How An Engineer's Passion for Finding the World's Best Ingredients Inspired Ranavat Botanics
Photos: Ranavat Botanics
Michelle Ranavat's resume is impressive, to say the least: A graduate degree in engineering management here, a four-year stint at now-defunct finance firm Lehman Brothers there. So how did she end up in the beauty industry founding Ranavat Botanics? Easy: The LA-based mother of two combined her extensive experience navigating the international supply chain at her father's chemical company, her passion for uncovering the world's best ingredients, and her curiosity of traditional Indian beauty rituals to create her botanical skincare brand.
Comprised of serums, tonics, and masks that are mixed and matched to create luxurious regimens for varying skin types ($40 to $175), the brand is transparent about where every single ingredient comes from and why it's the best in its class. For instance, the Kiss of Royal Tea Masque hydrates dry skin using Manuka honey from a far-flung area in New Zealand, while the Mighty Majesty Fortifying Hair Serum contains organic amla, a vitamin C-packed antioxidant that ancient Indian texts revealed to be "the best medicine to prevent aging" and promote longevity.
Here, Ranavat explains how her heritage inspires her to create a unique company, why it was so important to guide ingredients directly from the source to the bottle, what "balance" looks like in her daily life, her top advice for entrepreneurs starting in a new industry, and more. Read on below, and shop Ranavat Botanics here.
Tell us more about your career journey: How did you get to where you are today?
I'm an industrial engineer by training and studied Engineering Management for my graduate degree. I come from a long line of chemists, both my mom and dad's side. After college, I fell into finance and worked at Lehman Brothers (since bankrupt) and eventually ended up working at my dad's chemical company. He would have me search the world for these peptides, amino acids, and specialty ingredients and I loved being on site at the plant! I absolutely love seeing how things are made and I think that just comes from my family history.
As I became more interested in skincare and using ingredients like sandalwood powder, bakuchi seed, and neem leaf, I realized the quality was inconsistent. At that moment, I made it my mission to enable more access to these incredible ingredients.
What intrigued you about guiding the supply chain?
Coming from a pharmaceutical background where everything is regulated by the FDA, I knew my quality standards needed to be at that level. In a place like India, there are so many small farms that grow ingredients in the wild, but do not have certifications. I searched for a farm that had all of the certifications so that they could be recognized here by the USDA.
Why was it important to you to explore your heritage, and how did that influence your company?
I don't think I've ever been someone to invest in trends. I've always loved history, antiques, and vintage — so that I surround myself with history and meaning. When you hold a Ranavat treatment, you are holding more than a beautiful serum: It has quality, tradition, and history backing every ingredient. It’s tracing everything to a craftsman who was so incredibly passionate about a certain flower, that they spent their whole lives cultivating and growing it. It is stories like that, that continue to move and inspire me.
The Mighty Majesty Huile Extrordinaire is a hair and body serum that has three simple ingredients: sunflower, jasmine, and amla. Not only is this treatment made of organic cold pressed oils, but also the history is incredibly deep. We recently wrote a post regarding the significance of jasmine. It takes about 125 pounds of petals to yield one ounce of jasmine oil — making it one of the most expensive oils in the world. And amla (Indian gooseberry) is an amazing super food with a very high percentage of vitamin C helping with hair breakage.
When you indulge in Mighty Majesty the beautiful jasmine aroma is so real; you feel whisked away into your own secret garden on the palace grounds.
What's been the biggest lesson or eye-opener that you've learned as you reconnected with your culture?
I would say quality! An ingredient name alone does not actually denote how pure it is. If you take jasmine oil — you can find a synthetic version, a version that uses harmful chemicals (solvents) to extract the oil, all the way to a steam distilled version that yields the most pure form of the oil. They all fall under the same ingredient name, but their properties and benefits are completely different.
You come from an engineering background as well. How does that guide your first time creating a beauty brand?
While a big part of beauty is the creative side, the product itself has a lot to do with science. Understanding quality, product stability and a bit of chemistry all play an important role in product development. I don't believe you need to have a degree to understand these concepts, but in interest in them is very beneficial. When I was starting to launch the brand, I was using more of my creative side and now with a product in the marketplace, so much of what I do is formulation, product testing, and supply/chain management. I think it helps that I am passionate about these concepts, since they are becoming a larger part of my daily routine!
What was the most surprising thing you discovered when creating Ranavat Botanics?
I had started working on Ranavat Botanics while working at my dad's company and I was afraid to tell him I wanted to pursue my own company. Instead of being upset, he said, "I did not create my company for you to build my dream. I wanted to teach you how you could build your own."
What's your personal beauty and skincare routine?
I believe health overall plays a big role in beauty and skin so I try to add the gym into my routine as much as possible. I've been a professional dancer for the past 15 years, so movement and dance always feels so good.
In terms of products, I only use Ranavat. Everything that I create first starts because I personally fall in love with it. While the line right now is more treatment-based (masques and toniques), I am working on a few exciting new treatments that will really round out the full ritual. It is important to me to know the results of my skin are from my treatments exclusively.
How do you balance motherhood and your career?
This is the toughest one because there isn't a good answer. I would say if you look at the full picture, I am balanced — but on a day to day level it doesn't look that way at all! This past weekend I spent both Saturday and Sunday on the floor at Neiman Marcus [for an event], so my husband was at home with the kids. Now during the week I'm spending time with them at school and doing the pickups, so it adds a bit more balance into the mix.
What's your best advice to an entrepreneur who wants to start a business in another industry from the ground up?
My advice would be not to get caught up in labels or titles. Just because you are not an esthetician starting a skincare line does not mean you will not be successful. Instead focus on a skill that is specific to YOU. Not only will you be more skilled to create that product, but it will be a more unique and true storyline. In other words, just be yourself!