Before launching Brown Girl Beauty, a beauty startup and one of the first all inclusive makeup lines for brown skin, Aliza Adhami collaborated with brands such as Skinfix and Laneige whilst she was completing her undergrad at Cornell University. Experimenting with makeup and beauty was a creative outlet, form of self care, and form of expression. Very quickly, she realized there weren’t any brands made for brown skin. With an idea to create a brand that doesn’t consider brown skin as an afterthought, combined with her knowledge of cosmetic science from her education, Aliza launched Brown Girl Beauty (BGB).
We sat down with Aliza to find out more about her and BGB.
Tell us about your brand and the concept?
I have a background in Biological Sciences , but I also love makeup, so I did blogging on the side to showcase creative looks. I realized there was a real lack of brands that were actually made for and by South Asians. As a lot of the ingredients cosmetic companies used were familiar to me from lab training , I decided to create a makeup brand that celebrates brown skin and South Asian beauty. Rather than adhere to beauty standards not made for us, I wanted to create something that actually celebrates our own features and heritage.
As for the concept, because I express myself and my desi culture through makeup and fashion, I always had this idea that further down the line I would create something. When everything started pivoting to become virtual, I thought this was a great time to start, and if I wait for the moment to be perfect, I would never start, so I pretty much threw myself into the deep end.
Rather than adhere to beauty standards not made for us, I wanted to create something that actually celebrates our own features and heritage.
When I think of Brown Girl Beauty, I think of the iconic Rani glosses. Is there any special story behind them?
When I started, I launched with our signature Rani Glosses. I wanted to create something specifically for desi women, so everything from the color down to the name, was made for us and our skin tones. As it started gaining traction from other women of color, that’s when Brown Girl Beauty became a brand that was inspired and informed by desi culture but also catered more broadly to all women of color, who also resonated with the idea of a more inclusive space in beauty. Brown Girl Beauty was created to celebrate, not erase brown skin in a space still dominated by eurocentric beauty standards.
My goal was to create products that emulated strong and feminine energy. I also wanted to pay homage to desi culture and craft, which is why you will notice the glosses have little intricate gold detailing on them. The style isn’t very quiet or subdued, but is "loud and proud desi" with sharp tubes and gold designs - I wanted something that showed off our culture and conveyed brown girls as being strong and powerful.
Do you have any advice for South Asian women that want to start a business?
My advice is to pick something you’re passionate about and get started because often that’s the hardest part. With that, it’s also important to choose something you can see yourself working on for a long time. The reason for that is once you get started there will always be things to learn and try to perfect and if you don’t enjoy the experience, it’s very difficult to do.
What was it like launching Brown Girl Beauty? Can you describe what you felt at the time?
It’s crazy to think that it’s been a year since Brown Girl Beauty’s launch into the world. I really love seeing people resonating with the message of the brand. It’s especially heartwarming when we get messages from people in South Asian countries that tell us they feel confident and empowered wearing our products.
I think something I learned was that you don’t have to put yourself in a box. It sounds simplistic but women, especially South Asian women from my experience, limit themselves even if they see opportunities. When I started my bio undergrad, I felt like I could only do one thing with my degree. Then I realized I could go to law school with a biology background. Similarly, in the makeup, fashion, and influence industry, people think you can only do fashion or makeup and can’t take up any ‘serious’ academic pursuits, which is completely false.
You can pursue both a creative endeavor and an academic one. Society doesn’t do that with men that have different creativehobbies and passions. Women are multifaceted. We can have many different passions and many different pursuits, and we should be able to pursue them fully.
Recently, I wrote a piece on female South Asian business owners. It was jarring to see how even the big brands we associate with aren’t even women-owned and that only 20 women-led companies have gone public. It made me wonder - are there women of colour founders that you look up to?
I think three that come to my mind are LiveTinted by Deepica, Aavrani with Rooshy Roy, and Riya Collective.
Is there anyone you would love to see model Brown Girl Beauty products and apparel?
Thinking about it now, a year later, I actually feel like just seeing the products on regular women that I relate to is so meaningful - I want to create an authentic experience by and for the community, not just models or celebrities! I definitely hope to keep featuring diverse and everyday faces.
When you’re not hustling at BGB, what are you working on?
I work in policy and legal research for a think tank in Chicago which works on researching how different legal issues affect South Asian Americans.
Aside from work, I enjoy trying my hand with cooking, reading, and writing poetry.
Is there any product or apparel that you would love to launch in the future?
I would love to do an eyeshadow palette, concealers, and foundations in loads of different color ranges.
Is there any collaboration that you would love to do with any brand if you had to pick?
I would definitely want to work with some Desi fashion brands one day!
Check out Brown Girl Beauty’s socials here.
If you would like to learn about other South Asian female owned makeup brands, then click on the link here.