Sana Javeri Kadri, born and raised in Mumbai, always loved spices but didn’t love the system: “Farmers made no money, spices changed hands upwards of 10 times before reaching the consumer, and the final spice on your shelf was usually an old, dusty shadow of what it once was,” she says. So, now living in Oakland, California, she founded Diaspora Co. “The big, audacious dream is to grow a radically new, delicious and equitable spice trade.” Here, Sana shares a cool eyeliner trick and the face mask that blew her mind…
First, tell us about Diaspora Co.
Five years ago, we began with one spice – Pragati Turmeric — and we now source 30 single origin spices from 150 farms across India and Sri Lanka. We bring customers products that are really, really fresh, and then teach them about the culture behind those spices — like how they’re traditionally and indigenously used.
What was it like starting the company?
The first two years were the hardest. Back then, any mistake used to affect me very deeply and ruin my day. At that time, I was the accountant, marketer, salesperson, and office manager, and I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Now I’m the CEO, and we have an incredible team. And I’ve realized that our worth and goodness in the world is not determined by the outcome of our work within capitalism. We just hit our five-year anniversary in August, and we’ve come such a long way.
When did your love for food begin?
My dad had a mango orchard outside Mumbai. I couldn’t believe that you could take a little seed, and it would grow into a tree, and that tree would bear fruit. That still seems like magic to me. Throughout high school and college, I had agricultural jobs in olive garden groves and on campus farms.
How would you describe your relationship with beauty?
I grew up in Mumbai in the ’90s, and I feel like we had the colonial hangover of wanting to be whiter, thinner and more English. Being a brown girl with curves was not the goal. When I was a kid, I would look in the mirror and think I was so ugly; the media’s perception of beauty really got to me.
That’s so hard and, I think, a very common feeling for women of color. When did you realize that the Western standard was not the only standard of beauty?
In college, I took a photography class that focused on the history of self-portraiture, and our assignments involved taking self-portraits. The process of having to photograph myself in an academic, intellectual context was such a freeing experience. I came out of that class loving taking pictures of myself. And now I totally own how I look! I have no qualms taking photos and selfies.
What advice would you give brown girls who have a tough time recognizing their beauty?
I want the next generation of young women, especially young brown women, to rock it. There will come a point when suddenly you’ll recognize, ‘Oh. I’m hot shit!’ Growing up, I didn’t see many different types of beauty in media; and as adults and parents, we need to focus on diversifying the content that our children consume. I love all of Akwaeke Emezi’s writing; their Instagram is also amazing. Gully Boy is my forever favorite Bollywood movie, followed by Chak De! India — both have strong female leads. Also Heartstopper is the queer teen romance I wish I’d had growing up!
Sana’s maternal grandmother
Who are your beauty icons?
Konkona Sensharma and Poorna Jagannathan are both super beautiful and have incredibly thoughtful and bold style. I also draw inspiration from my grandmothers, who had iconic looks in the ’50s and ’60s. India became independent in 1947, so in the ’50s, Indian women were rocking their saris and churidars. My nani [maternal grandmother] was a gynecologist and even wore starched, crisp saris to work in the clinics.
What everyday products do you swear by?
Every morning, I use this salicylic acid cleanser, then put on sunscreen gel and dab on some Laniege lip mask.
Do you wear any makeup?
I love the look of makeup, but I don’t love the feeling on my face. So I’ll only wear it once or twice a month. For my base, I’ll just put on powder foundation and concealer. I’ll start with Pür 4-in-1 Powder Foundation in Nutmeg. Before using this brand, I used to think of powder foundation as this old-school dusty thing. But an employee at the Allure store recommended it, and it’s the first foundation I found that matches my skin tone. When I was struggling with a high level of hyper pigmentation, I would cover my darker spots with concealer and then a different foundation, which gave my face this ghoulish, greenish tint. But finding a shade that actually matches my skin has been life changing.
What about when you want to go full glam?
When I’m going to be out and about and want to look cute, I add Glossier’s Cloud Paint in Beam, followed with Hueglow’s highlighter in Dusk. For eyes, I’ve been lining my lower lash line with brown eyeliner — specifically, Kulfi’s Kajal in Tiger Queen — and then rimming my upper lash line with a fun color, like Kulfi’s Kajal in Purply Pataka. Then I’ll finish my look with a swipe of Benefit’s They’re Real! mascara.
What a cool eyeliner combo. How about lips?
I love Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lip in Beso — it’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez‘s red lip rec!
How would you describe your relationship with your hair?
In India, everyone seems to aspire to have straight black hair. I’ve always had big, curly hair, and I used to struggle to love and care for it. Shaz & Kiks developed a line of haircare specifically formulated for South Asian hair. I love their pre-wash, which is an updated version of a hair care oil technique we do in India called champi. It protects my hair and has funky Indian smells that I appreciate; it smells like home.
What about brows?
When I was young, my mom would not let me do any hair removal because the double standard of women having to be hairless drove her crazy. Whenever I’d try to persuade her to let me thread or wax, she’d always respond with, ‘Everybody has body hair.’ And I would always think, ‘Can’t I be a feminist and still do this?’ Eventually she relented because she realized that feminism means giving women choices to do what they want. Now I get them threaded every couple of months when I’m in India.
Your mom sounds wonderful.
I come from two generations of feminists. My grandmother was one of India’s first gynecologists; she fought her father to attend med school. My mom and dad have always identified as feminists. I give my dad a lot of credit for being an an Indian father based in Mumbai and an outspoken feminist raising his daughter as a feminist.
Do you ever break out?
I developed serious acne in my early twenties, and even now, when life gets stressful, my skin breaks out.
Dealing with acne after high school seems common but people rarely talk about it.
What helps me are the South Asian beauty influencers who talk about how acne affects our skin. I used to not understand why, when my white peers got acne, it didn’t turn into a brown spot on their face. But then I learned about hyper-pigmentation and realized, ‘Oh, this is something that happens to other people with my skin type — my skin isn’t broken.’ This video that Natasha Thasan made about turning our South Asian hyper pigmentation into a smokey eye makes me laugh!
Do you have any other holy grail finds?
Yes, I discovered the South Asian beauty company Ranavat, and their Saffron Masque blew my mind. It has real saffron and feels like spreading luxury on your face. Afterward, my skin is glowy and magical.
Final question: What’s your beauty philosophy?
Beauty is rooted in culture, and brown is beautiful. I know that can come off as corny, but it’s counterintuitive to what I absorbed growing up. Now I’m putting my energy to 100% owning it.
Thank you so much Sana! Visit Diaspora Co.’s pop-up shop this month in New York City, if you’d like.
P.S. More women share their beauty uniforms, including author Lindy West and celebrity chef Samin Nosrat.
(Top portrait in white top and portrait in living room by Aubrie Pick. Photo with red pants by Laura Flippen. Picture on the farm by Gentl and Hyers. Portrait with yellow eyeshadow by Tori Mumtaz. Portrait with green sweater by Milena Mallory. Portrait against purple flowers by George McCalman. Photo on couch by Floyd. All other photos courtesy of Sana Javeri Kadri.)
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