Mira Kulkarni: “Beyond Following Ancient Ayurvedic Recipes, We Blend Innovation With Confidence”

The author and Founder and Managing Director of Forest Essentials speaks to The Word. about creating mindful yet luxurious Ayurvedic beauty products, finding strength in difficult situations, and the brand’s latest collaboration with MISHO.

Mira Kulkarni, Author and Founder and Managing Director of Forest Essentials

The Word.: Tell us about Forest Essentials’ journey from candle-making to soap-making and beyond…
Mira Kulkarni:
“The story of Forest Essentials began in the year 2000, with handmade soaps. There were a lot of commercially-made soaps in the market, but there was no Indian brand offering high-quality products. I experimented with making my own products with scented candles. In 2000, I launched Candlemania, and showcased a small range of beeswax candles infused with herbs, pressed flowers, and pure essential oils at an exhibition. When Candlemania started doing well, it gradually drove me to do something more. 

That’s when I started researching and developing soaps with cold-pressed oil and ghee. I wanted the finest and freshest ingredients, creating products that were of utmost quality—a cornerstone of the brand even today. The soaps are still one of our bestsellers, and something I have fond memories of. At the time, my son, Samrath [Bedi], had just returned to India after completing his education in the US, and he insisted on joining—much against my wishes!—when we were still very young. We gradually grew the brand with the launch of pure, cold-pressed body massage oils in 2002, followed by basic bath amenities in 2004, body polishes in 2005, hair care in 2006, and the Date & Litchi Youth Formula in 2007. And we continue to grow…

I think what sets us apart is that we did not resort to fast-growth strategies, and developed the brand with very strong fundamentals. In 2008, The Estée Lauder Companies proposed a collaboration with Forest Essentials. This partnership marked a significant milestone in the way we were able to utilise their experience for our quality and other practices. From our first store at Khan Market [New Delhi] to our inaugural international store in the United Kingdom [in 2022], I believe our story exemplifies the potential of homegrown brands as formidable players in the global market. Forest Essentials’ commitment to authenticity and quality is based on our collaboration with traditional Ayurvedic doctors, known as vaids. Together, we curate a range of products using fresh herbs, hand-pressed oils, medicinal roots, flowers, and their infusions—adhering to ancient formulations with exacting standards. 

Our journey continues to unfold today, and we are proud to be part of the dynamic ever-changing landscape of ‘luxury Ayurveda,’ enriching the beauty space with the timeless wisdom of Ayurveda, combined with the indulgence of premium formulations. We remain dedicated to elevating the standards of beauty and wellness.”

“I think what sets us apart is that we did not resort to fast-growth strategies, and developed the brand with very strong fundamentals.”

TW.: How did you manage to merge artistic elements and sensory pleasure in Ayurveda?
MK: “Our approach focuses on making the use of Ayurvedic products a luxurious, pleasurable, and utilitarian experience. Beyond carefully following ancient Ayurvedic recipes, we blend innovation with confidence. Special rituals, such as exposing water to moonlight and reciting chants during product preparation, add a layer of reverence to our process.

Some of our products, like the Transformative Soundarya Night Cream, really drive home something ritualistic—the cream, which features ingredients charged by moon water, features the moon as a major motif on the packaging and product imagery. The cream also comes with a gold spatula to be used to mix the serum with the cream and disperse it evenly, making the cream homogenous in the most sensorial way. We always try to highlight the ingredients in any imagery we create for products…we want you to see what the products do without having to tell you.

Our latest collaboration with MISHO is a testament to merging artistic elements and sensory pleasure. The sensorial pleasure of the collaboration doesn’t just lie in using the all-new Lime, Saffron & Oudh Collection, but also in wearing delicate jewellery, finding beauty in the mundane…putting thought into banal routines.”

Instagram will load in the frontend.

TW.: Tell us about your childhood, especially learnings and anecdotes that inspired you and taught you to be strong and driven.
MK: “I grew up in New Delhi, and spent a few years in a boarding school in Shimla. Until I turned 18, life was fairly simple—I was my parents’ favourite…constantly listened to my grandmother’s stories, and played with my sister every day.

I was married at the age of 19—much against my parents’ wishes—and that came with its own set of challenges. The marriage inevitably did not work, I lost my parents young, and at the age of 28, I had to find my own way. Life, I think, makes you strong when you don’t expect it. Strength is innate, I find that we all get put into situations that seem difficult, but we all find ways to overcome without expecting it.”

TW.: You have written in your book: “If you cannot eat it, do not put it on your skin”. Tell us more about how this philosophy is a part of products at Forest Essentials…
MK: “At Forest Essentials, this philosophy is deeply ingrained in all our products. The skin ingests nutrients, and, just like food, beauty products should be viewed as nourishment for the skin. If it can’t be eaten, it shouldn’t be used—this is the Ayurvedic standard for Beauty.

We prioritise organically grown, unprocessed, cold-pressed oils, recognising their high nutrient levels for the skin. I firmly believe that the skin is alive, and chemicals cannot breathe life into it. Beauty products made from living substances, such as plants and their extracts, contain the vibratory energy that constitutes life—making them the perfect food for the skin.

As I mentioned before, my journey began with the realisation that India lacked quality soaps. I sought Ayurvedic formulations in Rishikesh [Uttar Pradesh, India] with this determination to create high-quality products with exceptional purity. I understood that the products should not only be effective but also pleasurable…that they should leave one feeling nourished and replenished. Thus, ‘Luxurious Ayurveda’ became our way of life.”

TW.: How would you define your personal style. Which fabrics and styles do you lean towards?
MK: “I feel most comfortable in Indian clothes. I like cotton, linen, and silk…and I am partial to pure cashmere. I have an extensive collection of sarees, and since I am almost always in a rush on my way to work, what I wear every day is often simple. I do wear a lot of cotton clothes, and the one thing I am extremely particular about is that my clothes shouldn’t have creases or wrinkles…everything I wear has to be perfectly ironed.”

“Life, I think, makes you strong when you don’t expect it. Strength is innate, I find that we all get put into situations that seem difficult, but we all find ways to overcome without expecting it.”

TW.: How have people’s views about and towards Ayurveda changed over the years?
MK: “Ayurveda has seen incredible acceptance in the past few years. Especially with the pandemic, as beauty routines started pivoting towards ‘clean’, Ayurvedic products perfectly fit what the conscious consumer wanted. This ancient wisdom is also being accepted in a more mainstream fashion, with some government intervention and lobbying. Ayurvedic is now being seen pretty much at par with its Western counterparts and not a native alternative, but a viable alternative.”

TW.: What is the one Ayurveda-related question you get asked often?
MK: “We often get asked if the products will make the skin radiant overnight. Some do…and some take time. Ayurveda is slow beauty—it is not about quick fixes. In today’s world, people are used to products that work overnight—but these so-called results also dissipate once you stop using these products. Ayurveda works gradually, healing the skin from the inside. It is not always immediate but it works very effectively and the results stay.”

The Forest Essentials Lime, Saffron, &Oudh Gift Box, featuring the limited-edition MISHO Celestial Pendant

TW.: The new Lime, Saffron & Oudh Collection seems like an unusual blend of ingredients. Tell us more about it.
MK: “Imagine a scent that takes you on a journey through the vibrant essence of India. It’s like strolling through vibrant flower markets and peaceful gardens. The rich, woody vibes of oudh mingle perfectly with the warm zesty aroma of lime. And the fragrant notes of saffron add a touch of luxury and indulgence to the blend. Together, they create a fragrance that’s not just a blend but a beautiful harmonious scent, evoking memories of age-old rituals and traditions. It’s like India in a bottle, a perfect symphony of aromas that work magic together.”

TW.: How did the collaboration with MISHO come about? We’d love to know the story behind the reversible Celestial Pendant that the brand’s founder, Suhani Parekh, has designed.
MK: “The collaboration with MISHO unfolded quite organically. It worked well because of the fusion of tradition and modern luxury. The reversible Celestial Pendant, designed by Suhani Parekh, is a blend of craftsmanship and Ayurvedic wisdom. It draws inspiration from the eternal harmony of the Sun and the Moon—symbolising cosmic forces perceived as opposites yet forever intertwined. This design mirrors the balance found in Ayurveda, where day and night coalesce in harmonious equilibrium. This limited-edition gift box reflects our shared values of heritage and natural beauty. It is a collector’s delight and perfectly signifies the artistry of both the brands.”

The Forest Essentials x MISHO Celestial Pendant

TW.: What is the most treasured jewellery piece in your personal collection and why is it special to you?
MK: “I have many favourites…but if I had to pick, I’d choose a pair of ruby and diamond bangles, which belonged to my grandmother.”

TW.: Lastly, tell us about your favourite Forest Essentials products.
MK: “The Radiance Facial is one of my favourite rituals. I begin by cleansing, and then I massage the ghee-based Tejasvi Emulsion into the face and neck for as long as possible—about 30 to 45 minutes is ideal. Then I steam the face using a hot towel and wipe off any residue. As the last step, I rub an ice cube over my face, and it results in instant radiance.”

Forest Essentials, Tejasvi Brightening Emulsion, ₹2,575