Vivek Sahni on reviving Ayurveda in India

Kama Ayurveda Night Cream

Even though Ayurveda is an ancient Indian science, until a decade back it was unpopular and under the radar in India. But since then one beauty brand has revived Ayurveda, making it not just popular but a thing of pride for all us Indians. Meet Vivek Sahni, the founder of Kama Ayurveda, who is behind this homegrown revolution.

To the uninitiated, Kama brings you age-old Ayurvedic formulations that are extremely effective and beautifully packaged. In fact, the brand has cult status in India, and many women credit Kama for transforming their skin and hair. Their Kumkumadi Miraculous Beauty Fluid is the most popular beauty product, which has been mentioned by multiple women interviewed on my blog, An alumnus of the prestigious Parson’s School of Design in New York, Vivek has an eye for beauty. And he has a sharp business mind, too. Read this interview  with Vivek Sahni on building this phenomenal brand.

VASUDHA RAI: Tell us about your life pre-Kama.
VIVEK SAHNI: I grew up in Delhi, studied at Delhi University and worked in the family business for a short while. I then went to Parson’s and, when I came back to India, set up my design company with partner Dave Chang. We designed tons of books, magazines and catalogues for many popular Indian fashion designers such as Rohit Bal and Tarun Tahiliani. We also did the prototype for the first Fashion Week in India. We created the master template for a whole bunch of corporate identities including The Imperial hotel in Delhi, the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, just tons and tons of graphic design stuff. Separately, I also had a very small but interesting side business. Someone had asked designer Rohit Bal to create a wedding card to match the wedding outfit — and suddenly we started doing custom-designed wedding cards.

VASUDHA RAI: How did Kama Ayurveda come about?
VIVEK SAHNI: In 1997/98 we were asked to design the packaging for Khadi Village Industries, government-owned cottage industries who also make soaps and beauty products. What began as a design and gift packaging project for visiting dignitaries turned into a much larger assignment. We asked questions like who has tested the beauty products? So we got thoroughly involved in revamping the entire brand. And not only did we revamp the brand but also made it sustainable, without taking extra loans from the government by using simple design and sensible thinking. However, the challenging part was how we would make Khadi modern and cool again. So we got Indian designers like Malini Ramani and Rohit Bal to use the Khadi fabric to design outfits that would be sold at ridiculously cheap prices at the store. Everyone heard about it during the launch and the clothes sold out in two days. But Khadi was revived and became cool again. In fact, Khadi Village Industries announced recently that they are now making a record 50,000 crores in sales. And this is how we started working on Kama Ayurveda in 2001 after the Khadi project finished in 2000.

VASUDHA RAI: What is Kama’s growth story?
VIVEK SAHNI: When we started retailing in 2003 it was only oil and powder. The idea was to make 100% natural and clean products even before they became fashionable. Later we added shampoos and creams to our line. We started in a shop-within-shop format and opened our first store in 2012, which is when I took over the running of Kama. And today in 2017 we have 23 stores across India. Our products have been tested to be sold in Europe so they’re completely EU compliant. They have extremely stringent laws and want full details from the exact part of the plant to the process in Europe. They’re also working according to the Western pharmacopeia so it took some work for us to explain that Eastern systems work differently.

VASUDHA RAI: What makes Kama different from other Ayurvedic brands?
VIVEK SAHNI: We use authentic, original, Ayurvedic formulations for the skin, hair and body. We are not fudging or tampering with these recipes that use age-old combinations. My active ingredients are all natural, Ayurvedic ingredients — we are not inventing actives.

VASUDHA RAI: What are the Ayurvedic habits that Westerners can adopt?
VIVEK SAHNI: Don’t mix hot and cold — for instance ice cream and espresso as one example. If you take oil and pour cold water over it, it will congeal. This mixing of hot and cold is why you get indigestion, heartburn, and that feeling of fullness.

Also, this whole idea of smoothies and raw juices is not something that is recommended at all. A lot of vegetables release their nutrients when they’re lightly cooked. When they’re raw, you can’t get the nutrients out of them. But more than that the digestion starts in your mouth. So if you’re drinking say raw spinach in a smoothie or juice, it’s going straight to your gut then out of your body. At the very least roll the juice around in your mouth before swallowing so that saliva acts on it and breaks down the nutrients.

VASUDHA RAI: Are there any plans of Kama expanding internationally?
VIVEK SAHNI: Now that we’ve got our certifications we will basically open our own stores to start with. In certain areas we have lots of traction, for instance Japan, Germany and Italy. In fact, the Japanese really love our products. We are at the brainstorming stage right now. We will also have to adjust our packaging and sizing according to different markets. For instance the Japanese use tiny bottles, so 200 ml of oil would be too large for them.

VASUDHA RAI: What are your three favourite Kama products?
VIVEK SAHNI: The Night Cream, the Kumkumadi Face Scrub and the Bringadi Hair Oil.

Vikek Sahni, the founder of Kama Ayurveda

European consumers may also find Kama Ayurveda products on

Read more from IRMA Guest Editor Vasudha Rai on her website