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Beauty Clean

May/04/2024 / by Abhijit Masih

Skincare company Sahajan’s founder and CEO Lisa Mattam shares the journey to unlocking the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda

Lisa Mattam is a visionary entrepreneur and the driving force behind Sahajan, a groundbreaking clean beauty brand rooted in the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda. Her journey to founding Sahajan was sparked by a poignant moment of realization—coming home to find her daughter experimenting with her skincare products. Concerned about the potential harm of conventional skincare ingredients on her child’s delicate skin, Mattam reached for something she trusted: bottles of traditional remedies brought back from India by her parents. In that transformative moment, her perspective shifted. She recognized the power of her heritage and the time-honored principles of Ayurveda in nurturing and protecting skin. Inspired by the purity and efficacy of these natural remedies, she embarked on a mission to create a skincare line that would be safe, effective, and imbued with the wisdom of generations.

The Founder and CEO of Sahajan, Lisa Mattam spoke to SEEMA about channeling her passion for clean beauty and her commitment to holistic wellness. Through her unwavering vision and relentless pursuit of excellence, she has not only transformed her own skincare routine but has also empowered countless others to embrace the beauty of Ayurveda.

Nurtured in Canada, Rooted in Kerala 

I was born and raised in Toronto. My parents are from Kerala, in the South of India. And like many South Asian kids, my parents had hoped I would become a physician. In the home, we were exposed to the more traditional approaches to looking at our health, our wellness, our hair and our beauty.

A Journey of Rediscovery

Post my MBA, I started my career in the pharmaceutical industry. I worked in specialty biotech and my last formal role was at Johnson & Johnson. It was sort of happenstance, I came home and my daughter was at home with our babysitter, and she had gotten into my skincare. She had it on super thick. I remember being really concerned about what were the ingredients in my skincare and what would it do to her young, beautiful skin. I remember saying to her, if you want to play with things, you should play with these, giving her bottles that my parents had brought back on a recent trip from India. In that moment, I thought if my skincare isn’t good enough for her, then likely it isn’t good enough for me. So it sent me on a bit of a journey to understand, what I perceive to be steeped in family tradition and culture. It was this beautiful ancient science from India –Ayurveda. I started to contemplate this and really believing in the richness of Ayurveda and the plant based ingredients. I thought why had it taken me so long to get here?

Building a Business Rooted in Culture and Wellness

I have founded a company that is so closely related to my culture and to my heritage. The brand is an homage to my heritage, to my family roots and to my parents in so many ways. I’ve grown the business from many perspectives. I’ve grown up in the North American business context and I continue to insert that into everything that I do. But from a cultural perspective, because we’re building a business on wellness, for example, the wellness of my team is really important, and contributing and creating a brand that has that community feel has become critically important. I think looking at business, as a force for good, as a force for belonging, and as a force for wellness has really informed the approach that I took.

Elevating Skincare for Visible and Clean Beauty

We buy skincare for results. We’ve got acne and we want to fix it, our skin is red, or it’s dry, or we’re worried about premature aging, or we love our skin and we just want to preserve it. It’s always because of an action or something we want it to do. And I thought, at the time, clean beauty didn’t speak to that. But I knew that Ayurveda, with its high performing ingredients, could offer people the results that they wanted. We just needed someone to bring it here. I worked with Ayurveda doctors in India, on the formulations, I hired a pharmaceutical chemists here on the initial collection, so that we could give people their best skin through this transformational power of Ayurveda, but demonstrated in modern science. We were one of the first clean brands to ever invest in cosmetic clinicals because I wanted people to see that these products could stand against any conventional product.

Sahajan’s Signature Skincare Innovations

Some of the more noteable ones is our Nourish Creme Riche. It’s a thick, rich cream which has got a Triphala in it. We have something similar in our serum. And then we have beautiful cleansers like our Cleansing Oil, which will remove all the makeup. It has Moringa in it, which has been proven to be an anti pollutant. So our heroes really encompass these gorgeous ingredients that we’ve grown up with, but really have the scientific element. One of our recent hits is our Golden Milk Cleanser. It’s Turmeric, Black Cumin Seed Oil in an Oat Milk base. And it’s incredible if you want to unclog pores if you’re worried about acne, it’s an overall brightening and texture maintainer. It’s a beautiful cleanser.

Commitment to Clinical Validation and Sustainable Sourcing 

We don’t do clinicals on every product, but we do them on some of our more unique innovations like the Creme Riche and our Radiant Serum. We have a new launch coming soon where we’re performing clinicals right now. For every product, we work with the Ayurvedic doctors on the ingredients then the chemists take that away and build the base around it. They do all the regulatory to take these time tested beliefs and making sure that they’re proven in science. From the sustainability point of view, we’ve always maintained our mission to honor and respect the earth from which we draw things. From the actual sourcing of the ingredients, we continue to work with suppliers that can give us a certificate of analysis on the product ensuring the purity, sustainability and sourcing of these ingredients. 

Embracing Competition and Authenticity 

I’m actually really excited and thankful for the competitive landscape. We actually needed a category to come together. We needed for there to be Ayurvedic care. We needed other brands to be doing skincare because it was important. We need the presence of many beauty brands in order to create a category within the industry. I think we’ve been able to differentiate ourselves on a few things. One is our authenticity to Ayurveda. We continue to work with Ayurvedic practitioners, to make sure that we are honoring the deep roots of Ayurveda. 

From Bootstrap to Equity Funding Breakthrough

When I started this brand, we were completely bootstrapped. We grew very methodically, and were able to do some of the early work planting the seeds of Ayurveda. But now, it has become all the rage. It’s something that everybody is dipping their toes into, and they want to learn more. The motivation for the equity raise was primarily to put additional gas in the tank. I knew that there was some incredible opportunities right in front of us, and I wanted to make sure we could execute on them well. 

Memorable Milestones and Rewarding Recognitions

We’ve had a few really incredible milestones just in the last year. Obviously, the equity financing being one of them. We secured a relationship with Marriott luxury. So that’s J.W. Marriott, The Ritz Carlton, The St. Regis and The W Hotels, where we are present in rooms as skincare amenities partner. This is the first Ayurvedic brand to be at a global hotel chain, which I think is incredible. It says something not only for Sahajan, but for the category itself. Then, we recently launched at Sephora Canada. And I’m proud to tell you, that we’ve sold out twice in only three weeks in Sephora. So it’s really exciting.

Navigating Challenges and Championing Entrepreneurship

Anytime you’re breaking a path on your own or breaking a mold, there’s a little bit of lunacy involved. I remember when sharing my vision with a girlfriend, she said, Do you really think you could do this? And I said, of course I do or I wouldn’t have started. So you have to have that fundamental belief and you have to have that commitment. I’m really proud of the things we’ve accomplished. But in full transparency, of course, we’ve hit stumbling blocks. And of course, there have been challenges along the way. Being one of the pioneers, we had to plant the seeds first before we could see this category really flourish. So it’s certainly not for the faint of heart. But if anybody wants to get into entrepreneurship, my immediate answer is – Do it. We need more entrepreneurs. We need more South Asian entrepreneurs. We need more women in business. Yes, the journey is a hard one, but we have so many role models and we know that it’s possible. 

Lisa Mattam’s Favorite Skincare Regimen and More

Morning skincare routine – I’m using primarily Sahajan. I start with our balance toner, I do a radiant serum. My little pro tip is if you mix your moisturizer with a little oil or face oil, it’s a great way to get glow on your skin. Then without a doubt I put SPF on every single morning.

Nighttime rituals – It goes beyond products. One of the easier things that you can do for clear skin is take a teaspoon of coriander seeds, put it into boiling water, let that soak and then take the coriander seeds out and drink it. A lot of the inflammation that we see on the skin comes from the gut. I massage my feet with oil to help with good sleep and a number of other Ayurvedic practices at night to help with my skin.

Product for the face – Sahajan for sure. I cleanse with our cleansing oil, I wear SPF every day and only an oil or balm can take off SPF. I do our balance toner, radiant serum and then either our Crème Riche or we have an overnight hydrating mask depending on how my skin is feeling. 

Any DIY beauty treatments – I mentioned the coriander seeds in water. AS a mask, you can DIY with  turmeric and honey and a little bit of rosewater. It’s antibacterial, it’s anti inflammatory, and it helps with pimples.

Best beauty advice received – Probably from my mother who is a big advocate of sleep. I think one of the best things you can do for your for your PT is sleep. And the best advice I would give is probably the same, even though I’m terrible about honoring it. 

One thing that people don’t know about – I was once a fitness instructor. I love fitness.

Favorite way to unwind  – Television. In the wellness world, we want to believe that we’re back home meditating, or writing in a journal. But if I can steal away a moment to put a blanket on and watch some TV, I’m pretty happy. 

Guilty pleasure – I have a sweet tooth. I love cookies. 

Favorite travel destination – I went to Kerala last year and I brought my children for the first time. And it was phenomenal and it really changed our lives. 

Favorite movie star – I’m going to tell you a TV star – Kerry Washington. When the show Scandal came out, she was my inspiration for many things. 

Person living or dead with whom you would want to have dinner – I wouldn’t pick a business person, I would pick someone who’s had more, more of a humanitarian impact on the world. I think Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa.

Favorite movie – The Sound of Music. It’s a classic. 

PQs

“I thought if my skincare isn’t good enough for her, then likely it isn’t good enough for me.”

“The brand is an homage to my heritage, to my family roots and to my parents in so many ways.”

“Looking at business, as a force for good, as a force for belonging, and as a force for wellness has really informed the approach that I took.”

“I knew that Ayurveda, with its high performing ingredients, could offer people the results that they wanted.”

“Anytime you’re breaking a path on your own or breaking a mold, there’s a little bit of lunacy involved.”

“We need more entrepreneurs. We need more South Asian entrepreneurs. We need more women in business. Yes, the journey is a hard one, but we have so many role models and we know that it’s possible.” 

Seema

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