INDIA TODAY WOMAN
This article is the cover story of India Today Woman On Kavita Khosa founder of Purearth.
“I’m a woman of the soil”
Kavita Khosa, founder of luxury skincare brand Purearth, is as conscious about the ingredients that go into her products as the uplift of women from rural India who are custodians of these natural treasures.
As she struts confidently into the Marriott Suites, Pune, in white palazzos and a comfortable black sleeveless top, Kavita Khosa, 54, a powerhouse of entrepreneurial excellence is disarmingly approachable, her skin radiant and her smile a permanent fixture. Her suitcase for the cover shoot, however, reveals her fine taste and her self-created ability to live a life of luxury. It is home to a Sabyasachi sari, a beautiful Anavila sari, a pair of nude Valentino stilettos and skincare products of choice-Purearth, her own line of luxury, artisanal and 100 per cent organic creams, mists and an assortment of other elixirs made entirely from ingredients sourced from the Himalayas. The corporate lawyer-turned-social entrepreneur, swears by her product and the cause she’s fighting for. “I wanted to work with women-I didn’t want to start a charity,” she says. “Women don’t need charity, I wanted to give them work and a life where they could be engaged in sustainable income generation activities.”
And that’s what Purearth, Khosa’s privately held company does and stands for. “Most of our ingredients are gathered at soaring altitudes of the Himalayas by micro-credit and women self-help groups. Through these partnerships, marginalised producers engage with urban markets on fair terms,” reads the ethos page of their website. Khosa, who describes herself as a “mountain goat”, is often called the skin chef in jest by her friends. From starting out as an airhostess with Cathay Pacific to a high-profile lawyer on Wall Street who would blend oils in her home as a hobby, her journey has been intense. From learning Ayurveda and travelling across remote villages in the Himalayas to empower entire communities of women through microfinance, encouraging them to forage for seeds and products in the wild, and creating a full-fledged retail cycle across four countries and counting, Khosa’s professional journey has been long and eventful. Her aspirational, constantly questioning and subtly rebellious streak comes from a rough childhood.
A family affair Khosa and her husband Amar (left) often enjoy family vacations with their two sons
Rebel with a Cause
Khosa grew up in Pune, to the smell of incense from the Ramakrishna mission on one side and a love for Faiz and shayri because of a Muslim-dominated colony on the other; a Brahmin Bengali lady who would blow a shankh several times a day on the right and a gentleman who would teach piano early in the mornings nearby. “I was always very interested in the arts. Whether it was music or writing poetry. At 13 I tried to put together a thriller, which of course never got published,” she laughs. But Khosa’s mother wasn’t particularly keen on having her only girl child educated. “When I was 15 and a half, she would say, ‘We need to marry you off early, so no point in studying because it will make you more demanding,'” she recalls. “My mother would tear my homework and school work. When my brothers and I would come back from playing she would make me get them water.” But Khosa, ever the rebel, ensured that nothing deterred her. She funded her way through her Bachelors of Commerce in Wadia College and eventually got her LL.B degree from Symbiosis Law School in Pune, by giving tuition classes, working as a fitness instructor at Blue Diamond Hotel and being completely financially independent from the age of 15.
Woman on Wall Street
Armed with two degrees, Khosa at 23 dove head first into an unsuccessful marriage to a hotelier from Pune, which lasted all of six months. Soon after, she moved to Hong Kong, where she initially worked as an air hostess with Cathay Pacific. This is also how she met her current husband, Amar Khosa, a barrister practising in Hong Kong. She subsequently made the switch to law full time and after the gruelling process of becoming a solicitor in Hong Kong, bagged a job with White & Case in Wall Street. “People graduate from Harvard and people push them to this path where they can work with a firm like White & Case. And here I was, a brown girl working there, and at that time India wasn’t on the map like it is today,” says Khosa. From here she moved to AIG as Associate Director in the legal department. And with two young children, when a work trip to Korea turned from a two-day to a two-week affair, Khosa realised this was not the lifestyle she wanted for herself. “I quit. And people thought I was being insane. But my calling was to do something else. I just decided to learn and teach yoga,” she says. After training with BKS Iyengar in Pune, Khosa opened a yogashala in Hong Kong, run just on the goodwill of clients who would contribute to the rent, help with infrastructure and pitch in with finances. “We would hold Vedanta classes, meditation classes. It was never a business, I wanted to be more of a student than a teacher. Then I studied Ayurveda formally, a one year course with Dr Vasant Lad.”
A Natural Transition
Suddenly, Khosa’s life changed drastically. After working important telecom deals for ten years, she set off on a spiritual, Eat-Pray-Love-like journey. This finally led her to the Himalayas. “I needed to come back to my country. Hong Kong has given me everything, it’s fantastic, but it doesn’t nurture my soul. And I know that my country, my earth does,” she says. She conducted extensive research, travelling across Kashmir, Uttrakhand and Himachal, partnered with NGOs such as Umang and Chirag and women self-help groups in some of the most remote Himalayan villages, which eventually led to the conception of Purearth. “In Uttrakhand, I think it’s around 20 per cent migration from the rural areas to the cities. And it’s the men who migrate, not the women. The women are the caregivers and very often the men don’t send the money back, so women often also have to bring in the income,” she says. “I am very conscious about the ethics and the sustainability aspect of all the ingredients that I source. What I sourced at all these NGOs, none of them were guilty products. They would use chilli, garlic flakes, walnuts, apricots, rajma, rice – so this was what I was exposed to.”
A self-proclaimed “woman of the soil”, Khosa finally created a business model which was cost-effective and convenient. Sourcing from the mountains is a complex process. “Seabuckthorn oil comes from Leh, apricot oil comes from Uttrakhand, turmeric comes from Ponta Sahib near Dehradun, rosemary and other herbs come from Uttrakhand too. It doesn’t all come from one place.” After setting up base in Delhi, where all these ingredients are sent to from collection centres at various hill stations, they are shipped by bus to Kangra, where Khosa personally flies down to the workshop to blend, bottle and label products. Of utmost importance to her is the women who work for her in the mountains. “What I do is, I give them microfinancing. I give them a loan and for the rest of the year, it would be a full 100 per cent advance and the women would go into the wild, the forest. Throughout the season, they would go pick, then they would dry it,” she says. “We work with about 1500 women in Himachal and we pay them 15-20 per cent above market rate,” she adds. The money is put into a joint account for the whole self-help group, to ensure no one else (exploitative family members, mainly) can access the amount.
The number game
“Nature is your best soap and your kitchen is your pharmacy. My ingredients are my bioactives,” says Khosa, who spent her savings to start Purearth. And when she exhausted those, she sold solitaires and considered selling original works of art. “Luckily I have a husband so I don’t have to worry about putting food on the table, that’s all taken care of,” she says. “But Purearth, yes, all my savings went into it. I don’t really have a head for numbers, but in my heart I have such a deep conviction that what I’m doing is right and honestly so far, every month we make ends meet,” she says. Khosa explains how her products are priced very high, because of the high cost of importing the French Miron Glass bottles, as opposed to plastic. Purearth, which is now three years old, has doubled revenue every year to date with a 100 per cent growth rate for each of the last two years. “What amazes and humbles me is that in this short journey, we have collaborated with luxury resorts like the Leeu Collection in Cape Town, South Africa owned by the Max Group, we are stocked at Anthropologie in the US and we have already signed up with an agency to offer first class amenity kits for a five-star airline, arguably one of the world’s best,” says Khosa, who often describes Purearth as her third baby. “As a young “Make in India” luxury brand, we have proudly taken baby steps toward taking our brand global.” So, now with her younger son at Berkeley, the older one a music producer in Barcelona and a husband who travels constantly, Khosa has found a fine balance between spending time with her family and on her business. Hours on Skype and WhatsApp groups, holidays every year with the men in her life and constantly shuttling between Hong Kong and the Himalayas, Khosa flows as seamlessly and naturally through life as her products do through the skin.
Food for the skin
Kavita Khosa lists do’s and don’t’s based on her own skincare rituals.
5 skincare and wellness rituals I follow
1. I’m addicted to masque-ing. I masque at least three times a week with my Mitti Clay Face Masque and Turmeric Exfoliating Face Sand to remove debris and dullness.
2. I cleanse with my own homemade micellar water to gently deep cleanse skin at the start and end of my day.
3. I’m in love with precious pure plant oils that are rich in essential fatty acids, bio actives and antioxidants. My Illumine Elixir Face oil is hand blended with oils from Himalayan wild harvested seabuckthorn and rosehip seeds. Massaging skin with a pure high quality oil can eliminate fine lines and tone facial muscles.
4. Abhyanga or a body massage is vital to boost circulation, soothe the nervous system and rejuvenate skin. Our skin eats every time we put something on it so always remember to treat it with epicurean high quality skinfoods free of toxic chemicals.
5. Compassion and empathy soften the face and settle into its contours, lending a beauty and grace that cannot be store bought.
5 things I wouldn’t do
1. Put anything on my skin without reading the label and knowing where it has come from.
2. Use make up or cosmetics with parabens, petrochemicals and toxic chemicals. I’ve switched to natural organic ethical brands that I trust.
3. Experiment too much with too many products, especially all at one time. Give your skin some room to breathe, to absorb and understand what is being applied on it. Keep your skincare rituals and your products simple.
4. Never ever sleep with make up on.
5. Never use lasers and peels, I speak from experience. They can burn skin and make it sensitive to the sun and environmental damage over time. Be kind to your skin. It is sensitive, receptive, sensual and intimate.