Maithree Venkatesan 25 April, 2022
Astrea is a 100% vegan, no-chemical cosmetics cultural enterprise rooted in Siddha. Their aim is to craft pure and natural skin products that address a multitude of dermal concerns.
In a world already familiar with Ayurveda, helping Siddha reach the masses is a daunting task. However, Astrea came up with the innovative solution of an experiential kiosk to aid customer interaction and acquisition. Founder Sharon Natarajan shares with us how she came to found Astrea and her journey in taking Siddha formulations to the market.
Astrea Skincare participated in the first NICE Angels Investor Meet concluded recently.
Read on to discover how your cultural enterprise can leverage a physical and digital experience to tell your story to consumers.
The First Formulation – Unearthing the Untapped Potential of Siddha
When I began having major skin outbreaks a few years ago, I visited numerous dermatologists. I was told that my skin was reacting badly to the slightest exposure to chemicals and parabens in any cosmetic formulation. I then began my search for products in the market that were entirely plant-based and chemical-free. However, I turned up empty.
I decided to take matters into my own hands and began working with my friend who was a Siddha doctor. Together, we came up with the first formulation. I realized that I had found something special and decided to make this venture official. In Greek mythology, Astrea was the goddess who signifies innocence and purity. This resonated with our brand value, where each of our skincare solutions are created with purity and love and care. Astrea was born because we believe that there is a goddess in every woman, who needs to be nurtured to feel beautiful inside out.
Even though Ayurveda finds its basis in nature, they use animal products such as milk and ghee. In contrast, Siddha promotes a 100% vegan, hypoallergenic lifestyle. For example, our Glow facial product requires lactic acid, a derivative of milk. However, soy milk is used instead , which is a skin-friendly plant-based substitute..
After adding a chemist and a botanist to our team, we spent two years focused on scientific research, growing our catalog to a range of 40 products. We soon moved from my kitchen to a manufacturing unit, and Astrea had its first public appearance in March 2017 at an organic farmer’s market.
Giving Siddha a Global Voice – Helping our Philosophy Reach the Masses
I aim to promote the concept of Siddha on a global scale. People worldwide are aware of Ayurveda, especially in the cosmetics sector. This traction can be attributed to the branding Ayurveda received due to brands like Forest Essentials and Kama Ayurveda that helped take it forward.
Siddha is an ancient, untapped plant-based science that is not as well known. However, it encompasses an abundance of knowledge and has numerous applications with high scope for research. Currently, the few Siddha brands that exist are primarily medicinal in nature. We are the first cosmetic brand representing Siddha. I hope to brand Siddha and give it the global image it deserves.
Promoting a Holistic Skincare Routine – Creating Product Collections and Kits
At Astrea, we believe in teaching the customer the best way to take care of their skin. Usually, when consumers want to buy a cream or face wash, they go to a store and pick any product from a wide range displayed on the shelf. However, we have found that using one product does not give the desired benefit unless used holistically in combination with other products. We promote the idea of developing a skincare routine and thus market our products in the form of collections or kits.
Since Astrea aims to give an educated message along with the product, we could not put our products in chain stores to be just another item on the shelf. Our customers would not know what to do. Furthermore, we wanted to promote the idea of Siddha without it getting lost in the clutter of the online world. Thus, we decided to become a D2C brand and reach the customer directly.
Going Offline to Online – Astrea’s Unconventional Marketing Technique
In order to take a phygital approach to our marketing, we came up with the innovative concept of an experiential kiosk – ‘The Beauty Bar.’ We designed a small, pretty stall similar to a bar area, where customers can walk in and get the sensorial aspect of the product. An Astrea representative takes the customer through the routine and helps them try out the product. They can then buy the product at the kiosk itself or order it online.
We started with the first experiential beauty bar at Express Avenue Mall, Chennai. Within three months, it became so popular that we opened another one in Phoenix mall – and have continued to grow since.
Our kiosks have been our strategy for both customer acquisition as well as interaction. The idea is to help consumers integrate our products into their daily routine. We foresee a large community of online customers formed through offline interactions.
Leveraging the Phygital Experience – Getting the Most out of our Kiosk
We put a great deal of effort into designing our pop-up kiosks to make it an Instagram-worthy place. We draw audiences of various age groups in by hosting various events ranging from karaoke nights to free masterclasses on how to take care of your skin.
Our kiosk also functions as a photobooth, helping us get online traction from an offline experience. People often come to our booth, take pictures, and we ask them to tag us on social media. We also give discounts through our social media sites, driving further traffic online. Thus, our kiosk is our biggest marketing tool.
Creating a Safe Space – Making Astrea Accessible to the Youth
Our overarching message promotes taking care of your skin at a younger age to ensure that it remains healthy at later stages. Thus our target demographic is millennials and the upcoming youth. There is a lack of non-chemical, organic, vegan brands catering to this group at an accessible price point. We want to make Astra a welcoming, non-intimidating space so even someone who doesn’t know much about skincare can walk into our kiosk.
Challenges and The Road Ahead
One of the main challenges we face is the limited shelf life of our products. Due to the absence of any chemicals or preservatives, the shelf life is often restricted to 6 months, creating a logistical problem. We decided to tackle this problem with the help of technology and have successfully drawn out a supply chain plan that will help tighten our production, making it seamless.
The social transformation of women’s employment is a part of Astrea’s story. We are predominantly a women’s group, and our manufacturing unit also employs all women. We wanted to create a space for marginalized women and empower them. I want to see us grow further and impact more women.
I believe more research is left to be done because we are the first one in this line. I am excited for this journey of discovery and the untapped potential waiting to be uncovered.
Astrea has set an example for other enterprises in the Health, Beauty and Wellness focus sector by creating an unparalleled experience for its consumers online and offline. NICEorg wishes them best of luck in their journey ahead. Get 15% off an Astrea product now with the coupon code NICE15.
UPCOMING | NICE AAROHANA SESSIONS
Smart Financial Planning for Cultural Enterprises | 20 May | 5:00 – 6:00 pm IST
REPORTS | LAUNCH OF NICE INVESTMENT REPORT
First Indian Cultural Enterprise Investment Report 2021
CAREERS | WE ARE LOOKING FOR A: