Ever heard of an “aesthetic activist”? It’s a term often used to describe Anju Rupal, the social worker and environmentalist-turned-entrepreneur behind ethically minded, charitably driven beauty brand Abhati Suisse. Before launching the line, Rupal helped run a shelter for victims of domestic violence, founded Zurich children’s clinic SwissMediKids, and created reforestation nonprofit WeForest. It was while working with communities in rural India for WeForest that the British-born, Switzerland-based Rupal unearthed a way to produce organic, ethically minded beauty items that helped address gender inequalities in remote communities.
During a trip to the Western Ghats and Himalayan Valley regions of India to plant trees, Rupal met farmers who crafted soothing, skin-nourishing balms from their local vegetation. The ingredients (particularly the Himalayan wild cherries) and their efficacy caught Rupal’s attention—as did the fact that many of the women and girls in that region were not getting an education. Typically, just one out of 100 girls in rural India reaches the 12th grade.
So, Rupal began arranging agreements with the local farmers to buy their wild-harvested ingredients, which she then crafted into potent products with the help of some of the beauty industry’s top chemists back in Switzerland. “We wanted to develop a product that would stand on its own, and the social impact is something that we felt very strongly about,” notes Rupal, who named the brand Abhati after the Sanskrit word meaning “illuminate your soul.”
The brand’s philanthropic focus is fundamental—they have partnered with the foundation Educate Girls and today, every bottle sold helps send a girl in India to school. “Education is the only way that you can level the playing field and help the girls step out of poverty,” says Rupal. To date, Abhati sales have helped send more than 120,000 girls to school.
Since Abhati Suisse’s initial crowd-funded launch in 2013, Rupal has developed 12 products for hair, face, and body. Each is a unique fusion of sustainably sourced Himalayan ingredients and efficacious Swiss botanicals. Multifunctionality is key to the products—the lip balm is also an eyebrow shaper and cuticle moisturizer; the conditioner can be mixed with the moringa-rich hair oil to make a hydrating mask. Among the brand’s standout elements are the wrinkle-smoothing Himalayan wild-cherry oil, antioxidant-rich amla (used to strengthen hair), naturally brightening turmeric, and free-radical taming Edelweiss.
While each item has a decidedly earthy feel (think warm aromas like frankincense and sandalwood), its chic packaging is likely to appeal to contemporary urbanites around the globe. “Our products are developed for people who look after themselves and are ready to address their hair, body, and face as well,” Rupal says.
True to her aesthetic activist title, Rupal’s primary goal with Abhati Suisse is to make a measurable difference in the lives of women. “When you hear you can help girls out of prostitution by getting them an education—it’s very emotional,” she says. “We’re not doing this to sit in a glass office. We’re doing this really, purely for the impact.”