IN CONVERSATION WITH PRITIKA SWARUP
interview by JANA LETONJA
Pritika Swarup is an International Fashion Model, Founder & CEO of Award-Winning Beauty & Wellness brand Prakti, Ivy League Graduate and Global Ambassador for Operation Smile.Immensely passionate about humanitarian causes, Pritika uses her voice and platform to positively transform the lives of children worldwide. Moreover, she is a fierce advocate for change in the beauty industry, increasing diversity and inclusivity. In November 2023, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from Harvard University.
Pritika, you are not only a model, but more so an entrepreneur who has garnered attention in both the fashion and business worlds. What are the most important causes you stand for and are striving to achieve?
I’ve pursued two causes that transcend my personal career and resonate deeply within my entrepreneurial pursuits. The first is my dedication to empowering women, advocating for the pursuit of multidimensional, fulfilling lives without any limitations. I strive to cultivate an environment where women are encouraged to explore the breadth of their aspirations, breaking free from confines and embracing boundless possibilities. At the beginning of my career, a lot of people told me I couldn’t pursue all of my passions and needed to choose one lane to succeed. I was full time studying finance at Columbia, while modeling and pursuing other areas of interest, like working with Operation Smile. I just refused to limit myself. I never felt that I had to choose between any of my passions that include education, philanthropy, modeling and entrepreneurship. I wanted to share this encouragement with the women of my generation through my voice and platform, and that’s how Prakti’s larger mission came about.
The second is my commitment to unlocking Ayurveda, India’s 5.000 year old holistic wellness system, to be truly accessible to improve overall health and well-being. This goes beyond the physical aspect of beauty to encompass the balance of mind, body and soul. I believe that nurturing holistic wellness is pivotal to achieving a balanced, fulfilling life. My goal is to drive this movement towards education and empowerment. For me personally, this isn’t just a professional endeavor but a deep-seated passion. I’m committed to furthering educational initiatives, aiming to enlighten and empower women who might not be familiar with this beneficial wellness system that I have been practicing for my entire life. Our vision extends beyond products. It’s about enriching lives and fostering a community that values holistic well-being. We believe that education is the cornerstone of change, and our dedication to Ayurvedic education represents our unwavering commitment to making a lasting impact on the industry and the lives of those we touch.
blazer THE ROW
cumberbund worn as top DOLCE & GABBANA
stay ups FALKE
When you moved to New York, you were the only Indian model in the market. The lack of inclusivity is also the key value of your brand, Prakti Beauty, which is a first-of-its-kind hybrid beauty and wellness brand. The products have also won several awards in the recent years. Tell us more about the brand and its products. What inspires your brand development daily?
Prakti fuses the cultural richness, rituals and spirituality of India with contemporary energies and technologies. Our products combine science-backed innovation with the purest, time-trusted Ayurvedic ingredients to enhance the efficacy and sensory experience. Our mission is to unlock Ayurvedic beauty and wellness to the benefit of all to improve overall health and well-being.
My product inspiration comes from the desire to push boundaries to provide a better experience and better products that solve existing problems, something that’s missing from the market. After significant research, I realized that one of the key reasons that Indian beauty had not been able to resonate with a global audience is because there really had not been much innovation in the space to create products that fit into the modern lifestyle, while maintaining the integrity of Ayurveda with a results-driven approach.
Our products further the efficacy of this traditional approach by boosting these time-tested Ayurvedic ingredients with scientific ingenuity in the form of advanced actives, innovative processing and mood-enhancing aromas and sensory cues that nurture overall wellness. Innovation is top of mind when I bring to life the product philosophies themselves. We ensure that our products are for all skin types, even the most sensitive skin types, through extensive testing during the product development phase. Inclusivity is at the core of Prakti’s brand foundation. From the beginning we have had a global first approach as our products are for all women. Our brand champions all types and shades of women across all media platforms through our imagery and messaging. I was also firm about having accessible pricing, so all women can experience our products. High-performance, high-quality, sensorial products should be affordable.
full Look SPORTMAX
glasses STYLIST’S OWN
full Look ALEXANDER MCQUEEN
What initially inspired you to step into the business waters and develop your own beauty brand?
I saw the need for Prakti. I’ve practiced Ayurveda my entire life and feel blessed to have been brought up with this holistic approach to beauty and wellness. I understood how powerful these rituals and remedies are and wanted to share them in a way that would resonate with a broader audience and make Ayurveda truly accessible to all. After doing significant market research, I identified a white space between the very traditional Ayurvedic Indian brands that rely on prescriptive remedies, versus the Western brands that use innovation as their platform. There was no brand that bridged the gap and had the ability to combine these two worlds to successfully appeal to today’s consumer.
In addition to this, I felt compelled to create a brand that is inclusive and offers a true representation of global beauty. From childhood, I didn’t feel represented in Western media, but I didn’t realize the extent of the lack of representation until I started modeling, and how absent so many groups were. My experiences led to my desire to use my voice and platform to advocate for change in the beauty industry, increasing diversity and inclusivity. I made it my responsibility to champion all women with Prakti. This is at Prakti’s core. Prakti champions India’s heritage, culture, rituals and sciences. It was important for me to make a place for my culture and bring it to a wider audience by drawing on my own personal experience.
dress and gloves ACNE STUDIOS
Through Prakti, I have pushed to transform the traditional definition of beauty to encompass holistic beauty and wellness. Western beauty has historically focused on the physical aspect of beauty, like hyperpigmentation, acne, etc., whereas Eastern beauty is focused on the ritual of self-care as a spiritual and soulful approach that is based on the balance of the mind, body and soul. I believe it is equally important to address how individuals are feeling on the inside and I have created products that support overall wellbeing at every touchpoint of the experience. That’s why I launched our educational platform, Ayurveda for AllTM, to provide resources for all women to easily integrate practices that improve overall health and well-being during daily self-care. We’ve empowered individuals to embrace this holistic approach to wellness. This inclusivity is central to our ethos, breaking barriers and ensuring that Ayurveda isn’t limited by cultural boundaries.
You are also a philanthropist and have been the global ambassador for Operation Smile, the international non-profit providing free corrective surgeries and support to children and adults born with a cleft lip or palate, since 2018. Tell us more about your work with Operation Smile. What fulfills you the most about working with them?
I got involved with Operation Smile when I was in middle school at the student club at Norfolk Academy. The organization was founded in my hometown in Virginia, so I have had the opportunity to start at a very young age and grow with Operation Smile. I was engaged from the start, volunteering at local events, organizing bake sales and packing supplies for mission trips. The mission resonated with me and my passion for the cause only grew with time. I understood the challenges that craniofacial conditions create, not just the physical ramifications including difficulty eating, speaking and breathing, but the emotional and social impacts as well. Young children can be bullied, isolated and socially neglected, resulting in lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem. The free surgical procedures administered by Operation Smile change the course of the lives of these children.
I became an Operation Smile Ambassador in 2018. In this role, I represent the organization and raise awareness about cleft conditions through media outlets, press conferences and fundraising initiatives. It’s been a humbling and rewarding experience. I feel fortunate to have built a platform to use my voice and bring awareness to causes that are most meaningful to me to create positive change.
Witnessing how surgery transforms a child’s life is powerful. It is difficult to explain the change afterwards, in a child’s personality, self-confidence and overall renewed optimism for their future. I get so emotional about it because I have experienced this process with many children and their families. What resonates deeply with me about working with Operation Smile is the tangible impact it has on the lives of children and adults worldwide. The most fulfilling aspect of my involvement lies in the joy and hope of those who receive these life-changing surgeries. To see someone regain their smile and the ability to speak, drink and eat comfortably, things many of us often take for granted, is a testament to the life-altering impact of this work. They not only provide surgical interventions, but also ensure holistic care, supporting individuals through their entire journey to recovery. It’s not just about a single surgery, it’s about restoring dignity, instilling confidence and opening doors to brighter futures. Knowing that my contributions, alongside the incredible team at Operation Smile, make a difference in the lives of these individuals and their families is what fulfills me the most.
With Operation Smile, you participated on many mission trips, like in India, Mozambique, South Africa and Peru. What left the biggest mark on you from these trips?
Participating in multiple mission trips with Operation Smile has been an eye-opening and profoundly impactful experience. Each trip left a mark on me, but one particular aspect consistently stands out, the resilience and unwavering spirit of the individuals and communities we served. Witnessing communities with limited resources and access to healthcare, but abundant in spirit, was a testament to human resilience. The determination of these individuals to seek a better future for themselves and their families, despite facing tremendous adversity, was truly humbling and put things into perspective for me. During these mission trips, the incredible sense of community and togetherness among the volunteers, medical professionals and the locals highlighted the power of collaboration and compassion in transforming lives.These experiences taught me invaluable lessons.
You also have your own, Suman Saroj Initiative, which has provided sustainable income opportunities to communities of women. Can you share a bit more about this initiative and its work with our readers.
In honor of my grandmothers and their legacies, I have developed the Suman Saroj Initiative, named after them and created to empower women by providing sustainable income opportunities for local Indian craftswomen.The program allows these women, who have limited access to education and opportunity, to use their skills to contribute to their families and to become financially independent.
These women create handcrafted, hand embroidered accessory items that complement Prakti’s skincare offering and highlight the traditional artisanship of the local culture.
As a young girl, my grandmothers taught me Chikankari stitching, a beautiful traditional embroidery style from Lucknow, India, where my family is from and still resides. I value and greatly appreciate all that goes into this type of rich artistry. I’ve always understood the importance of preserving and protecting traditional Indian artisan techniques. These skills are a huge part of regional culture and history and are highly valued, but as they take time and expertise, they are too often being left behind in the race to modernize. The Suman Saroj initiative was launched to help with reviving and protecting these art forms while bringing global awareness to these culture-defining crafts.
You had the honor of speaking before the United Nations on women’s rights in developing countries in 2019. We would love to hear your view on this topic. What are the most important things about women’s rights in developing countries and also all over the world today?
The essence of women’s rights holds profound significance globally, especially in developing nations where the struggle for gender equality often faces immense challenges. Access to education stands as one of the fundamental pillars. Empowering women through education not only enhances individual capabilities, but also fosters societal progress and economic growth. Ensuring equal access to quality education equips women with the tools to break cycles of poverty and empowers them to pursue their aspirations.
Another critical aspect is healthcare. Providing comprehensive healthcare services, including reproductive health, is pivotal for women’s well-being. Access to healthcare not only directly impacts women’s health, but also influences their economic participation and overall empowerment. Economic empowerment cannot be overlooked. Ensuring fair opportunities for women in the workforce, eliminating wage gaps, and fostering entrepreneurship are vital for economic parity. By providing women with equal access to employment and economic resources, we not only uplift individuals, but also fortify entire communities and economies.
Moreover, advocating for legal and social frameworks that protect women’s rights is imperative. Implementing and enforcing laws that safeguard against discrimination, violence and exploitation are critical steps towards achieving gender equality. On a global scale, fostering inclusive and diverse leadership roles for women across various sectors is essential. Encouraging women’s participation in decision-making processes, be it in politics, businesses or community initiatives, is key to creating more equitable and representative societies.
Lastly, raising awareness and fostering dialogue on gender equality and women’s rights is pivotal. By challenging societal norms and stereotypes, we can cultivate a culture that celebrates diversity and inclusivity, paving the way for a more equitable future.
full look THE ROW
skirt worn as dress ASHLYN
talent PRITIKA SWARUP @pritikaswarup
photography BEN ABARBANEL @benxphoto
styling MARISA ELLISON @marisa_ellison
makeup MAGDALENA MAJOR @magdalena.major
hair CHIKA NISHIYAMA @chika_nishiyama
styling assistant ANGELA LOFARO @lofaro.angela
editor TIMOTEJ LETONJA @timiletonja
editorial director & interview JANA LETONJA @janaletonj