One is earning her MBA at one of the best business schools in the world. The other is Miss America 2014. Meet the two entrepreneurs bringing beauty to women of all different colors and backgrounds.
By Emily Schwartz
For the past year and a half, a typical day for Nina Davuluri and Rooshy Roy has looked anything but, well, typical. They may have met with a scientist, testing different ingredients and recipes. They may have been gathering feedback on prototypes from women of all different backgrounds. They may have been building their website, seeking out companies to partner with, or defining roles for new potential team members. Davuluri and Roy are the co-founders of aavrani, a new, all-natural, luxury skincare line that harnesses the power of ancient Indian beauty rituals. While the two women were inspired to launch the brand in 2018 based on shared frustrations with skincare growing up, their paths to this point were each completely unique.
Before aavrani, Davuluri was best known for being the winner of the Miss America pageant in 2014, and being the first woman of South Asian descent to do so. Davuluri got started with pageants when she was 16. She always knew she wanted to go to college and also knew she would have to pay a significant portion of her tuition on her own, so she began competing in the Miss America teen program, known for the scholarship money it gives to winners. Because of her success in the program, Davuluri won $30,000 in scholarship money throughout her entire time competing in the teen portion, and was able to graduate from college at the University of Michigan debt free. Yet Davuluri didn’t stop there. Throughout her entire time competing in the Miss America competition altogether, Davuluri earned just under $100,000, leaving her enough money to potentially pursue a graduate degree down the road.
The scholarships weren’t the only reason Davuluri became interested in Miss America. Another important component was the opportunity to spread her message and advocate for diversity and female empowerment. “Of course being able to have a voice and promote my platform, which was celebrating diversity through cultural competency, something I still continue to work with today,” Davuluri says of her motivation for getting involved.
Since winning in 2014, Davuluri’s life has, in many ways, been shaped by her time in the competition. “It’s crazy because your life changes overnight, literally!” she says. She’s had to deal with the lows, like racist and xenophobic comments towards her culture after she won, the worst of which included being called un-American despite being born and raised in New York or being called a terrorist. Yet she’s also experienced countless highs, like all the positive encouragement she has received and the shift in perspective she has helped create.
Davuluri isn’t the only one whose life has changed since 2014. The Miss America competition itself has evolved as well. Not only has it started to depart from its notions of beauty as blonde-haired and blue-eyed, but it has begun to define beauty by measures other than looks. Davuluri speaks highly of the competition’s decision to eliminate the swimsuit portion in June of 2018. “I genuinely believe that being in a swimsuit and being judged on a score from 1 – 10, although I did it, has nothing to do with the job of Miss America,” she says. “We [at Miss America] do have to change and evolve with the demographic of America, and I think removing swimsuit was absolutely a step in the right direction.”
Still, a huge part of Davuluri’s time in the competition was spent on her own personal beauty. Her favorite skincare regimens have been passed down by women in her family and use ingredients like turmeric, but she couldn’t find any products with the ingredients on store shelves. “I traveled so much during my years in Miss America, and I was always pulled aside by TSA for one reason or another with just a little container of yellow powder,” Davuluri says. “And then also just sitting in my hotel room trying to make this DIY mask and thinking to myself, ‘Why doesn’t this already exist?’”
Enter Roy. A current MBA at Wharton, Roy started her career in finance, then came to business school with the goal of pivoting and exploring entrepreneurship. When she heard Davuluri was coming to speak on campus, she knew she had to attend—she was a huge fan. “When she won in 2014, it was such a big moment, not just for me and my family, but basically for all South Asians in the U.S., finally being seen for beauty and perspective and talent, things that we’re stereotypically not seen for here,” Roy says.
Yet what started as a special speaker event turned out to be a great business opportunity for both women. Roy started talking to Davuluri about a potential skincare line using traditional Indian ingredients like coconut oil and rose water, and the two knew they had to dive in. “We used those growing up with our moms, our grandmothers, our aunts in the community, and it was very much a part of the heritage. Women coming together to create and uphold the rituals that South Asian women have used for centuries,” Roy says. “We realized that there was a real opportunity to introduce those ancient rituals to women in the U.S.”
Building a business has been a learning experience for the two entrepreneurs. Part of their success comes from recognizing what each brings to the table as a co-founder given their different backgrounds. Roy prides herself on the business experience she gained from working in finance, whereas Davuluri is on the pulse about both their brand mission—empowering women by encouraging them to embrace their beauty—and about other emerging beauty brands in the space. They acknowledge how much they have benefitted from solving problems as they go. “[Starting a business is] one of those things where you realize that if you want to figure it out enough, you will with the limited resources you have, and that has so far been what’s got us along to where we are today,” Roy says.
One resource they lack? Mentors who share their background. As they searched for guidance early in their process, Davuluri and Roy couldn’t find two other Indian female co-founders at the forefront of their own businesses. It only motivated them to work harder. “As we’ve grown our brand in this short amount of time, I think one thing that is really important is that we are those mentors that we didn’t have,” Davuluri says.
Business acumen aside, Davuluri and Roy have tips in a different area women pay attention to daily. “Oh my goodness, moisturize all day every day!” Davuluri says of her top skincare tip.
“When you take care of your skin and you have great skin, you don’t have to rely on makeup,” Roy adds. “We forget that we don’t have to be covering up so much if we just take care of the skin that’s underneath.”
As both the pageant and cosmetics industries continue to change, there’s no doubt Davuluri and Roy will continue to be trailblazers. It’s worth keeping an eye on the two women as they continue to take beauty past skin deep.