstream products. I think there is so much value in Ayurveda and wanted to create products so this science could be more accessible.”
“I grew up like many other South Asians in the US — my culture is deeply woven into my upbringing, and how I now raise my own family. I didn’t grow up surrounded by many South Asians, but my parents instilled a sense of culture and heritage in my sisters and me.”
In fact, she says that one of her favourite rituals growing up was her mother oiling her hair every week. “It’s something I turned to during my postpartum hair loss journey, and this would later provide inspiration for one of our products,” she notes.
Michelle says that growing up in a small town in Wisconsin, being Indian was considered “different.” She says she spent her youth living two lives: at school, she was eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pretending they were samosas. At home, she practised Indian dance for hours and learned every word to the newest Bollywood song. She spent a good part of her growing up years thinking the two worlds couldn’t co-exist.
“But RANAVAT changed that. Building this brand is my way of finally sharing who I am with the world,” she adds.
Michelle launched the eponymous brand in 2017, which boasts of clients like Mindy Kaling and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Having studied industrial engineering in college, Michelle went on to attain a Master’s in engineering management. “I used those skills, paired with my years in the pharmaceutical industry, to build RANAVAT,” she adds.
“Entrepreneurship was embedded into my upbringing — my father started his own business after coming to the US from India, and I grew up watching him persevere. Having a role model like that gave me the strength to go out on my own to start RANAVAT,” she says.
While starting a business requires capital, time and a great deal of patience, Michelle says that her naivety helped in a big way. “I took the plunge without really thinking too much about it. I was confident of the products that we were launching and that was all that mattered. RANAVAT is completely self-funded,” she says.
RANAVAT launched with a collection of mists (hydrosols) and masques. “I was so inspired by the idea of an ubtan and I wanted to bring this concept to mainstream beauty. While we had some great feedback, and these initial products created the basis for the line, we discontinued the powder mask formulations and opted for a more modern format,” says Michelle.
With a fairly big presence on social media, Michelle says, “I’ve always viewed social media as a way to connect and stay in tune with the community and our customers. Education is one of the key pillars of our business and of our marketing strategy; being able to share the incredible benefits of Ayurvedic ingredients allows us to highlight heritage and efficacy at the same time. The South Asian community has shown up for the brand over and over and proudly champions us.”
The team has grown in the last year alone; we have added key roles in marketing, operations, and creative to help fuel the business’ growth. “In addition to our website, we have some incredible retail partners – Sephora and Credo in the US, and Harrods in the UK,” she adds.
Celebrating the milestones and successes
“There have been many incredible milestones — from growing our team to surpassing revenue goals to the incredible support of the RANAVAT community. But the one that has been on my vision board from the beginning has been launching at Sephora. To have a South Asian founded brand at one of the biggest retailers in the world, to see ingredients like saffron, turmeric and manjistha sold at Sephora — that is success to me,” she says.
Michelle also says that seeing Ayurvedic beauty become mainstream and to have a part in this movement is very special for her. “I would describe myself as an ingredient geek. It is important how I source my ingredients and make my products. While it’s not hard to know the difference between good quality ingredients and what is easily available in the market, sourcing the good quality products is difficult,” she says.
Meanwhile, her advice to women entrepreneurs is, “Balance big picture milestones with day-to-day wins. Focusing on the present, on those small wins, allows me to not push my happiness to ‘when this happens’ sometime in the future. Building a brand takes many small steps, truly appreciating the journey and wins along the way.”
RANAVAT is looking to launch in India in the future. “We are working super hard to bring our products into India in the most authentic way possible,” she says.
The bestsellers include the Mighty Majesty Fortifying Hair and Skin Serum, Jasmine Tonique, Radiant Rani and Facial Masques. To know more about the products, click here.
(Edited by Divya Sethu)