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Vasu Gandhi (left) and Sneha Daftary with SOVA products. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Vasu Gandhi (left) and Sneha Daftary with SOVA products. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

The many rituals of hair

A new beauty brand melds Ayurveda with modern sciencewith a policy of full disclosure

Come join in the beautiful tradition of shringar, adorn your body like a temple." These are the opening lines for the catalogue of SOVA, a beauty brand that is attempting a return to age-old Ayurvedic recipes and Indian traditions like the champi head massage, all the while relying on modern science. Unlike the standard Ayurvedic concoctions, SOVA offers some unusual pairings like wild mogra and olive oil for a hair conditioner, while violet and Kashmiri walnut combine to create an anti-frizz serum.

A collaboration between Sneha Daftary, owner of Mumbai-based hair salon Vous, and fashion entrepreneur Vasavdatta (Vasu) Gandhi, SOVA is one of the newest beauty brands on the scene—it was launched on 16 February. The brand’s formulations are created by H.I. Gandhi, founder and managing director of Millennium Herbal Care, who has decades of pharmaceutical and Ayurveda experience. The fact that the three are related (Daftary is Vasu’s niece,and Vasu is H.I. Gandhi’s daughter-in-law) only aids their partnership.

Both are firm believers in traditional Ayurvedic treatments. “We believe science heightens the process of Ayurveda. My father-in-law balances the workings of different natural extracts and herbal remedies with modern science," says Vasu. While the formulations were the easy part, creating the entire sensorial experience and packaging was more challenging. While the look and feel of the packaging is Indian, it is also accessible enough for foreign markets. What’s interesting is that while the labels in front have the standard botanical illustrations associated with plant-based beauty products, there is a complete list of ingredients (natural and chemical) on the back. While this is part of SOVA’s policy of full disclosure, it might deter customers who are used to products which claim to be 100% organic. This is tricky territory because while The Drugs and Cosmetics Act and Rules passed by the government says that all ingredients should be mentioned on the label, lax enforcement allows many cosmetic and skincare brands to get away with only mentioning a few core natural ingredients and leaving out the chemicals altogether. Both Vasu and Daftary argue that when you bottle a product and expect it to last three years, chemicals are likely to be used to preserve it.

While SOVA also has a premium skincare range, the brand’s focus is on haircare. Part of it draws on Daftary’s experience as a hairstylist. In fact, all the products were first launched in her salon and tweaked based on their feedback. Most traditional Ayurvedic products in India cannot be used on chemically treated hair. “Pure bhringraj oil or henna, for example, cannot be used on straightened or highlighted hair, whereas our formulations can be used on treated hair," says Daftary.

There are challenges ahead—Daftary and Vasu agree that the Indian beauty market is crowded. Comparisons with other luxury Ayurveda brands are inevitable. “We had many discussions around this as we didn’t want to be an indistinguishable brand. And we feel it is our focus on haircare that makes us different," says Daftary. They have also identified their positioning as premium rather than luxury, and their target audience is in the B cities. “The salon owner in these areas is the decision maker for women, and instead of expensive marketing campaigns, we came up with the one-hour SOVA ritual which features an oil champi, a shampoo, a protein masque and a serum to introduce women to our products, as well as pamper them in a traditional way," says Daftary.

SOVA products are available on Nykaa and in select stores across the country.

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