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Lisa Mattam is the founder of Sahajan: an Ayurvedic skincare brand that launched in 2015. Born and raised in Toronto, her parents are from Kerala, South India – where Ayurveda was born. Starting her career in the pharmaceutical industry, Mattam never thought she’d become a beauty founder. Whilst pregnant with her second child, she came home to find that her daughter had gotten into her skincare. It was the first time Mattam realized she had no idea what the ingredients in her products were – and whether or not they were harmful.
She provided her daughter with an alternative, safer option: bottles Lisa’s parents brought back from a recent trip to India. It was in that moment that she realized: ‘If my skincare isn't good enough for my daughter, it certainly isn't good enough for me’. Below, Lisa shares her empowering journey that ultimately led her to the beauty and wellness space.
Tell me more about starting Sahajan. I'd love to hear about the name as well.
LM: “I've always been on this path of aspiring to greater wellness, but I had never thought about my skincare. The reason for that is, when we buy skincare, we typically buy it for results first. And unlike the skincare I had been buying for many years, I knew the ingredients I was raised on to be true. But I couldn't find them anywhere. And I kept thinking: I know I can show people that this is going to deliver their best skin. That's how Sahajan was born.
What the brand is at its ethos, is ancient Ayurveda meets modern science. We worked with Ayurvedic doctors in Kerala on the formulations for the initial launch collection and we still consult with them on everything, but there's also very much a science element to it. Our Nourish Crème Riche ($64) or our Radiance Face Serum ($74) have both been through clinical trials, because I wanted proof that our products work.
In terms of the name, Sahajan means intuitive. Ayurveda is an intuitive science, and it also felt very intuitive for me to go back to my ayurvedic roots.”
How were you introduced to Ayurveda when growing up?
LM: “I like to say I’m Malayalee, so it runs in my blood [laughs]. Growing up, my parents never used the word Ayurveda, it was just a part of everything we did in small ways. My dad would tell me: ‘Don't drink cold water, it's not good for you.’ We ate a lot of fruit, but my dad wouldn’t let me eat fruit with my meal, so I’d have to eat it before or after. Then they were both very big on hair oiling, and as we got older and started having acne, my dad would always put turmeric on my spots. If my digestion was off, we’d take advantage of things like ginger, cloves like nutmeg, and lemon. Ayurvedic practices were built into everything we did. I even remember seeing doctors in India, but I never knew they were Ayurvedic doctors until much later on.
When I began Sahajan, I thought it was going to be a brand based on Indian tradition, but as I did more and more research, I realized Ayurveda is fully based on science. I really had to change the way that I thought about it all. It was a big turning point for me when I realized the things we put into our body for healing are just as good and important to put onto your body as well.
At the time, there also weren’t a lot of authentic voices out there and the word ‘Ayurveda’ was just beginning to grow in the West. I thought that was such a missed opportunity and I wanted to take advantage of that.”
Tell me about being in better relationships with yourself. What do you hope people take away from your products?
LM: “Ultimately, I feel that we have to be more than a skincare brand. We have to do more than just simply honor Ayurveda, because for some people, Ayurveda feels really complicated. I want to spread the general health knowledge that Ayurveda offers us, to support people. We launched our blog last year and we're seeing that people are actually reading the entries. People are looking to make their lives better and more whole, and we can help them do that in an authentic way.”
Are there any specific lessons you’re trying to address/teach others about Ayurveda?
LM: “It's a lot about living mindfully. I often consult with a great Ayurvedic practitioner named Nidhi – I used to be a huge salad eater, which is a big no in Ayurveda. I gave it up for a while, but I really missed eating salads. Nidhi said to me: ‘if it ruins your happiness, then it's not worth it.’ And as simple as that sounds, it was so eye opening.
The lesson of living mindfully is that you are in control of your own capabilities, and thus your own happiness. I really started to get into meditation in the last 6-8 months. I even hired a business coach, which has actually been more transformational in terms of my own mindset. I’d love to be able to give that to those who engage with Sahajan. Sometimes, like this morning, I slept in the same room as my son, and for five minutes, I went into my daughter’s room because nobody was there. I did a five minute meditation and it made everything better. I want people to have those moments. Whether it's a moment with our Ritual Body Oil ($55) or a moment with a blog entry we’ve written – that’s what I want people to take away from Sahajan.”
Can you speak to concepts such as minority representation and beauty politics? How are you trying to challenge the normative ways of thinking about these topics with the creation of Sahajan?
LM: “Those concepts are seamlessly interwoven into Sahajan by having me as the founder. People’s acceptance of me seven years ago is worlds different from how it is now. A couple of years ago, I went to an international trade event and someone from the Middle East said to me: ‘You’re the founder? You’re Indian, aren’t you? Well that just won’t work in the Middle East. We don’t think dark-skinned people are beautiful.’
I remember not being shocked because I’ve heard things like that my whole life. But thinking back to it now: can you imagine the audacity of someone to say that to your face? I took it up with the organizers and said to them: ‘One, you need to vet who you're bringing to these events, and two, you need to understand the cultural dynamic of it all.’ I think the number of founders that have come up in the South Asian community is amazing. I believe that the presence of all of us, lifts all of us. But I do think that within the South Asian diaspora, we need to acknowledge how we show beauty and how we support each other.
In addition, women continue to be underrepresented in business. We all have a role to play in terms of trying to create a fair and equitable playground. As much as we need those people in places of privilege to reach back and bring us forward, we also have a responsibility to reach forward. What I love about the work that's being done, even having these conversations with you, is that nobody would’ve asked me these questions seven years ago.”
Do you have a personal favorite product?
LM: “I would have to say the Nourish Crème Riche ($64) because it's really good for my skin. I describe it as bringing your skin back to its healthiest center. If your skin is dry, red, sensitive and acne/eczema prone, but also if you have a lot of hyperpigmentation or you’re getting older, this is the product for you. The cream is a beige/brown color, and at first, we had a lot of people say: ‘Why would I put dark cream on my skin’? But then it ended up being our best seller!
What's amazing about this product is that it really captures the brand. It's truly Ayurveda because the color comes from triphala, but it's also modern science because it's the one that went through clinical trials. Within six weeks, 100% of people had a minimization of fine lines and 100% felt a difference in their skin hydration, and that's by measurements, not by self perception.”
How does your work allow for you to express yourself / further explore your identity/heritage?
LM: “Sometimes entrepreneurs create what they need for themselves. So, truthfully, the whole process and creation of Sahajan has in itself been a personal journey of (re)connecting to my heritage. Part of it is also a homage to my parents, specifically my dad, and Kerala. I’m the darkest one in my family, so I can really remember being young and everyone saying: ‘Don't linger in the sun.’ So for someone like me to work in beauty already feels big – it’s allowed me to reframe those types of comments and express myself authentically.”
What are your hopes, visions, dreams for the future of Sahajan?
LM: “I hope Sahajan sits on the global stage, I really do. Ayurveda has so much to offer people. And I believe that Sahajan can take a leadership position in that - that we can be a very authentic voice with great, powerful products that just continue to inspire people.”
Want to know more about Sahajan’s authentic take on Ayurvedic beauty? Discover the brand’s latest ancient Indian inspired secrets here.
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