Behind the Scenes at Boxwalla: Deep Thoughts About the Art of Skincare
Many of you have subscribed to or heard of beauty subscription boxes, but while there are several on the market, few are curated with the mindset of Boxwalla. A literary mindset with a big weak spot for artisans. I don't know why I didn't think of it sooner, but interviewing the people behind Boxwalla, married couple Lavanya and Sandeep, all of a sudden seemed necessary to learn how they think, what keeps them always sounding so artistically inspired, and how they navigate the ever-growing number of options on the green beauty scene. And it was such a pleasure to read Lavanya and Sandeep's answers to my questions. Their answers reminded me why on earth we do it, why I agonize over every test run before a product feels more or less ready to show to the public, and why we hand-carve rubber stamps and search the whole planet it seems for unbleached corn stuffing peanuts that have a nice shade of beige besides being compostable. Read on and e-mail me your thoughts and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org, I would love to read them.
Photo credit: Lavanya Krishnan co-founder of Boxwalla
1. When did you first have the idea of creating a subscription box with skincare products and why?
Lavanya: My husband and I had been talking about creating a platform for a long time, a space where we could showcase things like music, art, travel, book, film — a space to talk about them and place them in context. We'd found over the years in discovering things together, learning from each other, that an important aspect of enjoying something more fully comes from understanding its context. To understand why that thing was created, learning more about the maker of that thing, where they came from, what their inspirations were. And I slowly began to realize that this context didn't just apply to things like sculpture or film or a beautiful painting but it also applied to things like clothes and food and skincare. When I first became more ingredient conscious about beauty products, around 12 years ago or so, I started to seek out the best beauty products. And what I found was that the highest quality products, with beautiful, safe ingredients, were being made by small companies who absolutely loved what they did and worked with such passion. And you could see and feel that love and passion in the exquisite products they created. Over the years, we didn't know what the right format was, for this platform that we envisioned. But around five years ago, something clicked and we realized a curated box would allow us to carefully select and showcase the things we loved, and if we did it right, would provide a context for the things we showcased. And when we envisioned Boxwalla in the form that you see, we knew that not only did we want to share products that we loved but also the stories behind them and those who made them.
2. Did Sandeep join you in this business endeavor from the beginning, or did he join you later?
Lavanya: Boxwalla began as a collective project between my husband/partner Sandeep and me. We both have academic backgrounds in engineering and science, so Boxwalla was a way of celebrating our shared love of the arts and cultural experiences.
3. There are quite a few beauty subscription boxes out there, and even a good handful of green beauty boxes, how would you describe your curation as different and distinct from all the others?
Lavanya: That's a difficult question to answer. I strive to be authentic, rather than different, because I think that is what ultimately helps us be distinct and unique.
Specifically with respect to beauty, I like to encourage a thoughtful, nuanced approach to beauty: being mindful and ingredient conscious while also being open and learning more. While we only include products that adhere to our high standards, I want people to enjoy the process of discovering green and clean beauty products without indulging in fear mongering. I'd like for Boxwalla to be a space where people can ask, and are encouraged to ask, nuanced questions about skincare and the ingredients that they use, or want to use. I'd like to open up discussions that go beyond just the labels, so that our subscribers are equipped to make better and more informed choices.
For me green beauty is about celebrating the vast palette of beautiful botanical ingredients that are available to a formulator; understanding what each ingredient adds to the formulation, how these ingredients support skin health and then the overall sensory experience of using these ingredients as a complete unit that the formulator has carefully designed. To me that embodies the joy and essence of ingredient-conscious green beauty. And in each of our bimonthly boxes we try to package that joy, that celebration, weaving a story or a theme that ties our selection together and puts them in context. So that subscribers both delight in the discovery of the products, and also understand how to easily incorporate them into their skincare ritual.
Sandeep: Nuance is in short supply in every field including in green beauty. We want to make nuance great again.
4. What goes into the presumably agonizing choice of a brand to feature next?
Lavanya: Choosing the beauty brands and products to feature is a rather intuitive process for me. A process that I allow myself to take my time with (and with valuable input from Sandeep who has gone from having a deep disinterest in beauty products to suddenly having very opinionated views on what he likes and dislikes... lol). First, I evaluate the ingredients list to ensure that the products we are considering and going to be testing contain only the highest quality ingredients, without questionable fillers, but are also safely preserved. Next, I test these products over a period of time, to evaluate how nourishing and effective they are, what distinguishes them or make them more special than other similar products on the market. I introduce them into different skincare routines to test how these products work alone as well as with other products. When relevant, like in the case of serums and masks, I test them out on especially sensitive skins to make sure they don't cause a reaction. Over a period of time, when I find myself reaching for a product again and again, over other products that function similarly, I know that I have found a winner that is among the best in its category.
Sandeep: Bono once described The Edge's guitar style as "He owns that color on the spectrum". And that is exactly what we look for in a brand or artisan - Does this brand/artisan own that color on the spectrum? It is an agonizing choice to not just decide who to showcase but also in what order to showcase. In many ways it is like producing a music album (where the choice of songs and the order in which they are arranged matter).
Photo credit: Tricia Savino of Ni Hao New York
5. Does Sandeep get to test the products and express his opinions to weigh in on the choice of brands or product?
Lavanya: Oh yes (as I mentioned in my previous answer). He often has strong opinions and he has begun to develop a great intuition about what is good and what is great in beauty. For example, he thinks Ava is a bonafide genius (and I agree, of course!).
Sandeep: I absolutely test and express my opinions. Of course, I don't use the products a lot because I feel they are too precious for my face.
Lavanya: I am working on getting him to realize his face absolutely deserves these precious potions.
6. What are Sandeep's tastes and requirements?
Lavanya: I will let him answer that.. :)
Sandeep: I have no preconceived requirement because one has to evaluate every brand/artisan with a clean slate. Every brand is so unique and different so any preconceived notion or bias on my part would do a huge disservice to them. I have to and want to understand what they are trying to do.
7. Are you managing to maintain a work-life balance as two hard working entrepreneurs?
Lavanya: I try, but I don't think we always manage it. I do try to listen to my body and have learned to give it the break it needs, when it needs it. And we try to make sure we spend enough and quality time with the children because I don't think I'd regret anything more than not giving myself the space and time to enjoy experiencing their wonderful weirdness as they grow. But it is definitely not easy and we don't always succeed in achieving any kind of balance. Boxwalla is basically just Sandeep and me right now. And Sandeep has a full time day job, in addition to being involved partly with Boxwalla. And so I do most of the day-to-day running of Boxwalla, from customer service, creating content for social media, talking to collaborators, to testing and selecting products. Basically it is just us doing almost everything.
Sandeep: Every day is a crisis.
8. Why did you choose to feature Earthwise Beauty for a second time, and why did you choose Resiliency Serum and Yasuni Balm?
Sandeep: First of all Ava comes up with the greatest product names. I feel like EWB should start a side business helping bands come up with names for their bands, songs, and albums. I mean Yasuni, Farizad's Veil, Nap in the Meadow, Cistus and Moonlight etc would all make spectacular names for songs. Pink Floyd in their heyday would have loved to have Ava as part of their team. Why did we choose to feature Earthwise Beauty for a second time? Let me put it this way, how could we not?
Lavanya: Earthwise Beauty will be an eternal muse for me. Everything about Ava, Earthwise and the products inspires me. It is difficult to quantify, but when you experience Earthwise Beauty products, you KNOW that the formulator is someone who has a very deep understanding of the raw materials as well as the expertise (and genius) to synergistically combine them to create products that are so beautiful and effective, feeding both the skin and the soul. And Ava has created such a beautiful range of products with tantalizing textures and colors (where the colors reflect the diverse and dense nutrient profile of the products) and a certain inimitable "freshness." It was actually quite tough choosing which products to showcase the first time, last year, so it was inevitable that we feature Earthwise again, to showcase more of Ava's incredible range.
I had already tested and loved Resiliency (when it was Carrot-a-Day). And when Ava asked me to retest the updated version, I was once again blown away. It is a wonderful firming and plumping serum that is such a joy to use and makes you realize her mastery over the texture of skincare products. Everything about it breathes freshness, from the cold-pressed aloe juice that is pressed just for them and the impeccably sourced therapeutic essential oils, to the way it makes my skin feel.
Yasuni is such an unusual balm, being both lightweight and very quickly absorbed by the skin, but also incredibly incredibly nourishing.There is just something about this balm that instantly clicked for me. It just soaks into the skin, leaving it plump and satiated and absolutely glowing. It is also unusual in the green beauty sphere since it is made without any essential oils or absolutes, so its appeal is not that easy to describe with fanciful imagery. You just have to try it yourself to understand why it is such a brilliant and unique take on what a balm can be.
We are very excited for our subscribers to try these two uniquely wonderful products this December.
Photo credit: Tricia Savino of Ni Hao New York
Earthwise Beauty offering was showcased by Boxwalla in the summer of 2017, but we just had to do it again because few can say no to Lavanya and Sandeep. Two of our products will be included in the upcoming December 2018 Skincare Box: Resiliency Face Serum and Yasuni Face Balm. We are happy to let you know about the opportunity for savings if you decide to order the December box from Boxwalla ($50 for these two full-size products, value over $170, while supplies last).
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