Purearth founder Kavita Khosa on the dirty side of clean beauty

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The ethical pioneer and founder of Hong Kong-based, Ayurveda-inspired Purearth shares her bid to tackle the modern issue of greenwashing 

By Anjan Sachar     Images courtesy of Purearth    Monday 7 September, 2020     Long read

As mindfulness and self-care become synonymous with the beauty and wellness industry, the value of every purchase counts for more than its price. A trend taking over both industries is that of greenwashing – the phenomenon of brands misleading their consumers to think they are more environment-friendly than they actually are in order to capitalise on the new conscious consumer. Indeed, as we all start to become more aware of our carbon footprint, and the ethics involved between product creation and purchase, businesses are following suit by finding ways to position themselves in the greenest light possible. While some thrive by cleaning up their supply chain and brand DNA, others simply stamp on the right labels, choose a visually appealing colour palette and use confusing, abstract terminology that sounds legit but has little merit.

Step forward Purearth – a Ayurveda-inspired beauty and wellness brand in Hong Kong that has been setting a positive example for the clean beauty industry since 2012. Founder Kavita Khosa may have started out as a Wall Street firm lawyer, but it was her two decades worth of experience practising Ayurveda and yoga, diploma in Advanced Organic Cosmetic Science, and passion for nurturing minority communities in India that brought Purearth to life. Eight years on, the brand now has a loaded portfolio across skincare and wellness, from cleansing oils and masks to facial massage tools, body butters and infused tea blends. And Purearth covers the full spectrum by primarily sourcing ingredients from India. 

‘My passion is to work with marginalised groups of women,’ says Khosa, who is also a founding member of Soho House Hong Kong. ‘It’s about parity of income and the gender inequities we see. That’s why I chose to come back and do what I’m doing in India as opposed to anywhere in the world.’
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Khosa has lived in Hong Kong since 1987 and the brand has studios there and in Pune. ‘TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) is a very important part of our lives here in Hong Kong,’ she says. ‘I’ve been able to marry these ancient modalities with cutting edge science and that’s how Purearth has evolved over the years and continues to do so.’

Purearth started off with a vision of giving back, as a for-profit social enterprise with a commercial edge.. Most of the ingredients are sourced from around the Himalayan mountains by Khosa herself. ‘In 2011, the Himalayas beckoned, perhaps because of a trip to Tibet about two decades ago. I felt a deep connection – all I knew was that I wanted to go back to my country, my roots, reconnect with the Earth and I wanted to start an organisation that was not a charity, because I don’t find them empowering for the receiver. I wanted to establish a social enterprise that was more about people over profit. The idea initially evolved from food because I’m very passionate about soil and the Earth. When I went up to meet the community-based organisations, they had all kinds of produce – I had to decide what I wanted to work with. I chose ingredients that I needed to create a skincare and wellness brand because of my love for the abundance of medicinal plants from these high altitude terrains.’

For Khosa, ensuring that every step of her product going from farm to face is clean has always been key. She’s accountable to her consumers and she knows it. ‘Every brand should be able to demonstrate transparency and accountability. Purearth works with blockchain technology to evidence the traceability of every product journey. We work with Provenance, a London-based think tank that uses independent third-party agencies to verify every single Purearth claim as a clean, ethical, sustainable and fair-trade beauty brand. It’s not us claiming things; these agencies look at your invoices, where you’re sourcing from and actually call and talk to the farmers, suppliers and organisations you procure from for verification.’

Rather than rely on middlemen, Khosa believes in being personally involved in the procurement of her ingredients – a facet of her brand she is most proud of. ‘I personally travel to the remotest glacier-fed terrains of the Himalayas to source rare botanicals and berries with the richest source of vitamins. Quality selection, grading and sorting of produce while it is at its ripest and most nutrient is a huge challenge. We employ supercritical CO2 extraction processes for oils, which is the cleanest, greenest technology that extracts nearly 85% of plant phytonutrients. There are no noxious gases used, no solvents or fumes; the process isn’t toxic for the workers. It’s what we ensured when we started out and it’s what we do now. All of our ingredients are also Ecocert-certified, non-palm and non-GMO. To ensure stable and safe preservation and shelf life, Purearth sends each batch to SGS for independent third party microbial testing analysis. We use green chemistry-friendly preservative systems from Dr Straetmans in Germany, too, which is one of the most trusted sources in the world (and also Ecocert-certified).’
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‘My passion is to work with marginalised groups of women. It’s about parity of income and the gender inequities we see. That’s why I chose to do what I’m doing in India as opposed to anywhere else in the world’

A brand’s carbon footprint is a complete amalgamation of its complete production and delivery process, from the ingredients in the bottle to the ink on the package. ‘Purearth has been approved by Leaping Bunny, the gold standard in cruelty-free certification. The process is a rigorous one with stringent verification standards. It took more than six months and tons of documentation to complete. Something can be vegetarian or vegan, but it doesn’t mean it’s not tested on animals. Being mindful of the carbon footprint, we use FSC-certified natural paper and soy ink for our packaging, plus paper bubble wrapping for shipping,’ Khosa adds.

‘With a firm commitment to a no-plastic pledge, we use a special type of recyclable violetglass with biophotonic properties for all our products, too. It helps enhance and preserve the bioactive energy of our precious ingredients.’ 

The brand also has a recycling process in place: for every jar returned, a tree is planted and it recycles the bottles in non-commercial ways. ‘Our packaging is very important to us because it houses our precious ingredients and formulas. Our customers love our bottles and often reuse them at home.’

For Purearth, corporate social responsibility isn’t an add on to the brand, it’s what the brand represents. ‘For self-help groups, we provide them with micro financing so they can give us enough stock of the wild ingredients on time. For a lot of the women, this is their only source of income, which is seasonal. Depending on how much we require, they allot time to go into the forests and pick for us. Our rose water is so pure you can drink it or spray it in your eyes,’ Khosa says. ‘It comes from a small distillery that only works with rosa damascena in April and May. How amazing is it to support a small business and family like that?’

While the laws for product labelling are different in every country, Khosa believes that brands should be transparent and provide consumers with as much information as possible. ‘If all ingredients aren’t listed, it often means that the brand is not proud of what they are using. Ingredients are normally listed in descending order of weight. If the bottle says rosehip oil and the back has 6-8 ingredients with rosehip in the second half, that’s greenwashing. What’s written on the front of the bottle and where it appears on the label at the back are very important. Also, everything is a chemical, even water, so it's silly to claim a brand as chemical free.’

‘There are clean and green alternatives to all preservatives, but the reason parabens and unsafe preservative systems continue to be used is because they are cheap and have been tried and tested for decades now. This way, products tend to look, feel and smell the same for even longer than their shelf-life and brands don’t need to recall millions of units of products (because of stability or preservation issues). This is your conventional personal care industry.’

But a brand’s public positioning is instantly elevated when the founder is as involved and informed as Khosa is – she is clearly someone who lives and breathes what her company stands for. ‘As a founder, it’s very important to have an intention when you start out. Mine was the Earth and the soil and wanting to provide income generation to marginalised women and groups. From there, rose a skincare brand. We didn’t start off by simply trying to get on the clean beauty bandwagon as a business because it seemed trendy. My intent was clean, green, ethical, sustainable, conscious, fair-trade. Skincare is almost incidental to the ethos of the brand. From berry to bottle, as a founder, I am very hands on with everything. When it comes to clean beauty, rarely will you find the founder personally spending nights in the villages with the farmers, travelling for 12-15 hours by road, flying into another country, flying to the roof of the world to sit and establish these deep warm relationships at their source points. We consider them our friends and family; our partners, not just suppliers.’

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