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Pioneering Ayurvedic Beauty

An Interview with Lisa Mattam, CEO & Founder, Sahajan
Jana Pijak
March 13th, 2024

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Lisa Mattam, the visionary behind Sahajan, serves as its Founder and CEO, leading the charge in revolutionizing the beauty industry with Ayurvedic principles and clean formulations that yield proven results.

Since its inception in 2015, Lisa has propelled Sahajan into a global powerhouse, leveraging a digital-first distribution model to establish its presence worldwide. In 2023, her strategic vision culminated in a groundbreaking partnership with esteemed luxury hotels such as The St. Regis, The Ritz, J.W. Marriott, and W Hotels, positioning Sahajan as the exclusive skincare brand across 400 properties and 200,000 luxury hotel rooms globally.

Sahajan has also garnered received prestigious accolades like the 2023 Cosmopolitan Clean Beauty Award and a 2023 Oprah Daily Editor’s Choice Award. Both Lisa and Sahajan have become fixtures in the media spotlight, featured in esteemed publications including Forbes, Vogue, WWD, PopSugar, Glamour, Elle, Buzzfeed, and more. Forbes has also hailed Lisa as a "pioneer in the beauty space" for her role in bringing Ayurvedic beauty to the forefront of the industry.

1. What does innovation mean to you?

Innovation to me is the act of creating something new. That new could be a grand leap that we have never seen before or it can be an iteration or an add-on to something that already exists but the sheer concept of innovating implies that the thought, the vision, the goal,- however you define that “something new” adds value in a way that we have never seen before.

2. What inspired you to create Sahajan, and how do you see it contributing to the clean beauty movement while championing the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda?

Sahajan was born in some ways in an instant- the moment I came home and found my young daughter fully covered in my skincare. While I had a myriad of thoughts mostly about how cute she was, I was more taken by the overwhelming thought that I had no idea what the chemicals in my skincare would do to her young skin. In that moment, I realized that what I trusted for her could only be found in the tiny bottles that my parents had brought from India, and had given me to use on her. They contained ingredients that I had come to know and experience throughout my life. It was in that moment that I thought to myself, that if my skincare isn’t good enough for her, it likely wasn’t good enough for me and if these ingredients are what I trusted on gut instinct, I needed to go back here. It sent me on a journey to discover that I perceived to be family tradition was quite steeped in a science and that science was Ayurveda- the traditional science of wellness from India.

I also found myself wondering, why it took me so long to get her with my beauty regime- why it took me so long to go clean? I realized that when I buy skincare, I buy it for results first; to address the concerns that I have- and at the time, the clean beauty movement was only tackling the concept of clean or as was the term of the time, “non-toxic”. No one was speaking to efficacy. So I realized that I could take this old world science in which I inherently believe and marry it with clinical science (the one of the my career in pharmaceuticals) to create an unparalleled clinically proven skincare brand.

3. Has Sahajan ever looked to another industry for inspiration?

Without a doubt- I have always been inspired by the athleisure and more specifically Lululemon. I was an early adopter to Lululemon which is notable for someone who is rarely an early adopter. The brand spoke to me. I was in my corporate career and teaching fitness on the side. The connection was more than just the fact the clothes were incredible and fit me in a way that athletic clothes had not fit me in the past. Its credo, its imagery and its ethos really spoke to me. Having grown up in a meditating and yoga practicing household, I could connect to their guiding principles and their greater mission. Now as a founder, their ability to tap into something much deeper withing people and create community adds to the depth of my connection to the brand. Ayurveda and yoga are sister practices and I believe that Sahajan has a critical role to play not only in transforming people’s skin but in helping them live a life of wellness. Practicing Ayurveda or incorporating its lessons into your life is actually creating that beautiful feeling of practicing yoga but off the mat. With that in mind, we consistently challenge ourselves to not only gain inspiration by our colleagues in the wellness movement but also find collaboration with them.

4. Could you share some insights into the process of establishing Sahajan as a global brand with a digital-first distribution model, particularly regarding your partnerships with luxury hotels?

1) Start with the goal in mind- when we launched in 2015, one of the immediate decisions I made as part of our launch efforts was to participate in the gifting lounge at TIFF. While I had a few strategic reasons for this investment, one of those reasons was that I knew that Sahajan would one day sit on the global stage and I wanted from launch for us to signal that vision to the beauty industry, to customers and to our eventual partners.. When you have big goals, you have to lift your brand and its presence to meet those goals. 2) Find your unique POV and let it be your guide. We are an Ayurvedic skincare brand. Full stop. As we have grown alongside the wellness world, we created a space where Ayurveda and Sahajan became a natural fit for luxury hotels. Travellers aren’t just seeking comfort and/or luxury, they are seeking self-care and we were able to tap into that need when partnering with Marriott luxury. 3) Create meaningful connections- one of the challenges of establishing at digital first brand is that the community and client base live on line with you. They may connect with you on social media or they might feel your touch through email but we work really hard to make those connections meaningful so that even though many of our customers have yet to touch or feel us in store, they can feel they know our story, our mission and our ethos. To this day, I still write many of our emails that go out- I respond on social and I even call our customers. As we grow, I am confident that while some of our practices may change to allow for scale, we will always operate with the customer and the community in mind. From my point of view, that’s how you grow a brand- you put the connection and the customer first. The rest will follow.

5. Sahajan has received numerous accolades for its excellence in clean beauty. Can you discuss the challenges you faced in achieving this recognition and how you overcame them?

One of the biggest challenges for an indie brand is awareness and recognition. You can have the best formulas, with the best process to create and evaluate them but that work is moot if no one has tried those products or understands your brand and its value. The cost of sampling can feel crippling to a bootstrapped brand and PR can feel like a difficult investment. While PR it’s a critical part of the marketing mix, it may or may not lead to the desired results or those results can take a lot of time.

When I first launched Sahajan, there was little noise or understanding about Ayurveda and in Canada, we were the first to start the conversation around Ayurvedic beauty. It was challenging to pitch editors and retailers about a lifestyle in which many were unfamiliar. I could see the white space and our launch at TIFF and the interactions with celebrities and their high level of awareness with the practice validated my vision. However, I knew our challenge would be to simultaneously build awareness of Ayurveda while building Sahajan alongside it. I felt strongly that building a legacy brand takes time and requires a plan that plants many seeds knowing that not all will bear fruit but that all have the potential to be impactful. We sampled to makeup artists- we pitched to beauty editors- we built relationships.

We reached out to yoga instructors who I believed would have inherently understood our ethos and we collaborated with Canadian brands like Lole to connect with likeminded communities. Eventually those seeds grew and amazingly the category did as well. I am so proud that Forbes dubbed us a Pioneer in the Ayurvedic Beauty Space but I am also thrilled for the entrance of new players. Together, we built a category. On our own, our investments paid off and as anticipated, some quickly and some with time. Our Essential Cleansing Oil won an Oprah Daily Award but more than five years after it launched while our Brightening Mask went viral, on account of O within six months of launch. Sahajan has been used on set at Schitts Creek, Ginny & Georgia, The Handmaid’s Tale and Star Trek Discovery building up not only our credibility but engendering fans across the acting community. One of the wins of which I am so proud is that Yvonne Strahowski, celebrated actor from The Handmaid's Tale and Chuck invested in our first equity round as it was a direct result of her experience with the brand on set. She fell in love with the brand and its results and her team reached out as she felt compelled to get involved and help us grow Sahajan. Her endorsement and her faith in the brand is something that I couldn’t have even imagined but I am thrilled.

6. Sahajan has been featured in various prestigious media outlets and recognized by influential outlets like O magazine. With this recognition, how do you balance maintaining authenticity and expanding brand visibility and reach?

The beauty of our ethos- our mission and our positioning is that authenticity is at the heart of what we do- so it can’t be sacrificed. Should we ever stray from our approach, Sahajan will ultimately suffer.

We start with Authentic Ayurveda- our brand’s formulas are not just a sprinkle of turmeric and we don’t simply nod to spices in social media content. We are working diligently with Ayurvedic practitioners, chemists and now MDs to provide the diligence on Sahajan- ancient Ayurveda meets clinical science for transformative results.

Our authenticity is felt with our community. We have an incredible and loyal customer base and in order to honour that current base and grow it, we have to maintain what we have done to win their loyalty- act transparently- be accessible and share from the heart- both from founder-led and other brand touchpoints. That involves creating meaningful moments of connection whether in person or online and sharing deep and lasting knowledge about the practice of Ayurveda that supports people in their wellness journey.

7. Looking to the future, how will Sahajan continue to be a leader in innovation?

Ayurveda is at our core- we are constantly challenging ourselves and our Ayurvedic advisors on new and relevant ways that we can take these time tested high performing ingredients and deliver them to the beauty world. This fundamental focus will forever be the basis on which we innovate. Add to that, we are about to embark on an incredible journey with a launch ahead at Sephora Canada on March 19. In partnering with Canada’s beauty destination, whose success relies on innovation, we have the incredible opportunity to layer on a new set of insight and knowledge to our pipeline.
References: ca.sahajan