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The story of Plenaire

An interview with Namrata Kamdar, founder of Plenaire.

issue eleven : tactile colour

By Khandiz Joni

In the space of little over a week, our whole world has fundamentally changed. For some of our readers in other parts of the world, their world changed weeks, or even months ago. I don’t need to tell you what I am referring too, as I know that in no uncertain terms, we are all living through this together. Instead, I am going to tell you a story about when I met Namrata Kamdar, the founder of Plenaire. Uncomplicated and unbiased skincare designed for everyone.

It was a Thursday in mid-March – there was still an Autumn chill in the air along with a general dis-ease. But for all intent purposes, people were still going along with their everyday lives. I had ventured into London – apprehensively – to attend some work meetings. I had made sure to arrange all my meetings in one day so that I could avoid unnecessary travelling. I’ve always tried to do this to limit my CO2 emissions from travel, but this time, everything felt different, and the motivation was not solely about the health of the Planet. It was my last meeting of the day, and I was heavily perfumed with the scent of IPA and geranium thanks to my homemade hand sanitiser. We met in the reception at Soho House and went upstairs to try to find a quiet place so I could record the interview. Namrata was wearing a shirt covered in colourful blossoms, and it made me smile. Bright colours and flowers always do. We sat outside, under the glowing lights of the outdoor heaters and for a little while, things felt normal. We got to talking about culture and skincare and colour and mental health – all the things that inspired this issue. 

Namrata Kamdar, Plenaire founder.

I asked Namrata how she landed up becoming the founder of an untainted skincare brand.

Naturally, her personal chronicles set the tone for a journey that is still very much unfolding before her today. 

Image of Indian Woman celebrating Holi
Indian women celebrating Holi | Image by Tom Watkins via Unsplash

She was born to Indian parents and grew up in a cool suburb of Washington DC, before returning to India in her teen years to complete her schooling and become reacquainted with her culture. A culture filled with unapologetic colour and historical ritualistic beauty practices. However, this was during a time when India too was transitioning. While Namrata was becoming a young woman, India was becoming a post-liberalised country consumed with consumption, as the American way of life began to impress itself upon the world. However, despite some familiarity with the brand names and logo’s she knew, her childhood memories weren’t yet fully recognisable, which often left her feeling alone, isolated and confused. She goes on to say, though, that it was in India that found her roots.

She went onto study an under-grad in commerce and economics at university (a rebellious choice for a young Indian woman in the 90’s) before setting off around the country on the Pepsi trucks – selling sugary drinks to people who didn’t need them. Fortunately, the next job on her career path saw her stepping into the world of feminine care products, which is something she continued working on for most of her corporate career.

With a background in marketing and product development for the likes of Lakmé and Dove (all under the Unilever umbrella), her work took her into communities around the world – from the “white spaces” of Vietnam, Philipines, China, Africa, the Middle East and Brazil to developed countries of Scandinavia and Europe. 

Namrata shares her fascination with culture – which I am sure has only be heightened by the many opportunities of travelling to all these colourful lands (and a fascination I share in deeply). In one sentence, she sums her brand offering beautifully. “Plenaire is a cultural commentary.”

I ask her about what made mental health a factor in Plenaire.

She explains that the corporate world has seen prolific fallouts, many of which would have stemmed from mismanaged mental health. Something which she too was not immune to. Trying to balance corporate life with a young family ultimately led Namrata to burnout from stress. It was a big wake up call to the importance of exercising good mental health. She muses about the moment she dropped her pass in the bin and walked out.

Namrata goes on to tell me that her journey with mental health led her to learn much about herself. She learnt she could not control bad things from happening or control other people’s behaviour – but she could control her own reactions to these situations. She goes on to share – impassionedly, I might add; “We are absolutely responsible for our own mental health and happiness!”  And it’s these realisations and the coping skills she learnt during this period that has allowed her space and clarity to start her business.

Expertly positioned, through years of valid and varied experience in understanding the desires of beauty consumers – from all walks of life – Plenaire can deliver products that people want, and perhaps even ones they don’t yet realise they might need. (I say need because we all need good quality, affordable skincare that is free from potentially toxic – be that to people or Planet – ingredients and messaging.)

“I am not a chemist, I’m not a doctor, and I’m not a beauty editor – what I am is a really good listener,” she told me. Before they embarked on developing any products, they did extensive research and social listening – in particular to what Millenials and Gen-Z were looking for in their beauty products. They spoke to young people from LA to NY to London. From East, West, South and North. They talked to youth across different ethnic groups and from diverse income levels. What she heard back was that this new wave of beauty consumers are looking for products and messaging that isn’t staged or sign-posted with fake promises and false hope. They were asking for authenticity and transparency. They were yearning to see themselves reflected in the products. 

“Beauty should be democratic and available to all. Every young person has the right to beautifully designed products, with clean ingredients that are affordable.”

Namrata Kamdar

I ask her about her favourite colour, and why.

Image: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

After a brief pause at the unexpected interview question, she remembers how celadon green had impressed itself on her. She tells me of a memory of seeing vase that had been bettered by the Japanese art of Kintsugi, how the gold and the green became more beautiful together. And as conversations about colour and texture usually do, she begins to get more lyrical about how important they are to her. It was interesting to me learning the shade of celadon green and seeing how Plenaire uses similar muted colour attributes in their branding.

We speak to the name; Plenaire.

She tells me that finding a name was one of the single biggest challenges in starting a beauty brand. Not least because it’s a crowded space, and big companies own nearly every name imaginable (much like they do with product formulations). 

I have found through my own practice as a makeup artist who forsook the conventional, that it is often in lacking that innovation and creativity come into their own. Plenaire’s story is no different. Adapted from “en plein air”; a painting technique from 1840 which “emphasised the direct observation of nature, over a narrative and stylised depiction”. She also quotes a Californian linguist they had worked with who said: “good names are like visual poems…” I just loved that sentiment.

The direct translation means ‘in the open air.’ For many right now, being in the open air sounds like a luxury.

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose 1885 -6 by John Singer Sargent | Tate

The brand design came from the idea that we are all, ultimately, alone in this universe, and that we own our space. Within this metaphysical space, we can be transformational. The ‘en plein air’ technique was applied with a modern brush, and what emerged were the muted colours of the sky and the literal and figurative particles suspended in the air. It has become the visual language of Plenaire, which is evident through both the branding and products themselves.

One of the questions they asked young people was “what would you tell your 15-year-old self?” The resounding response was that “when all my friends were trying to be one way, and I was trying to fit in, what I didn’t realise is that I AM VALUABLE. What makes me ‘Me’ is the most valuable thing and I should have been true to myself because it’s my differences that make me cool, interesting and appealing…so don’t be afraid to stand out!”

Image via Plenaire.co

Plenaire’s philosophy, much like Untainted’s, is about open-mindedness and the celebration of our differences – rather than conforming to the status quo. It’s in these differences that we discover our own unique beauty. 

We touch on the fact that, finally, we are starting to see a shift in the media and beauty marketing that speaks to this. Of course, there are undoubtedly brands who are just filling “diversity quotas” to capitalise on the market share. However, as consumers become savvier and the voices of people from different ethnicities are eventually beginning to be heard, ironically, in part to social media, these inauthentic brands are being recognised and called out. 

The other reason Namrata felt compelled to create a brand that addresses mental health and uses untainted ingredients, is that she is a mother to two young children. Through market research that was done in the early stages of brand development, she learnt about the reality that the mental wellbeing and happiness of children as young as nine is at an all-time low for over a decade. Many are struggling with their identity, appearance, sexuality and expectations to comply with outdated stereotypes – which, in turn, has seen a sharp increase in self-harming. This, of course, is not something any mother would want for her children. But, thanks to her own experiences, Namrata was able to put her learnings into practice and do something that actually confronts the problem and allows a space to open up a dialogue about these issues, as well as deliver products that are kind and compassionate to our skin.

“My job, as a founder, is to create a profitable business that meets people’s needs.”

And of ingredients?

Again, it was through personal experience with her own health that ensured the formulations were free from endocrine disruptors and known carcinogens. Transparency and simple, everyday ingredients are the backbones of this beauty brand.

It’s truly refreshing to see a brand approach beauty in this way, and I am excited to see Plenaire’s trajectory. Naturally, Plenaire adheres to the principals that we champion here on Untainted Magazine so keep your eyes out for product reviews in future issues.

Plenaire’s modest but versatile offering is available through their own website, Liberty London and has recently launched on Cult Beauty as part of their ‘Skindie’ campaign.

Untainted Magazine is 100% independent and self-funded through my work as a freelance makeup artist. As I am unable to work as a freelancer at this time, I’d ask that if you enjoyed this piece, please consider making a small donation. I promise that, regardless of the amount, it will go towards ensuring I am still able to produce unique and engaging content that responsibly promotes beauty brands putting animals, people and the Planet first.

untainted |ˌənˈtān(t)əd| adjective
not contaminated, polluted, or tainted: the paper was untainted by age.

UNTAINTED is a directional beauty platform, pushing the boundaries of clean, sustainable beauty. We are inspired and motivated by the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-sabi.

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