Image Source: Fable & Mane
Too often, the best beauty stories go Untold, solely based on a person's skin colour, religion, gender expression, disability, or socioeconomic status. Here, we're passing the mic to some of the most ambitious and talented voices in the industry so they can share, in their own words, the remarkable story of how they came to be — and how they're using beauty to change the world for the better. Up next: siblings Niki and Akash Mehta, the founders of Fable & Mane, a hair-care and wellness brand inspired by their India heritage and Ayurveda. Their hero product, the HoliRoots Pre-Wash Strengthening Treatment Hair Oil, became a best-seller after going viral on TikTok.
Akash: Our father's been in the beauty industry for 40 years, predominantly in the fragrance world, so we've been surrounded by beauty talk since we were children.
My background is in engineering, studying math and science for four years, but after I graduated, I knew sitting at a desk and coding wasn't for me, so I went straight into the corporate world. I worked for Burberry and then Estée Lauder Companies, where I was in charge of social media for Aveda. Then I went to Dior in Paris, where I was global digital manager working with influencers. It's so funny: my father studied engineering, and lo and behold, he went into the beauty industry, and I went into the beauty industry. It's just a weird coincidence.
Niki: My background is also in beauty and fragrance, particularly working with my dad at Jean Patou, a luxury French fragrance brand. However, beauty has always been holistic for me and part of self-care remedies growing up. We were born in London but have Indian roots — my dad was born in Africa, my mum was born in India — and we ended up getting all of our wisdom from our grandma, who used to come from India every summer and bring these incredible Ayurvedic ingredients that, at that time, we didn't even know what they were. We just knew they worked wonders.
Image Source: Fable & Mane
Akash: We would call them magic potions, and she'd massage these oils into our hair. Many South Asian households will have this exact memory; we'd have that train of my grandma doing the head massage on my mum, and my mum doing the head massage on my sister, and then while she was massaging these oils, she used to tell us stories, so story time and rituals and hair care went hand in hand for us growing up. This is why we called our brand Fable & Mane — fable meaning story, mane meaning hair — it's inspired by those story-time rituals that we grew up with.
Unfortunately, our grandparents passed away as we got older and we lost touch with our traditions, but we became more curious. We questioned what words like ashwagandha mean. We knew the word, but we discovered it means "strength of a horse". So why does it mean "strength of a horse"? Because it's for strengthening your hair. And as we became more in touch with yoga and mindfulness, we got more curious about what is behind those traditions. At the same time, Niki started experiencing hair fall, and I had a lot of stress from my job at Dior.
Niki: How Fable & Mane came about was I was working on a beard oil project in India for a cricketer. I did years worth of research on Indian hair, and when that project didn't go through, I had all this research on these incredible oils and I said, "OK, how long am I going to spend my time and invest time building [products] for other people? Why not create something of our own?" I was also speaking to our friends and family who oiled their hair daily but who never spoke about it because it smelt, and they just didn't make it a celebrated ritual.
Akash: We went to the market, and we were like, "Why are there no Indian hair-care brands out there on the shelf?" So we were on a mission to create products for us as consumers and to pay homage to our grandparents, but then to also share it with the whole world to enjoy.
Niki: The concept was literally a shower thought. It was, "How can we turn something from a routine to a ritual?" And it just all effortlessly seamed together, and my brother was really happy to join, and we had this incredible name, Fable & Mane, and we said "Let's just go for it." I think when we realised it could be a business was when we went to Sephora with a little pitch and a small vial and said, "Is this something of interest, this Indian cultural brand?" and they loved it.
Akash: It was important that we brought South Asian representation to the market. Growing up, we felt that we were underrepresented. You would never really see a South Asian model on a billboard, and even going to the beauty store, you heard about K beauty and the rise of J beauty, but what about Indian beauty? So I think that was definitely our biggest mission.
"There's a lot of education that still needs to be done around Ayurveda, but we saw an opportunity to teach people about this really cool tradition and help them fall in love with it — I mean, shampoo was invented in India from the Champa flower."
Niki: Ayurveda's been around for 4,000 years, so there's a lot of rich heritage that we wanted to bring to a new generation that's on their phones all the time and dealing with things like tech neck and lots of stress, which can ultimately lead to changes in your hair and skin. Ayureveda is quite complex, however, with the doshas and everything, so we stayed away from that [part of it]. What we wanted to do was to bring these adaptogens from India that have been time-tested in the harshest conditions and have helped grow hair, which is what we've used in the HoliRoots Hair Oil as well as the rest of the range.
Akash: There's a lot of education that still needs to be done around Ayurveda, but we saw an opportunity to teach people about this really cool tradition and help them fall in love with it — I mean, shampoo was invented in India from the Champa flower. That's definitely why we were so motivated to link the brand to our roots and our heritage.
Niki: With the hair oil, however, we realised that education and awareness are the most important thing, so that everybody can understand hair oiling, which I think is great not just for Fable & Mane and for Ayurveda, but also for the industry as a whole. In general, there's so much more awareness of Ayurveda; 10 years ago, I remember there wasn't much information, and people didn't really understand, but now people are more open to it.
There are Ayurvedic brands owned by people who aren't South Asian, and I have to say I've learned a lot from some of them, like Jasmine Hemsley, for example. She's not of Indian origin, but how she's gone there and then brought it here, in a way it's inspired me to be in touch with my own roots. I don't think there's anything wrong with Ayurveda brands that are owned by non-South Asians, as long as they give credit.
Akash: As long as people are raising awareness, and living the true values of Ayurveda — not reinventing it for their own vanity but actually modernising it in an open way — that's fine to me. It's all about rooting it back to its origins, and once that's done, I feel anyone can be an advocate and an ambassador.
Image Source: Fable & Mane
Niki: Within the [South Asian] community, one real stereotype we had to address is the notion that all Indian women have long, black, silky-straight hair — it's similar to what's going on in skin-care in India with the Fair & Lovely creams and the fact they never show dark-skinned Indian women. Even within India, there's so much racism. A lot of Indian women, including myself, actually have naturally curly hair, or fine hair, coloured hair, or frizzy hair, so that's why we tried to focus on a hydrating ritual first for all types and all textures. We don't want people having to go and buy 50 products just to do their hair.
These Ayurvedic ingredients are not selective. They do not discriminate. These are incredible plants, and just because they're found in India doesn't mean that everyone in the world can't enjoy them.
Akash: It's important to make sure that we're creating a South Asian brand that's not just for South Asians, because the first thing that people said is, "Oh amazing, it's an Indian hair-care brand for Indians." And we're like, "No, no, no, no, no." These Ayurvedic ingredients are not selective. They do not discriminate. These are incredible plants, and just because they're found in India doesn't mean that everyone in the world can't enjoy them. Our mission was to formulate them for all hair types, which in the hair-care industry is also quite odd. People are like, "Don't you want to be quite specific? Every hair is so different." But we're not a styling product; we're about fixing the hair from the root, which is why our mission was to formulate a prewash oil, shampoo, and conditioner for all hair types.
Niki:Thinking back to when we started, there's always that moment of pain or frustration that makes you want to create, and I think for us, it was, in the hair-care market, which is so saturated, it wasn't fun enough, it was missing that education and that colour on the shelf that I think a lot of makeup, skin care, even fragrance covered that wasn't in hair. We didn't find it an enjoyable experience.
Akash: It's the reason our packaging is so full of colour — we use colours that my grandma used to wear on her saris, and the tiger logo, and the arches inspired by the Taj Mahal. When you pass the product on the shelf, we wanted you to be like, "Red, what's that?" And that's India. India is so vibrant.
We're the first South Asian hair-care brand in Sephora. We're the first Ayurvedic brand in Sephora. We're one of two or three Indian-owned brands at Sephora. This is why we have a mission to open up [the beauty industry] and make it a lot more accessible for new beauty brands. There are so many Indian brands out there — don't get me wrong; they're just not on mainstream platforms or retailers. And we're very fortunate. We've done it our way, organically; we had a concept, we LinkedIn messaged the hair merchant. We didn't go to dad and ask him to connect us with someone. That way, we did it separately from his business. He doesn't sell at Sephora, he doesn't know that industry well. But at the same time we had that comfort of having him and his knowledge of how to brand build. That accelerated our journey a little bit faster than maybe other people, but now we want to help more people do the same, so we're really about supporting other South Asian and BIPOC brands.