Like all great start-up founders, the creators of Fable and Mane cemented a relationship over a common bond.
In the case of Akash and Nikita Mehta it happened to be that they shared the same parents.
The brother and sister co-founder dynamic is a rare but mighty founding story in beauty as proven by Huda and Mona Kattan, of Huda Beauty, and the Kardashian-Jenner cosmetic dynasty.
It is this personal bond that the Mehtas believe has propelled their hair care brand from childhood routine into a global Ayurvedic powerhouse in three years.
This pace doesn’t appear to be slowing down in 2024, as the business gears up to expand into volumising products this year.
Akash, who serves as the business’ CEO, tells Pure Beautythat the range will be targeted towards consumers with fine to medium hair.
“Our products are quite hydrating, and consumers with certain hair types [can] find our products to be a bit too heavy,” he says.
“We want to make sure we are as inclusive as we can be.”
Nikita, Creative Director for Fable & Mane, also reveals that the move is part of a wider expansion outside of its iconic Hair Oil flanker and into styling this year: “We really want to focus more on bringing styling into our overall hair care routine.”
The pair says that product launches are just the start of what's to come in 2024, and already serve as new milestones for brother and sister’s entrepreneurial journey.
“We were not born and raised to build a brand together, like most siblings probably would not be,” says Akash. “But I think our partnership really is the secret sauce behind the brand.”
Nikita says that the “power” of co-founders is not really spoken about enough in the industry, and explains that the pair’s management styles complement one another.
“The poetry that you have fragrance is really inspired, which is what we focus on with Fable & Mane
Nikita Mehta, co-founder of Fable and Mane
She prioritises championing their South Asian heritage and female founders, while Akash brings his experience from the corporate world – with previous roles at Estée Lauder Companies, Dior and Burberry.
The pair say they are also close friends first, with a strong ability to compromise and learn from one another.
“The brand became a glue between us, although those sibling tendencies, like little fights, never really stop,” says Akash with a laugh.
Founded in 2020, at the height of Covid-19, the inspiration for the brand stemmed from the memories both siblings had of their grandmother applying oils to their hair.
“Fable & Mane really is a homage to her, and the stories and traditions she passed down,” says Nikita. “It is the story of your hair, hence ‘fable’ and ‘mane’.”
While launching a business during a pandemic comes with its own set of challenges, Akash says that the business is still settling in a post-Covid world where supply chain challenges are the ‘new normal’.
“Our norm for a long time was the Covid-19 landscape, and then suddenly we got out of it,” he says. “It was fragmented and then it became a completely new market.”
As well as behind the scenes problems, the celebrity beauty gold rush has meant that innovators, like the Mehtas, are at risk of being overlooked by key distribution partners.
“Retailers today love celebrity brands and are taking them because they are guaranteed a certain amount of traffic or footfall,” says Akash. “Plus, retailers also are taking on new brands because there are so many more of them coming in.”
The SME, as a result, can feel like it’s in limbo, a category of its own, by being stacked up against the “newness, the heritage and the big brands”.
“Then you have the middle brands, and there are so many of us,” he continues. “Is our only path to accelerate our growth to become a heritage? Or can we actually maintain and stay as we are?
Building upon a family legacy
The brand is looking to expand into new categories in 2024
2023 has marked several milestones for the founders, including expanding across the Gulf region via Sephora.
“We were able to consolidate markets that we had just recently launched into in 2022, as well as expanding into some key priority ones such as the US,” continues Akash.
“We Now have a North America team, which is really exciting in terms of our global and more market-led strategies.”
The Southeast Asian market is next on the agenda, and the duo plans to strengthen Fable & Mane’s presence in Europe.
“This is where we need to double down on in 2024,” Akashstresses.
Hitting new markets and expanding product categories is important, but Akash wants to not grow too quickly as Fable and Mane are “here for the long run”.
“Most brands might be looking to exit sometime soon after being created, but we are looking to really make an impact.”
He continues: “It is not about focusing on the final chapter, but building each chapter as we go along, and that is what is really important when you create a brand - not rushing for the sake of rushing, even if an opportunity arises.”
“There has always been tickboxing for model choices, but there wasn’t even a tickbox for South Asians,
Akash Mehta, co-founder of Fable & Mane
Akash and Nikita’s business sense and passion for beauty was shaped by their father from an early age.
Dilesh Mehta, CEO of Designer Parfums, which is the distributor of Ariana Grande's Fragrance line in the UK, would hold board meetings as a young Akash sat in the corner absorbing the information.
He now realises this was early training to be an entrepreneur. “He was helping me to understand how it all worked [even then],” Akash adds.
Nikita worked under Dilesh for eight years in the fragrance industry, where she says she learnt the “value of storytelling”.
“The poetry and the unboxing experience that you have fragrance is really inspired, and we do focus on those same details with Fable & Mane.”
But becoming the Chairman and CEO for fragrance icons such as Nirvana Brands and Designer Parfums was not an easy journey for Dilesh, who had been exiled from his home country in Uganda during the reign of dictator Idi Amin.
After finding a home in the UK, Dilesh went from selling goods at west London’s Wembley market to becoming a beauty entrepreneur.“
His journey really was that $50 in your pocket story,” says Akash. “But from this he was able to build one of the world's largest fragrance companies, building and distributing brands that everyone has heard of and seen.”
The South Asian story
Fable & Mane have become widely regarded for their hair oil range
Akash says this was particularly frustrating to see during his time working at some of the beauty industry’s largest brands, including Estée Lauderand LVMH.
“There has always been tickboxing for model choices, but there wasn’t even a tickbox for South Asians,” he explains.
“We were kind of forgotten in the middle, and I felt like we never saw brands really celebrating our culture.”
Akash says that even looking at the industry as a whole, he feels there are not enough beauty brands championing his culture’s story.
“I don’t think many retailers are screaming out saying ‘I want a South Asian brand’, because there have not been many in the western market.”
This has the unfortunate knock-on effect of South Asian shoppers not feeling seen by beauty retailers, and eventually stopping asking for products catered towards them, explains Nikita.
2024, however, might be the year that Indian beauty brands may gain traction in the west, with Puig’s Kama Ayurveda Gaining momentum in the market.
European beauty giants are also investing in India. Chanel opened its first beauty shop in Mumbai in January and Sephora partnered with India’s The Reliance Retail Group to boost its reach.
“They are opening up the pathway for more brands to feel that there is a market fit for [investment],” says Akash, noting an uptick in investor interest in Fable & Mane.
Akash, however, laments the sluggish progress to truly being accepted despite India’s beauty culture stemming from Ayurveda – an ancient medical practice.
“Whether it is Arabic Islamic medicine or traditional Chinese medicine, there are many marginalised societies and cultures that have not had their voice heard when it should be.”
Telling the story of South Asian culture, therefore, will remain as a key marketing strategy for 2024.
“It is really about showing [our] value and having brands that can act as an inspiration to all the stakeholders, consumers, retailers and investors, to show that we do have a reason to exist,” Akash adds.
As the world’s opening up to India, Nikita also wants to capitalise on this momentum. “I think it is really changing now, because brands are becoming more educated on different cultures,” she explains.
“I think there are also universal truths about beauty that apply to everyone, regardless of the barriers that we put on ourselves.”
The duo plan to achieve all of this through their unique business partnership and relationship. “This year will be about celebrating and going back to [our]roots,” says Nikita, with Akash adding that all of this work will help take Fable & Mane to the next level.