D’you Shakes Up India’s Beauty Start-Up Scene

NAPA, CALIFORNIA – While many Indian beauty start-ups tend to emphasise natural ingredients, skincare brand D’you is taking the opposite approach.

“The narrative that is in a consumer’s mind is that natural or organic ingredients are always better than synthetic, like chemophobia, fear or aversion against chemicals. But that’s not rooted in science,” said D’you founder Shamika Haldipurkar.

D’you, which was announced the winner of the Business Innovation Award at the inaugural Business of Beauty Global Awards in Napa, California on Jun. 4, instead highlights its use of clinical ingredients such as niacinamide and vitamin C to target a young premium beauty customer focussed on ingredient research. Since its 2020 launch, D’you’s ingredient-centric approach and colourful branding has helped it earn the Bollywood stamp of approval (actress Alia Bhatt is a fan) as well as profitability after three months on the market and 369 percent growth in its most recent fiscal year.

“We wanted to launch a brand that is science-based, that could slowly demystify this aversion the consumers had against chemicals,” said Haldipurkar.

Reaching the Premium Shopper in India

Haldipurkar, who previously worked as an attorney, dreamed up the idea for D’you after noticing a lack of premium brands on the burgeoning homegrown start-up scene.

“When the beauty revolution or beauty boom started happening in India about eight years ago, most brands launched in the mass or masstige segment because that’s where India’s population numbers are the maximum,” she said. “But there was a very hungry premium consumer in India who did not have brands in India that appealed to its psychographics.”

Premium European and US brands were increasingly entering the market, but Haldipurkar felt they did not prioritise Indian customers. International labels, she said, appeared to view Indian expansion “as an afterthought.” She saw an opportunity in the advantage for a local founder with knowledge of the market.

“India is not a country that brands from outside of India ever built specifically for, and I wanted to change that,” she said.

The brand has taken a “slow beauty” approach to its product pipeline, launching and heavily marketing one new product a year. Rather than a hero product, the sales made by each item in its collection are split fairly evenly.

This business model has made the brand profitable after its fourth month on the market. It launched with $41,000 provided by Haldipurkar instead of outside funding, but she is not ruling out fundraising in the future. It earned $3.45 million in revenue in 2023.

The Bollywood Seal of Approval

Now nearly four years old, D’you has developed a cult following. While it is sold on India’s largest online beauty retailer Nykaa, as well as on Amazon and Reliance Retail’s fledgling beauty e-tailer Tira, the brand’s DTC site remains its largest source of revenue.

It has begun to gain more traction nationally. One breakthrough moment was when Bollywood star Bhatt used the brand’s “In My Defence” moisturiser and its “Good Grease” cleansing balm in a 2023 Vogue Beauty Secrets video and posted about it on Instagram, causing sales to spike.

With TikTok banned in India, the brand is focused on optimising for virality on Instagram. A campaign for its sunscreen launch featured a guerilla-style blind test on the streets of New Delhi asking strangers to test the product, generating 570,000 organic views.

Coming up, the brand plans to accelerate its product launch timeline, with two more launches this year and four to five in the following year. Haldipurkar is planning to branch beyond facial skincare into other categories. Any acquisition, however, is still a ways off, said Haldipurkar.

“I don’t have an exit strategy right now, and someone smart told me that it’s okay to not have that answer because I’m in the phase of building. My hunger is not satisfied yet,” she said.

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