How I overcame my fear of selfies: A beauty founder’s confession

Kulfi Founder Priyanka Ganjoo wearing Underlined Kajal

Exploring what it means to take up space in the beauty industry. 

By Priyanka Ganjoo, Founder 

When I decided to start Kulfi 18 months ago, I didn’t necessarily want to be the face of the brand. I wanted to be the person in the background who was creating products and building all of the parts that go into a business and brand identity. I’m not sure why I felt that way, to be honest. I just felt this reluctance — maybe because I wanted the spotlight to be on Kulfi and its community. 

I was never the kind of person who posted pictures of myself often or felt compelled to record and share my life. When I’m posting a photo of myself on Instagram, there’s a hesitancy—a pause—I feel before clicking ‘Post.’ In that pause, there are so many internal and external things we think about when it comes to appearance, taking up space, beauty standards, judgement, and more. There’s an interesting dichotomy that has developed with social media: It’s democratizing content, in the sense that all of us have the opportunity to post our content. At the same time, it’s also setting up these unattainable metrics of how many likes and comments you get on your post. When it comes to personal branding as a beauty founder, 

It can be difficult to hold onto your individual voice without feeding into what the algorithm wants to see. 

‘Taking up space’ as a Woman of Color can be a difficult concept to navigate.

—especially this idea of taking up space in the beauty industry as someone who doesn’t consider myself to be ‘conventionally attractive.’ When I left my corporate beauty job to start Kulfi, I remember this one time I was speaking to an Indian guy, and he said, “Why you?” He said it in this way as if to imply, “I don’t really see you as someone who could be a beauty founder.”

As we’ve gone through this journey and the more I’ve spoken to people, I realized that having my face there is important.

If I don’t put myself out there, why would anyone believe my story or Kulfi’s story?

That meant that I had to work toward being okay with putting myself out there by unlearning this desire to be behind the scenes and consciously making the decision to go in front of the camera.

Culturally, people expect a beauty founder to be a certain kind of person. Someone who is always on trend, with beautiful makeup, clothes, and hair. Every time I see a beauty founder, I’m always blown away by how put together they seem. They speak and act with such assured confidence in interviews or panels. I don’t always feel that way. Oftentimes, someone might tell you, “Wow, you’re doing such a great job,” and you might not feel that way about yourself.   

That’s not to say that I don’t think I’m beautiful or feel like I’m not beautiful. 

As a beauty founder, I’m proud of my journey and how much I’ve been able to step into my element. 

At the same time, it can be hard to give myself permission to take up space — even though that’s the exact problem I’m trying to solve with Kulfi.

Two beauty founders who inspire me are Rihanna of FENTY and Sharon Chuter of UOMA Beauty.

In addition to FENTY Beauty’s inclusive shade range, it empowers sexy, confident women through its messaging of diversity. Oftentimes, Women of Color brands are relegated to this space of being there for the sake of representation. But, no, we have our own personalities and we want to lead with those personalities. And with UOMA Beauty, Sharon Chuter started the Pull Up for Change initiative. Who are the people owning these companies and selling us ‘beauty’? A lot of the changes that need to happen within the industry also have to do with who the decision-makers are. Sharon was a beauty industry executive and may have felt similarly — that she couldn’t make concrete change within the system and started her own brand instead. 

Celebrity brands have been having a moment. It can be considered a shortcut to brand building: the celebrity’s personal brand becomes the foundation of the beauty brand. They often have a strong personal identity that they’re comfortable projecting externally. But if you are a ‘normal person’ stepping into a founding role in the beauty space, there’s also an opportunity to create the brand a little bit differently. In some ways,

It’s more holistic, because I want Kulfi to exist outside of me. 

Yes, it’s my child, but children have their own lives, their own personalities, and they grow into their own beings. Ultimately, it’s about the community. 

Priyanka Ganjoo wearing Kulfi Underlined Kajal in Nazar No More
Priyanka wearing Underlined Kajal in Nazar No More

What makes me feel like my best self in front of the camera.

When I’m getting ready for a meeting or shooting a video, these are some of my makeup and style essentials: 

  1. A pair of fun chunky earrings look so great and effortless
  2. Sweaters in bright greens, hot pinks, and mustard yellows have become my thing
  3. A colorful lipstick or a wash of blush on my cheeks
  4. Kulfi Underlined Kajal in Tiger Queen (matte terracotta) is a nice neutral for the daytime 

When I’m meeting with people virtually or going on Kulfi’s social media, I want to make an effort to present myself in a way that feels on brand. I don’t necessarily feel like I need to, though. Enough people have seen me in my PJ’s on Zoom at this point! But I like to dress up, because I want to make the other person feel that I care about this interaction and made the effort to dress up. It’s kind of like being on time for a meeting. 

Personal branding isn’t about perfection, it’s about being yourself.

If I started Kulfi 5 years ago, it wouldn’t have gotten the same kind of support that I have today. More people, in the present day, are reclaiming their South Asian identity, and more non-South Asians are recognizing the value in that and ‘by us, for us’ initiatives. 

Part of putting yourself out there is that people connect with you not because of the bullet points on your resume, they connect with you because you were open to being vulnerable about your experiences and the essence of who you are. At the end of the day,

Vulnerability is the super power that allows your audience to really resonate with you.

 

As told to: Samia Abbasi, Editor

Cover photo credit: Priyanka Ganjoo, @priyankaganjoo


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