W Power 2024

Qi Ayurveda: Taking ayurveda to the next level

Luxury ayurvedic beauty pioneer Rajshree Pathy returns to the business with a cross-cultural endeavour by blending centuries-old learnings with cutting-edge scientific research from Switzerland

Published: May 2, 2024 01:02:11 PM IST
Updated: May 2, 2024 01:03:20 PM IST

Rajshree Pathy, head of the Rajshree GroupRajshree Pathy, head of the Rajshree Group

It’s a balmy late spring evening in Coimbatore. Rajshree Pathy introduces Qi Ayurveda, her second foray into the world of luxe ayurvedic beauty, to an intimate gathering of people who’ve travelled from different corners of the globe to her tranquil farmhouse.

Pathy, a Padma Shri awardee and the head of the Rajshree Group, was one of the original co-founders of Kama Ayurveda. She entered into the ayurvedic beauty segment in 2002 along with co-founders Dave Chang, Vikram Goyal and Vivek Sahni. Post-liberalisation, India was racing ahead with the rising aspirations of the youth. The noughties set the stage for homegrown luxury brands to tap into this new prosperity. “Ayurveda was considered a foul-smelling herbal medicine, and the idea of using it as a beauty and wellness product didn’t exist,” muses Pathy. Yet, despite the lack of awareness back then, the quartet, over time, built a successful brand and created a new template of luxury wellness rooted in ayurveda. “Four friends got together and created Kama Ayurveda. It has been a fulfilling journey,” reminisces Pathy, who has since exited the venture, in which Spanish beauty conglomerate Puig acquired a majority stake in 2022.

So, what made Pathy take the plunge again with Qi Ayurveda? “I asked myself how could I take ayurveda to the next level?” She describes this cross-cultural endeavour as alchemy, blending centuries-old learnings of ayurveda with cutting-edge scientific research from Switzerland. Extracts derived the traditional ayurvedic way are fortified with Swiss-certified botanical actives, resulting in quality products that quickly deliver solutions. “What could be more relevant for today's consumer who is looking for purity?”  

The first breath

Pathy grew up immersed in the world of ayurveda, one of the world’s oldest medical systems that advocates a holistic approach to balance the body, mind and spirit. Ayurveda is her second skin, an indelible part of life since childhood. “Ayurveda resonates through my DNA,” she says. Visits to the local vaid, weekly hot oil massages, and herbal water baths prepared in wood fired copper urlis, brimming with vetiver roots and eucalyptus leaves were familiar family customs. It left a deep impression on young Pathy.

“The power of herbs and plants combined with the ritualistic nature of these practices became my definition of wellness,” says the multi-hyphenate. The presence of globally renowned institutions in the vicinity, including the over-century-old Arya Vaidya Pharmacy, Vaidyagrama Eco Healing Village and SDJ Ayurvedalaya, kept her firmly entrenched in the tradition.

She turned to her roots when it came time to name the brand. Pathy’s original choice was Prana, but owing to its unavailability, she captured its essence with Qi (pronounced as chi or key). “Qi is prana in Sanskrit—the energy that all living beings resonate with.” It took over two years to bring Qi to life, from conceiving the brand on paper to bottling it.

A cross-cultural collaboration

Approaching a few Swiss laboratories, she recalls walking into their pristine spaces with bottles of potent ayurvedic thailams or oils. The dark, viscous and pungent liquids with overpowering odours permeated every nook and corner of the laboratories. “The Swiss are too polite,” she laughs.

Finally, she shortlisted one laboratory to partner with. There were challenges before the research could begin. Each thailam had to be pared down to its constituent herbs and extracts, including trace elements for these ingredients to be documented according to the international code of botanical nomenclature for further study.

“A hero ingredient that most ayurvedic oils use for hair care– Bhringaraj—is a medicinal herb that is well-proven for hair growth. But in the Bringamaladi thailam (the key ingredients being Bhringaraj and amlaki), ‘adi’ means etcetera, implying the presence of other ingredients too.”

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These were not just a few dozen ingredients. One of the oils contained at least 150 ingredients, and another nearly 340, requiring months of research in libraries and ayurvedic institutions to accurately document each. “It wasn’t an easy process,” she explains. “But I wanted to do this correctly and not merely buy products to rebottle for sale. The goal was to create contemporary, innovative haircare and skincare solutions that are relevant, offering them with confidence to the market and having them accepted with trust.”  

A tale of tresses

In the first phase of its launch, Qi Ayurveda has rolled out four targeted hair care ranges—Restore (Chemparatyadi-infused with hibiscus extracts for dry and damaged hair), Wellness (Chandanadi—formulated with sandalwood oil to calm inflammation and nourish the hair), Hydrate (Dhurdhurpathradi- infused with Olive Leaf and Jujube extracts to control dandruff and hydrate hair) and Nourish (Bringamaladi—contains false daisy to stimulate hair growth and reduce breakage).

“It was a no-brainer,” says Pathy, on her decision to launch with haircare, addressing a multitude of problems facing adults and even children today, be it excessive hair fall, dandruff, breakage and premature greying. The haircare range comprises oils, shampoos and conditioners. The pure ayurvedic thailams are prepared conventionally and delicately fragranced to make them palatable to a wider audience. Meanwhile, the shampoos and conditioners are based on the formulations created by the Swiss laboratory and include high-quality Swiss-certified botanical actives that enhance the efficacy of traditional ingredients, delivering results quickly. For instance, the hibiscus-centric Restore shampoo and conditioner are infused with mega nutrients White Lupin and Green Algae natural extracts from Switzerland that prolong the life of hair follicles and add shine.

For sceptics who believe that such innovations step away from the original tenets of ayurveda, she demurs, “The moment has arrived to integrate ayurveda with modern beauty technology. Bridging the gap between technology and tradition and embracing modern science is not a crime; it does not prevent anyone from maintaining a cultural identity.” In a rapidly evolving world where cultures and creativity are merging, she adds, “No tradition is a static entity. Modernity results from evolving traditions.”

Building a brand

The overall aesthetic of Qi Ayurveda veers towards minimalism, drawing from her alter ego as the founder of the India Design Forum. There is a deliberate effort to stick to simplicity in design and consequently, minimising superfluous costs. “Whatever the consumer pays goes mostly into the quality of the product and into research,” says Pathy, leaving out the bells and whistles for substance.

Envisioned as a purposeful brand, it adopts a responsible approach to sourcing and production. The products are sulphate-, paraben- and cruelty-free, and have been clinically tested. Packaged in biodegradable paper cartons, glass bottles are used for the oils, the shampoos and conditioners come in recyclable PET bottles.

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A percentage of profits from Qi Ayurveda will be funneled towards treatment of underprivileged patients at the non-profit ayurveda institutions located in Coimbatore. Pathy’s personal philanthropy efforts extend to running a school, educating 1,600 students in an underserved district in Tamil Nadu and extending scholarships for meritorious students for university education, as well as lending support to the ayurvedic institution, SDJ Ayurvedalaya.

Capturing the market

According to a report by Verified Market Research, the global ayurvedic market size was valued at $10.36 billion in 2023 and is projected to reach $33.11 billion by 2031, growing at a CAGR of 15.63 percent during 2024-2031. With a growing demand for globally relevant solutions, cross-cultural brands such as Qi Ayurveda are well poised to tap the lucrative wellness market. On cue, Pathy says the timing is right to launch Qi Ayurveda. As the post-Covid, post-aspirational world turns to embrace a holistic lifestyle, what better destination than India to set sights on? “The awareness of the Indian legacy in health is now very obvious to the Western world.” The Indian government, the ministry of Ayush and diplomatic missions across the world are giving a concerted push to yoga and ayurveda, helping better understanding of it globally.  

With market boundaries blurring and the concept of beauty becoming more fluid, competition in the ayurveda-led luxe beauty space is intensifying. Apart from homegrown brands such as Kama Ayurveda and Forest Essentials, diasporic brands such as Ranavat, indē wild, Purearth, and Fable & Mane are exerting claim on a niche-yet-growing global marketplace. Pathy remains undeterred.

“There are hundreds of brands in this space in ayurveda and many of them are luxury brands. I believe there is room for a product like ours. Competition is always healthy as it keeps brands accountable to the consumers,” says Pathy. Ultimately, the barometer for success is consumer acceptance.

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Following an omni-channel approach, Qi Ayurveda is betting on its own website, and will be available on leading ecommerce sites. However, Pathy’s masterstroke is the brand’s brick-and-mortar debut through an exclusive retail partnership with leading design behemoth Good Earth, which is touted to launch its first international store in Dubai soon. “We hope to make Qi a global brand by taking it to countries where consumers are looking for a natural alternative with an ayurvedic base because of its association with holistic healing.”

Its target cohort is discerning adults, irrespective of gender, from the age of approximately 20 upwards. “Disposable income in the hands of younger people has risen. And this generation is gravitating towards spirituality and yoga—meaning more open-mindedness and the desire for healthier options. They are not shy to spend on products that promise integrity.”

Her next step is skincare. According to Statista, the revenue in the natural skin care market in India is pegged to hit $1.54 billion in 2024. Within the next 24 months, Qi Ayurveda will drop its line of face and body care, made in Switzerland.

As curtains fell that evening, Pathy ended the starry night by saying, “We are not just selling a product. We are selling a benefit which is palpable.” A note embedded on the unfussy packaging underscores what Qi embodies—challenging boundaries set by centuries of tradition, ‘What you are holding in your hands, represents the unexpected’. With Qi, we expect nothing less.