WATCH NOW: 5 Tips on Using the Ecommerce Model to Connect and Not Just as a Selling Tool by Naina Ruhail

The millennial vibe is all about keeping it positive and clean. Detox diets, yoga and pilates, long meditations, and of course, decluttering everything… from your closet, to your mind, body and soul. Somewhere along the way, we realized the need to clean up our vanity boxes and make-up shelves as well. It’s been a slow curve –home remedies, big Ayurvedic brands and cosmetic launches, and now the latest– local, cruelty-free/vegan beauty and care products that not only detoxify your body, but also keep you guilt-free about causing harm to your environment.

Enter Vanity Wagon. Your one-stop platform to cleaning out the toxicity in your life and
putting you on the path to cleaner and better physical care. They believe in community building, and work towards combining the ‘educate and deliver’ message for their customers. A success story built on content creation through collaboration and effective research, its founder Naina Ruhail talks to Sneha Kamat Bhavnani about creating a one-stop shop of the very best organic beauty brands and products, to put you firmly on the path to sustainable living.

Today, people are becoming more conscientious about the ingredients in the products they use. How and where did the idea of curating a platform that sources and sells cruelty-free and sustainable beauty products come to you? 

Yes, consumer choices are shifting towards a more sustainable and carbon-free life. During my stay in the UK a few years ago, I came across and used a lot of natural and organic personal care products. I realised that I was doing everything to stay healthy, be it my diet or my fitness regime but what I wasn’t careful about, was the products I was using on my body. When I discovered the toxins hiding inside my beauty and personal care products, I decided to switch to cleaner alternatives.

The ease of procuring them made me realise what the Indian consumer was missing out on. That was my Eureka moment. It edged me towards building Vanity Wagon

How did you go about realizing this dream? And before investing in this concept as a business, what kind of research did you undertake?

The idea came through from the need for consolidation of the clean beauty space in India, and the most natural way of doing this was bringing into place a Clean Beauty Market. Vanity Wagon solves the issues regarding the search and discovery of clean beauty products, by bringing them all under one roof.

Research is a critical part of starting a business. Understanding the industry metrics, how it was operating and also the growth was the starting point. The industry is growing at a steady pace and I was surprised to see that numbers had doubled over the last few years. In fact, the global organic beauty market is expected to be worth $54bn by 2027. I went on to do extensive research into the brands, marketplaces and other shareholders in the space, and lastly an in-depth study into the consumers, including the buying patterns for e-commerce markets.

In India, herbal and ayurvedic products have always had a base and the demand has lasted through the years. But cruelty-free, clean beauty is a new area. Were you aware of the response this would receive? 

The Indian consumers have always used age-old formulations for their beauty and personal care needs, be it in the form of medicated herbal products or also homegrown remedies. The market has always existed. And the work that needed to be done was a genuine effort towards bringing the best of clean beauty brands in front of these consumers. Vanity Wagon achieves that, and hence we have been successful. We understand our users, their needs and also their aspirations. If we are able to meet them, then our job becomes easier overall. That’s the focus point at Vanity Wagon. The positive response can be attributed to this approach of ours.

This is a family-led business with your husband and cousin managing it with you. How did this partnership come about and how has it evolved over this common platform?

Once the idea had cropped up in my mind and I was in the research phase, I decided to approach my husband, Prateek Ruhail, to partner in the same. He has a business mindset and also understands the nuances of the overall strategy and management well. This made us a good starting team, covering most aspects of our company at that point. Later, when we were setting up our operational framework and consumer servicing channel, we realised that there was no one better than Sahil (her cousin) to handle it. He has 7 years plus experience in consumer management and also operations. As a team, we all work together and pitch in as and where required. We have evolved tremendously since the inception of Vanity Wagon and have overcome all challenges with poise.

As a popular fashion and make-up blogger, professional make-up artist and clean beauty advocate, it is very interesting how you try the products you source for Vanity Wagon as make-up looks, night-time routines etc. and provide honest reviews to your audience. Can you elaborate more on this collaborative e-commerce which serves as a novel marketing idea? 

The idea of e-commerce is based on my learnings as an influencer and also my work as a make-up artist. Over the years, I’ve come to understand the varied issues and challenges faced by women today and also how lack of information or wrong information leads to a loss of faith for them. While starting Vanity Wagon, I focused on giving away as much free and honest information as I could across all my platforms to enable users to make an educated choice of the products they use. Further, placing products as part of a routine helps users create a routine. And this routine then benefits their skin and hair tremendously, rather than using a one-off product. 

Also, brands are always excited to get listed on our portal, as we are an exclusive platform selling these products and we give equal coverage to all brands we onboard. When we partner with a particular brand, our main aim is to make consumers aware of the brand and introduce them to their products. It’s a win-win for the brand as they get access to our consumer database which has grown considerably over the last 1.5 years.

You create content for your website, and for the Vanity Blog and Vanity Mag. You are also creating content for your Instagram as a blogger. How do you keep the content diverse and so consistently churn out material?

Reading has always been at the center of my lifestyle. This habit has helped me become a better blogger and also enabled me to write with ease. Now comes the tough part of what to write about. Like I’ve said before, my interactions with women on a daily basis enable me to come up with topics that I feel will benefit a lot of people. Further, my content team at Vanity Wagon works really hard to fish out the right content for sustainable choice-makers. It definitely takes a lot of research and planning. We plan our content as per our audience and what they want to consume. There is a lot on the Internet, but we try to filter the most recent, reliable and relevant information and mix it with our own knowledge and experience and only then put it out there.  A combination of all this leads to some high-quality effective content that is relevant in today’s setting.

We also do involve the brands from time to time and try to work closely with them when it comes to content creation. Be it through Instagram live sessions, giveaways, influencer activities, features in our in-house magazine, Vanity Mag or being a part of our monthly subscription box – Bellebox. 

What has been the toughest part of venturing into the sustainable beauty market in India? 

The toughest part has been to differentiate ourselves from the host of companies out there, who claim to be novel and sustainable and also who claim to be connecting with artisans etc. but on the contrary do the opposite. The consumers today are intelligent and it’s important to respect that. From day 1, we have been true to our identity and only claimed what we can deliver. 

How do you establish and maintain relations with so many brands? Is there a particular method of sourcing them?

Brand research and onboarding is a task that takes a lot of my time every day. I personally filter out the brands that match our vision and mission. It is only after that that we move on to the next step of discussion. I work very closely with our existing brands too, to ensure we grow together and also deliver the best to our audience. The onboarding process is a little strict at times and that’s what helps us have no second thoughts once a brand is on board.

Since becoming a mom a year ago, we noticed that you were presenting more mother and baby sustainable brands. What kind of content are you creating for this emerging market in India?

Motherhood has definitely exposed me to a new side of this market. Earlier I was more focused on millennial brands that were doing a great job helping millennials look good. Now I also spend a great amount of time researching and working with mother-care and baby-care brands. This fragment of the personal care space has grown many folds in the last couple of years and there are a host of sustainable brands out there doing a terrific job. What I am trying to do is bring them out to the consumers and help people move to healthier choices for their baby’s care. On the content front, I am basing a lot of what I write on personal experience and that helps in connecting well with my audience. Also, having tried a host of products myself, I have a good first-person review of a lot of these products, again making the choice for others easier.

Sustainable and cruelty-free products is a slow but emerging market. This means there is a growing competition to deal with as well. How do you aim to work around this as you grow Vanity Wagon ahead?

I think the key here is to stay honest and true and work based on your own vision and not others’. Our content, creatives, website ideas, blogs, magazine… everything is novel and we do not even look at our competitor handles to ensure we don’t get influenced by them. This is also the reason behind our growing consumer base and also the growing respect in the market for Vanity Wagon. Yes, competition is going to be good and I feel it’s that very competition that’ll help us rise higher. Every day we work towards keeping our customers happy and content, and with that ideology, our work outshines all our direct competitors at the moment. 

E-commerce is not about selling, it’s about connecting, and we are definitely working only for that!

Now that Vanity Wagon has completed two years, what are your professional goals for the future for you and the company? And what have you learnt or discovered about yourself along this journey?

We intend to invest in the growth of Vanity Wagon and take it to greater heights. Also, we have a huge demand for our products abroad, and so we plan on shipping internationally very soon. Personally, I plan on giving back to society in whatever little way I can. Currently, we are contributing to girl child education in partnership with Smile Foundation and planting trees every month. But I would definitely like to do more and am constantly working towards it. 

As an entrepreneur, I learn something new each day. But what’s most important is to follow your instinct and trust your decisions. Nobody else can do your business better than you.