Sahajan founder Lisa Mattam, after a high-wattage career in business, decides to tell a more personal story
RB: What inspired you to launch an Ayurvedic beauty brand? Does being the mother of two have something to do with it?
LM: Being a mother had a lot to do with it. I remember the day I came home to find my two-year-old daughter slathered in my face cream. I immediately felt uneasy. I worried about what all those chemicals were doing to her young skin. I showed my daughter her own special products in her room–natural and plant-based oils and creams that my parents had used on me as a child. Then I wondered, why was I willing to put something on my skin that I wouldn’t want on my child’s?
It was the start of a journey to remind myself what I had forgotten. My family is from Kerala, in Southern India. In such a lush environment, it’s easy to incorporate natural ingredients into your life. My parents would take a coconut and mill it fresh for oil, or whip up treatments for any skin complaint with what was on hand in the kitchen. It turned out that when I was told to put turmeric on a pimple or coconut oil in my hair, there was science behind it that’s 5,000 years old.
RB: Do you practice Ayurveda in your personal life?
LM: I practice elements of Ayurveda habitually, and as I grow in my practice, I am adding more and more to achieve a beautiful equilibrium for myself. I have been tongue scraping my whole life. I didn’t realize that other people didn’t do that until I was at an overnight trip in the 8th grade and everyone watched as I did it. I always leave a glass of water out every night to drink when I wake up in the morning and I pray/meditate every morning. These are all habits I absorbed from my father who brought me into Ayurveda.
“Ayurveda is about being in balance, and with the skin and hair, there are time-tested ingredients that can help keep us in balance and enhance our natural beauty.”
RB: What are some of your favorite, go-to Ayurvedic ingredients?
LM: Triphala—it’s a featured ingredient in our collection because of its capability as a powerful antioxidant, but I also take it as a supplement daily to help with digestion. Ginger is considered a universal medicine in Ayurveda and can help boost the immune system. I eat this daily in my foods and often drink homemade ginger tea which is really a simple recipe of fresh ginger root and hot water with the addition of honey. Speaking of honey, we feature it in our eye cream to help soothe dryness under the eyes, but I also give my children a teaspoon of honey when they have a cough. It has been shown to be a cough suppressant and an immune booster.
RB: The name Sahajan comes from the Sanskrit “Sahaja,” which means “intuitive.” How does that connect to wellness, and well-being?
LM: The name derives from two ideas: one, that Sahajan is about going back to the skin and hair care practices that are intuitive to me, and equally if not more importantly, it is about giving our clients the science to follow their intuition and choose clean beauty. Intuitively, going clean makes sense but we often hesitate if we don’t believe that the products work. So I used 15-plus years in the pharma industry to produce clinically relevant and proven products.
RB: You collaborated with Ayurvedic doctors in Kerala to create Sahajan, but didn’t incorporate doshas—vata, pitta, kapha—into the products. Why did you make that decision?
LM: I wanted Ayurveda to be accessible to every client. Ayurveda can feel complicated and daunting at times and I want to draw people toward it instead of making it seem difficult. I always remind people that in its simplest form Ayurveda is about being in balance, and with the skin and hair, there are time-tested ingredients that can help keep us in balance and enhance our natural beauty. Also, we worked intensely with the Ayurvedic doctors to make the formulations tridoshic. The body oil for example has oils for all three doshas.
RB: You have a vast experience in business, and have consulted with the pharmaceutical industry for over 15 years. What are some of your top takeaways?
LM: My pharma experience has contributed greatly. At 29, I was managing the largest biotech drug at Johnson & Johnson, responsible for many things including ensuring that all of our marketing messages accurately reflected the clinical results of our products. This rigor and commitment to science has served us well as we dig deeper in the collection. My entrepreneurial experience consulting to the industry served as the foundation for building the business. I knew to be prepared for the rollercoaster that is entrepreneurship and immediately shored up an excellent team of advisors to help build the business.
RB: Ayurveda has been mainstream in India for over 5,000 years. Why do you think it is finally having its moment here in the U.S.?
LM: I believe that we are in an interesting time in the U.S. where we are engaging on a path to wellness and we are acknowledging that, in many ancient cultures, lie systems and sciences from which we could truly benefit. I also believe that since yoga is considered a twin science to Ayurveda, it has actually opened the door for those on the path to wellness.
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