Clean Haircare Brand Shaz & Kiks Puts A Modern Spin On The Ancient Practice Of Hair-Oiling
During summers in India, sisters Shaz Rajashekar and Kiku Chaudhuri were introduced to hair-oiling by their grandmother and aunties. “When we were growing up, this is how we learned to take care of your hair, basically massaging an oil into our scalp and strands,” says Rajashekar. “It seems inaccessible in the Western market because it hasn’t been the practice of haircare here.”
The traditional practice, often involving sesame or coconut oils mixed with herbs such as bhringraj, amla and brahmi, occurs prior to washing or sleeping, and is intended to stimulate the scalp and support hair health. It’s been put on the map in the United States and Europe by a budding group of brands inspired by Ayurveda, the Indian system of medicine that dates back thousands of years, including Fable & Mane, Mauli Rituals and Ranavat.
Rajashekar’s and Chaudhuri’s new brand Shaz & Kiks is interpreting hair-oiling for contemporary Americans with its Back To The Roots Scalp + Hair Prewash. Available in two varieties—flat, fine or normal hair, and dry, frizzy or curly hair—the creamy prewash priced at $60 for an 8.45-oz. size is packed with Indian oils and herbs like moringa oil, turmeric, kokum butter, neem and shikakai, which has been depended upon to clean hair since ancient times. Shaz & Kiks incorporates the ingredient in the prewash as an alternative to harsh synthetic surfactants.
“Shaz & Kiks was born out of us wanting to have those same rituals that were rooted in our Indian heritage, but in a way that is more relatable to the Western market,” says Rajashekar. Chaudhuri says, “We had a bunch of guidelines when it came to formulation. We wanted very little manipulation of the product. The color and fragrance is completely untouched. They’re exactly how we created them. We wanted it to feel like it was your grandmother that created it.”
Rajashekar and Chaudhuri began the process of shaping Shaz & Kiks two years ago. They sought for its prewash to meet European Union cosmetic ingredient standards stricter than U.S. cosmetic ingredient standards and went through 20 iterations before landing on a recipe that satisfied them. The formula avoids sulfates, parabens, phthalates, silicones, mineral oils, polyethylene glycols (PEGs), synthetic dyes and scents. The product is manufactured in small batches.
“We really want to be a hair wellness brand that’s focused on prevention rather than being reactive to damage.”
“In the past few years, there’s been a lot of development in nontoxic, plant-based skincare and even cosmetics, but haircare is still very open from that perspective,” says Rajashekar. Within the haircare segment, she remarks there are plenty of shampoos, conditioners and styling products, and emphasizes Shaz & Kiks’ prewash is different. Unlike a mask, it doesn’t go on wet hair. Unlike a leave-in conditioner, it’s not supposed to be slathered on following showers or baths. Shaz & Kiks instructs consumers to let it sit in their hair for at least 20 minutes to ward off the hair weathering water can cause.
“We call it the first step in your haircare,” says Chaudhuri. Rajashekar chimes in, “We really want to be a hair wellness brand that’s focused on prevention rather than being reactive to damage. We want to make sure people have products that work as hard for their hair and scalp as they do for their skin.”
Rajashekar and Chaudhuri bring distinct and complementary skills to Shaz & Kiks. Rajashekar, a chemical engineer with a master’s degree in business, has held positions in the medical device field for more than seven years. Chaudhuri, who has a master’s degree in marketing, was formerly director of digital growth at the magazine publisher Condé Nast.
The pair hired Mumbai designer and illustrator Manmayee Desai to hone Shaz & Kiks’ aesthetics with them. A stylized ampersand in the brand’s logo is particularly meaningful. It alludes to hair, the curves of the female body and sisterhood. On the exterior packaging, there are two women front and center representing Rajashekar and Chaudhuri. The siblings were excited to show women of color on the packaging to make a statement about Shaz & Kiks’ inclusivity.
“Ayurveda is for everybody. It has no bounds when it comes to culture.”
Rajashekar and Chaudhuri raised an undisclosed amount of capital from family members to launch Shaz & Kiks. They planned to debut the brand in April, but the pandemic interfered. Its manufacturer temporarily shut down to protect worker safety, forcing Shaz & Kiks to wait until last month to go live. At the outset, the brand is dedicated to direct-to-consumer distribution, although Rajashekar and Chaudhuri will consider retail partners that align with its approach. In its initial year on the market, they project Shaz & Kiks could generate as much as $1 million in sales.
The brand is organically cultivating a network of influencers interested in sustainability, wellness, curly hair, design, vegan beauty and Ayurveda, according to Chaudhuri. “We want to identify [influencers] who are authentic advocates and fans of the brand and products, and invite them to be our ambassadors,” she elaborates. “We look forward to them helping drive product development and testing, vote on packaging, and get access to behind-the-scenes work.”
In addition to the prewash, Shaz & Kiks sells a handmade neem wood comb for $20. Next up for the brand will be a gentle herb cleansing rinse. After the gentle herb cleansing rinse, it expects to release a conditioner and post-wash rinse. Chaudhuri says, “We’re also looking to build out routines based on seasons and creating products that will help with more heat and environmental damages.”
Chaudhuri and Rajashekar acknowledge Shaz & Kiks’ prewash concept originating from Ayurvedic hair-oiling will require education to convert consumers. “For a lot of people, Ayurveda might feel foreign or unattainable or that it’s for celebrities or the yoga community. It may not feel like it’s applicable to everyday people, but that’s completely untrue,” says Chaudhuri. “Ayurveda is for everybody. It has no bounds when it comes to culture. We have chosen to use it with modern colors and language to help it be translatable to the modern-day world.”