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Photograph: Sudarshan

Aardae: Only trustworthy and effective self-care on this conscious beauty platform

Shopping for clean and conscious beauty just got a whole lot easier

Cheryl Sekkappan
Written by
Cheryl Sekkappan
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Usual attempts to sift through 'clean' and 'conscious' beauty products are bound to give anybody trust issues. In a loosely regulated yet saturated industry that's chasing new mindful living trends, it can be hard for well-meaning shoppers to discern products that are genuinely non-toxic, ethically sourced, and good for both the body and the environment. 

That's an issue that Shweta Gupta and Darshana Balagopal, the co-founders of conscious beauty platform Aardae, openly acknowledge – and try to resolve. They founded and launched the platform in Singapore just last month to bring trustworthy and effective conscious beauty products to Southeast Asia.

Go to Aardae and you’ll find up to 40 brands and 1000 products cutting across three verticals – Clean, Organic and Ayurvedic – all of which have been carefully curated according to stringent standards. It’s no blind aggregator either, relying on hard data to suss out local haircare and skincare needs and select the products that make it onto the local platform. Some featured brands that Singaporeans will love? Aminu, Brillare, The Earth Collective and Earth Rhythms, which together tackle some key concerns with brittle hair and skin radiance.

Aardae’s Singapore launch is just the start for the platform, which has ambitions to roll out in neighbouring countries, and to reach teenagers and even men too. We speak to co-founders Shweta and Gupta about the growing conscious beauty trend, why we can trust brands on Aardae, and whether beauty is still relevant in these difficult and strange times we find ourselves in. 

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Aardae
Photograph: Aardae

Hi Shweta and Darshana! Thanks so much for taking the time to speak to me. First things first, what’s one thing you’ve done to care for yourself today?

Shweta: We've definitely done our morning routine, which is something that we started because of Covid. I've passed my routine down to my 12-year-old daughter and she also wakes up in the morning and gives herself that half an hour to do these routines before bedtime.

Before Covid, in the hustle and bustle, I would just get up, get ready, run out and maybe throw on sunblock and that's it, but I started realising that my skin was getting affected. It was Darshana who introduced me to a lot of products. Even when I wasn't sure, she was like, "No, this is all clean stuff. This is not you putting harsh chemicals on your face." So yes, now I have a routine – those five things on my table that I use before starting my day. 

Darshana: Besides that, we both also meditate in the morning.

Shweta: Yes, so that's another self-care routine that just starts the day off happy, positive and bright. 

Clean beauty and conscious beauty is a big trend around the world now. Why do you think people are starting to care?

Shweta: It's the dialogue worldwide, on every level. It came to beauty and skincare much later, but if we look back over the past 10 to 12 years, we have been becoming more conscious. It started with the cars, petroleum industries, government initiatives to make sure that pollution, carbon levels and carbon footprint are reduced. It's a trend that needed to start because we have abused the earth enough in the name of commerce and industry. And now slowly, the dialogue is moving to personal living. And I think Covid has made all of us so much more conscious about what we are doing to ourselves and to the earth.

Darshana: Even eating habits and everything has changed. Everybody is making sure they lead a very healthy lifestyle during the week, and even that cheat day is just one day. I see it even with colleagues, family, and our parents. So, why not for the skin? We see that shift happening in India and especially in Singapore where people are more consciously living. We see that the trend is starting right from teens onwards, who know what they need to search for in a particular product. 

I guess we were forced to slow down and take a look at ourselves.

Shweta: Yes, I think Covid definitely made everyone more conscious on a personal level. It's a matter of time until clean cosmetics or clean beauty will be the only way. It is not going to be an option, it is going to be the thing. And I think it's only a matter of time, maybe five or 10 years from now, when all the brands only supply 'clean' because that will become the consumer demand.

Darshana: With the amount of research that we're doing, we also saw a 41 percent increase in the key search words on Instagram and TikTok for clean beauty. So that's 4.4 million views on Instagram posts, and 499 to 500 million views on TikTok. Worldwide. I'm just talking about the search numbers for 'clean beauty'. That's crazy when you think about the numbers and how people are actually searching for it now.

[Conscious living] is a trend that needed to start, because we have abused the earth enough in the name of commerce and industry.

I know you went to great lengths to make sure that the brands on Aardae are really as clean and as organic as they say they are.

Darshana: Yes, there was a lot of that done, a lot of research. This is why she said that from 500 we brought it down to 35 products. It was six to seven months of just doing this work to come to the conclusion that these are the brands that can go with us. Moving forward, I think [the curation process is] going to become even stricter. 

So, this issue of misinformation is very prevalent in the conscious beauty space? Can you tell us more about that?

Shweta: It is. There are many brands that call themselves clean and we know that they are not – there are certain ingredients in them that can be challenged, but due to the lack of knowledge, people would probably believe that they are. At Aardae, we want to make our sourcing and certification so strong that when the awareness starts growing, there is never a finger pointed at any product on our platform. So we have someone on board who has the expertise and goes deep into every product that we are onboarding to make sure that the products are fine to be there and falls under our philosophy.

Darshana: We want to make sure that we are a platform that brands want to connect with too because they know that, "Okay, the Aardae philosophy fits us and these are the requirements", and therefore they choose us, right? They choose us because they know Aardae is what it preaches and it follows.

You mentioned that you curate especially for each market. What are Singaporean shoppers concerned about when it comes to beauty?

Shweta: One of the biggest concerns is hair. Hair straightening and colouring starts from a very young age, so it leads to brittle, dry hair. That's why we carry a lot of hair products that boost and revitalises hair. 

Darshana: And for the face, you always want a nice glow. The moisturisers and the serums all play a very big role in the Singapore market. That's how we've also curated the products, by thinking about the type of serums required and at what time of the day to apply it. This is also the first time that a platform is bringing out a curated product list for teens. We realised that people do start their regimes early on in Singapore – again, I think because of the education and awareness. But there isn’t a dedicated vertical or column, so it's not easy for teens to know all the things that are okay for them to use. Which is why we thought, why not just dedicate a vertical to them to make it an easier journey for them?

And is there any particular way you're getting teens to pay attention?

Darshana: I think once your schools open up, we do want to run a lot of student ambassador programs. We want to reach out to a lot of schoolgoing kids, because if it can work with our kids then we definitely need to promote this, right? And it's a healthy habit start off also.  

Shweta: On that note, I have a 15-year-old son who has bad acne. I would send him to the dermatologist, he would get some creams and be very erratic in using them and the acne continued. But now that we've got into this whole curation thing, I started giving him a lot of acne products and he's become so religious with his routine. I have a husband and two boys, and genuinely they would not care right. But in the last six or eight months, things would go missing from my shelf and it's my husband or sons using my oil shots and masks. So we researched and realised that men in Singapore are also becoming as aware and conscious and that their consumption and basket size is coming almost at par. So, we want to bring the men's vertical into the Singapore market in a few months time too. 

I feel we have totally misunderstood what beauty means. Beauty is just about feeling healthy and feeling good. Unfortunately, we have gone and exposed ourselves to so many things that...only lead to many levels of vanity.

How do you see Aardae evolving in the next five or ten years?

Shweta: We want it to be the cleanest platform known worldwide. And when you say 'clean', when you say 'ethical', the first name that comes to you is Aardae. That is the vision we are working very hard towards, and we really hope that we're able to achieve it. We are doing everything to make sure that we stick hard to our philosophy and create as much education and awareness as we can. Let's hope we are lucky and have the correct timing in all the markets.

We’re experiencing very strange and difficult times now. So some people might ask – is beauty still relevant? What do you have to say to that?

Shweta: I think beauty is relevant because, to begin with, I feel that we have totally misunderstood what beauty means. Beauty is just about feeling healthy and feeling good. Unfortunately, we have gone and exposed ourselves to so many things that we feel mean beautiful, but actually, only lead to many levels of vanity.

I feel that the moment you first step into this journey of being clean and conscious, you automatically start questioning those thoughts, you automatically start thinking “Do I need to go to that extent to look beautiful?”. And I'm talking about the many things we do to ourselves to fit the notion of looking physically beautiful. But the moment you become clean and conscious, you automatically eradicate those things from your life, and you will feel better about yourself. That is a larger dialogue – we want people to move away from that and to move to, “Let's be clean, let's be healthy, let's live a more holistic life”, and you can be beautiful by being conscious. 

Darshana: That’s important, right? We believe in that and that's the kind of community that we want to build. We want to show the world that there are other ways of feeling beautiful. I think we're going to be big advocates of it. 

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