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Meet Katrina Kaif, the beauty entrepreneur

The actor and founder of Kay Beauty discusses her entrepreneurial journey, the learnings along the way, staying ahead of the competition and her long-standing love for beauty products

When Katrina Kaif launched Kay Beauty towards the end of 2019, in partnership with Nykaa, it was India’s first such celebrity-owned brand.

By Pooja Singh

LAST PUBLISHED 23.02.2024  |  11:00 AM IST

Standing out in the crowded beauty market is like finding a foundation shade that’s a perfect match for your skin. There’s always a newer brand, promising a better coverage at an even better price. That’s one of the reasons actor Katrina Kaif says she has kept a razor-sharp focus on innovation while building her beauty brand Kay Beauty. “Product is king," she says, repeating a line written in almost all entrepreneurship and marketing books, over a Zoom call. “You can attach whatever big name to it, advertise it, market it as much as you want; if it’s not good, it won’t work."

When Kaif launched Kay Beauty towards the end of 2019, in partnership with beauty retailer Nykaa, it was India’s first such celebrity-owned brand. Her lip, eye and brow products predicted a trend that was two or three years in the future: make-up that caters to all Indian skin tones, with side benefits of skincare. It was also a smart business opportunity. The beauty and wellness market in India was valued at over 900 billion in 2018 and expected to grow, according to the Indian Beauty & Hygiene Association.

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Since then, several other celebrities have launched their own beauty and make-up brands—Deepika Padukone’s 82°E; Sonakshi Sinha’s press-on nails with Soezi; Priyanka Chopra’s haircare line Anomaly; Masaba Gupta’s LoveChild.

It’s a line that international celebrities have found success in for decades. Selena Gomez (Rare Beauty), Hailey Bieber (Rhode), Ariana Grande (R.E.M. Beauty), among others, have long been packaging their ideas of beauty for their ready customer base—their millions of fans. Earlier this week, Beyoncé launched a haircare line Cécred, which includes shampoos, scrubs and conditioners made with butters, oils, honey and fermented rice water. Some celebrity brands have flopped too, like Know Beauty by Vanessa Hudgens and Madison Beer.

Also read: Priyanka Chopra Jonas: I don't follow trends

In India, it’s not easy to say how the celebrity-led brands are performing as they don’t reveal revenue numbers. Kaif provides her gross merchandise value or the total sales, though it’s difficult to fact-check the claim: “In a span of four years, Kay Beauty is now almost at an annualised GMV (gross merchandises value) run rate of 1.5 billion." She plans to launch more products—from kohl, blush and foundation to lip oil, tints and eye shadow—and look at international expansion. Kaif talks to Lounge about the challenges of running a business and her love for make-up. Edited excerpts:

What prompted you to start Kay Beauty?

I was always drawn to make-up. Just as people are drawn to styling or clothes, make-up was something that fascinated me. While starting as a model, I was working with the best make-up artists in the industry, and I was forever playing with the products on the table. “What is this?"; “Why do you use it?"; “Why is this better than that one"… And I saw the tricks—how they used make-up to transform you.

One of my favourite tricks: before you use kajal near the water line, apply a bit on the upper lid along the lash line and smudge it to make your eyes pop. If you smudge it more and tap eyeshadow on top, it gives a softer, layered look. I also learnt that if you want to wear a dark lipstick, take a tissue, put it on top of your lips and apply loose powder—it will stay put day and night.

I took all these tricks with me to the film set. If you see songs like Sheila Ki Jawani (from Tees Maar Khan, 2010) or Chikni Chameli (Agneepath, 2011), I have done my own make-up. Make-up has always been a very big part of my life.

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Even while growing up?

Yes, especially during my teenage years, once I started seeing images in newspapers, posters, TV, of women or girls wearing make-up. Whenever I went to the mall, the first thing I would do was go to a make-up counter. I grew up with many sisters and make-up came up a lot in conversations. During birthdays and Christmas, our home bathroom would have so many of us crowding the space, trying to put on make-up, and I used to be like, “let me do the liner for you"; “I’ll do your mascara". I first started sharing the tips I learnt while modelling with them. And now, I am sharing them with Indians across the world. In a way, Kay Beauty was a progression and a dream I always had.

What were the challenges along the way?

I have had my share of frustration with buying some best-selling product and later regretting it because it didn’t suit my skin. Before starting Kay Beauty, I was very clear that I wanted to build a product that works on all Indian skin tones. That’s why we ended up spending more time than anticipated creating our products; it took two years to complete the launch range. Our bullet lipstick, for example, is our one of the best-selling products. Throughout my career, I have had a pet peeve: I don’t like my lipstick too shiny or drying and making fine lines on the lips visible. I wanted the perfect formula that was creamy, pigmented, moisturising, had several shades and gave the lips a lush look. It took us a long time to figure it out.

And learnings?

I had some knowledge of make-up and ingredients but the business side of it is something I am aggressively and studiously learning (by understanding) how different brands were built, following beauty industry and business websites, subscribing to newsletters. There are so many wonderful examples that inspire me like Falguni (Nayar, the founder-chief executive of Nykaa), Gwyneth Paltrow who built (wellness and lifestyle brand) Goop, and Rihanna (and her Fenty beauty brand). Nothing pierces through all the noise like truth and authenticity.

Do you take any your learnings from the film set to the Kay beauty office and vice versa?

I think your personality applies to all the different aspects of your life. The qualities that have worked for me as an actor are similar to the ones that have helped drive me as an entrepreneur: Perseverance, resilience and clarity of what I want to see as the outcome.

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