Darshana Balagopal and Shweta Gupta recently launched Aardae, a platform that curates clean beauty brands, in Singapore, bringing some Indian brands to the country for the first time.

Darshana Balagopal and Shweta Gupta, founders of Aardae Aardae
Features business Monday, October 18, 2021 - 15:40

India is seeing a boom of home-grown skin and haircare brands that cater to a wide variety of needs — from acne to hydration and hairfall — all while making sure their products contain natural ingredients that are ethically sourced and produced. However, apart from factors such as cost and accessibility, the process of researching and scouting for such brands can be a tedious one. While these brands may have a market in India, two Chennai-based entrepreneurs have launched a platform that curates such brands, both Indian and international, so that consumers can shop hassle-free. 

Chennai-based entrepreneurs Darshana Balagopal and Shweta Gupta recently launched Aardae, which aims to make clean beauty products more accessible to consumers. Aardae has started functioning in Singapore and has brought Indian eco-conscious brands like Dot and Key, Earth Rhythm, Soul Tree and Brillare there for the first time.

Explaining the lines on which the startup was built, Darshana tells TNM, “We did not want to build just a platform. We are not a marketplace that is just bringing brands together. We are a curated platform that makes pointed efforts to identify conscious beauty brands. We ensure that the brands understand our vision, packaging, efficacy of the product and how they can cater to various markets that we are going to venture into.” 

With 40 brands on board including four international brands, Aardae has commenced its operations in Singapore. The name for the company comes from the Dutch word ‘aardae’, which translates to earth. The founders tell TNM that they wanted to convey the idea of being connected to earth by supporting sustainable, eco-friendly and conscious practices. Plans to build a community of people who believe in the ideology behind the clean beauty platform are also underway, says Shweta. “The community will be named ‘Our Day’ and will talk about imbibing the ideologies we are built on, as a part of members’ lifestyle,” she adds. 

Consumers of clean beauty products often have a difficult time finding the right products, especially since a number of brands refrain from disclosing the complete list of ingredients used. In many cases, customers also find it difficult to verify if a product has been produced in an ethical manner. The founders of Aardae reveal that they received over 400 applications from different brands, but have only selected around 40 after applying a stringent process. “We onboarded people who have enough knowledge and information on what actually falls under clean beauty such as understanding which are considered good chemicals versus ones that are harsh on skin. The carbon footprint of the product is also taken into consideration,” Darshana shares. “We spoke extensively with the key people associated with brands, studied and researched about the ingredients, formulations and its efficacy before listing brands. We also cross-checked if the brands had the required certifications,” she adds.   

The friends, who co-founded the brand, have years of experience in marketing and working with brands. Shwetha has over 15 years of experience in garment exports and has also worked with several leading brands, while Darshana, a brand and marketing strategist, has also helmed the marketing for Phoenix’s Palladium. They reveal that the plan to launch Aardae has been in the works for years now. “We have been friends for a long time. When we discussed this idea, we obviously thought about what we were envisioning, from a business-centric angle. But when the pandemic hit, we started thinking about it in a more serious manner and we realised the need for the platform,” Darshana tells TNM.  

Speaking about why their collaboration works, Shweta adds, “I come from the logistics side of the export business. So, I understand how the supply chain works and that’s the part I am taking care of. Whereas, Darshana has a very wide experience in marketing, she will be dealing more with the marketing side of things. For both of us, it’s only the product that has changed, and we are also more passionate about conscious skincare and haircare products.” 

Why was the platform launched in Singapore? 

According to a report in The Hindu’s Business Line, the clean beauty market, one of the fastest developing sub-segment in the beauty space, is growing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 12.07% and is estimated to be valued at 11.5 billion dollars. The clean beauty dialogue has garnered traction across the globe and is growing by the day. International brands have made their mark among Indian consumers, as the size of the market here makes India an ideal and lucrative choice for brands. However, Shweta points out that Indian brands haven’t gained the same kind of window in global markets. This is the reason why they chose to launch Aardae in Singapore.

“We realised that in the last six to eight years, many conscious beauty labels have emerged in India. Their formulations, packaging and efficacy are on par with international labels but they have been so consumed with distributing the products within India and their own Research and Development and manufacturing, that they haven’t been able to market and position themselves worldwide. Even when the brands placed their products in other countries, it was done in a disorganised manner,” explains Shweta. 

In addition, she also adds that the geography and cosmopolitan nature of Singapore, as well as the progress of the conscious beauty market in the country, enabled them to study consumer behaviour better. This made it a suitable market to launch their platform there. “Singapore is already a very educated and aware market in the beauty space. They understand their ingredients, they understand formulations and the demand has been fast-growing,” Shweta states.  

Looking at the launch from an operational perspective, Shwetha shares that the task of launching Aardae abroad has been straightforward. “We did not have trouble registering as a Singapore entity since the rules and regulations are clear and we just had to follow it. We also connected with the best third-party platforms,” she says. However, both Shweta and Darshana observe that the process hasn’t been completely free of roadblocks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Singapore is not open to the public yet, so the biggest challenge we had was that we couldn’t be physically present there,” says Darshana. Shweta adds that it is fascinating how they’ve been able to set up their operations in the country without having a local representative there while they were working remotely from India. 

“We want to set up physical stores too but because of the pandemic, we are going to play the ‘wait and watch’ game,” Shwetha tells TNM. Although dedicated clean-beauty platforms are performing well in America and Canada, that’s not quite the case with Asain and Gulf Cooperation Council countries, and Australia, says Shweta. So these regions are on Aardae’s roadmap for expanding their platform, she adds. 

Read: Still rubbing plastic on face? How to check if your cosmetic product has microbeads

Become a TNM Member for just Rs 999!
You can also support us with a one-time payment.