For brother and sister duo Nikita and Akash Mehta, haircare has always been a family affair. When the siblings were growing up, their grandmother would entertain them with beautiful fables about animals while she massaged their hair with oils. This intimate bonding experience of hair-oiling and storytime would years later serve as the inspiration for their own hair care line, Fable & Mane.
Rooted in their Indian heritage and childhood memories, Fable & Mane is a clean and conscious brand set on disrupting the hair-care market. Its debut collection, which can be found at Sephora, consists of a hair mask, shampoo, conditioner, and the much raved about HoliRoots pre-wash treatment oil. As the Mehta siblings continue to work towards bringing their beloved Indian hair rituals to the mainstream, they remain just as dedicated to another cause close to their heart — saving the tigers. Through the creation of their Fable Fund, the pair are committed to supporting wild tiger conservation and restoring the habitats of the endangered species.
We had the pleasure of chatting with both Akash and Nikita over Zoom to discuss their love of tigers, the centuries-old tradition of hair-oiling, and how they launched their brand during quarantine.
The Tease: How important is hair care to Indian culture?
Nikita: It’s so important because India is a conditioning continent. We probably oil our hair everyday. Even in our culture and religion, you always see gods and goddesses depicted with incredible hair. You could almost link it back to Ayurveda which is this 4,000 year-old life science where hair is seen as an extension of your body’s energy field. Even shampoo — the modern term — was invented in India. We found in our research that traditionally shampoo was just herbs and oils mixed together without all the suds and lathering. For us, it just really goes back to our roots and discovering how everything that we grow in our garden can be good for our hair. It’s really just plant-based treatments and they’ve been using it for centuries, passing it down through generations which makes it so special.
Fable & Mane made its debut earlier this year with its HoliRoots collection. What was it like launching a haircare brand in the middle of a pandemic?
Akash: It was definitely a new experience. We had to be as agile as possible and understand the current climate as well as be very mindful of how we decide to market and sell our product during such a tricky time. We wanted to go for the holistic approach to launching the brand and really just let people discover the product in an organic way. Launching with Sephora definitely helped that.
I think in a very odd way, it was also a fortuitous moment for the brand and our mission which is all about bringing these self-care rituals into your home. With everyone being home, it ended up being actually quite nice to bring that sense of haircare and self-care to people when they couldn’t go to the salons but still really wanted that TLC. Despite the challenges, I think it really ended up being a very good time for the brand and our ethos to get that message across.
Fable & Mane is very much a family business. In addition to being business partners, you’re also siblings. What is it like collaborating on this joint venture?
Akash: It’s amazing. My sister is my best friend. As with any best friends, you end up always fighting a little bit here and there. The best thing is, because we’re blood, it always ends up making us stronger by the end of it. I think because we are siblings, we have this trust in each other more than anything.
Also, I think what works for us is that we are siblings who are very different. We have different skill sets as well as different strengths and weaknesses that we can sort of help each other with on this journey. Niki is definitely the creative force behind the brand and the visionary. I’m more the mathematical business, “get the product to market” person. Together, we complement each other which is quite nice. I can learn from her and hopefully she can learn from me. We do have a bit of an age gap (three years), so that helps as well.
Nikita: Honestly, we have really healthy boundaries and just respect for each other. It’s a joy working with him because he comes from a corporate background. My brother spent time at Dior and Estee Lauder. I’ve kind of always been in the family business with my father working in fragrance. We’re really able to bring our two worlds into Fable & Mane.
Your brand is really rooted in both of your Indian heritage as well as the Indian tradition of hair-oiling. For anyone who might not know, what is hair-oiling and what are the benefits for your hair?
Nikita: Hair-oiling comes from the Indian tradition of abhyanga which means sneha [ in Sanskrit] which means “to love and to oil.” The concept is that oil is very lubricating so it’s going to produce sound sleep, relax you if you’ve got a migraine, and just help stimulate your blood flow, especially when it’s massaged into the scalp.
To practice hair-oiling, start with applying a drop of oil onto dry hair just before you shower, ideally for half an hour or sometimes overnight. Massage it into your scalp, focusing on your crown chakra – the energy vortex just above your head and in between your ears. It will help release tension and any stress to allow the oil to penetrate in. Then, you can slowly start to coat your hair from root to tip with the oil. I like to sometimes braid my hair and leave it overnight. The oil is designed to be washed with water and then followed up with your shampoo.
As for benefits, a lot of people use it for hair growth as a natural remedy to get thicker hair. If you have hair loss or hair shedding, it’s going to really help stop that. I like to say that your hair is similar to a garden: if you take care of your roots, you’re going to enjoy the fruits. It takes time but you can see the results. It’s a beautiful ritual. We usually practice it with somebody else giving it to us, so it brings people together. My grandma used to massage my hair and I’m sure one day if I have a daughter or son, I’ll massage their hair.
Did your grandmother and her personalized oil blends influence the ingredients that you selected for Fable & Mane products?
Akash: Our grandma used to put dashmool and ashwagandha root into an oil and blend it to use as a potent, home remedy. These are ingredients that can be found in many different households in India. We were used to these formulas but they didn’t always smell the best. We tried to do a hybrid approach and add in a few extra ingredients like coconut oil, that were not used when were younger. We also wanted to create a very beautiful aroma so we had to find a great fragrance to pair with our ingredients. We had a perfumer from Paris to help us do that. We also wanted something that would be suitable for all hair types and that’s what we tried to do with our first HoliRoots hair oil. With the next oils that we develop, we intend to make it more specific to different hair types.
Tigers are such a huge part of your branding as well as the focus of your conservation efforts with your Fable Fund. Could you speak on the significance of the tiger to your brand?
Akash: Subconsciously for us, Fable & Mane was created because growing up our grandmother used to read us Indian fables, while doing hair care rituals. A lot of the stories were about different things and one of them was a very typical Indian fable about a tiger. For us, we wanted to bring that big hero that was in this Indian fable – the tiger in the forest – and have that be the face of the brand. When we create a brand, it’s more than just a product for us. We want to push the brand beyond just a product and do something really good for the planet and the world. That’s why we are equally committed to the formulation of the product as we are with the fund that we created to help tiger conservation.
Nikita: Akash and I are so passionate about tiger conservation that we could write a whole book on it. There are more tigers in captivity in the U.S. then there are in the wild. We love wild animals and the tiger is like a symbol of India. It’s the king of India. The Bengal tiger roams freely in India and we love it’s thick, healthy mane. So, that was the inspiration. When we found out that they are endangered, we had to do something about it. There were 100,000 tigers a 100 years ago and now there are less than 4,000.
What are your future plans for Fable & Mane?
Nikita: We definitely want to stay true to our mission of stronger hair beginning with healthy roots as well as focus a lot more on scalp health and really building on the success of our hair oil. There are a lot of new products to come in early 2021 and we’re also looking at going big into wellness.
Akash: We are also trying to plan our global expansion because we want to make Fable & Mane accessible to everyone in the world, especially India. Unfortunately with coronavirus, all of our plans to expand have been a little bit difficult but it’s not going to stop us. We’re going to be as dedicated as possible. Our second biggest mission is to work on tiger conservation. We’ve just deployed ranger kits with appropriate footwear and torched for the rangers that are committed to helping us get rid of tiger poachers in India. We’ve done some solar panel water holes for tigers and we just want to continue doing more.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.