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Shaz Rajashekar and Kiku Chaudhuri: Co-Founders, Shaz & Kiks

A photo of Shaz and Kiku with the Shaz & Kiks prewash and doodled squiggles in the background

Haircare seems to be the forgotten selfcare ritual. As beauty lovers, we spend a lot of time tending to our skin with our 10-step skincare routines. Most of us can go on and on about the benefits of certain ingredients in our skincare products and we have a long list of skincare brands we love to recommend to anyone who is willing to listen, but when it comes to our hair, most of us fall silent. That's because there hasn't been as much innovation and education in the haircare space, that is, until now.

Sisters Shaz Rajashekar and Kiku Chaudhuri co-founded haircare brand Shaz & Kiks to teach people about the basics of haircare and provide them with the right products to keep their hair healthy. Shaz & Kiks launched just a few months ago and it’s already transfoming the industry with its prewash, which the brand calls the “new step one” to your haircare routine. This creamy prewash is packed with over 20 nourishing ingredients inspired by Shaz and Kiku’s summers in India, where the women in their family would take turns massaging oils and herbs from their grandmother’s garden into each other’s scalps. It was a bonding ritual the sisters hope to pass on to you whether that means massaging the prewash into your loved one’s scalps or your own.

Keep reading to learn how Shaz and Kiku founded a brand that promises to nourish your hair starting at the root.

Girl touching scalp with what damages hair written around her

Instagram @shazandkiks

On their background

Shaz: I started out as a chemical engineer many years ago. Then I went from engineering to the business side. I worked across corporate America over various industries and in various different roles, mainly in marketing and brand strategy. I also spent five years in Dubai, working at an international HQ for a multinational company. That was an amazing experience. I worked on a lot of projects for China and Russia, and got a lot of international experience. I’m actually not full time on Shaz & Kiks yet. I’m still working full time for another company and Kiku is running all the day to day.

Kiku: My background is very focused on the digital space and media. I started off working in the marketing department at a nonprofit just when Facebook and Twitter were a new thing. They were like, “You're the youngest person on the team, why don't you start up a Facebook page?” So I kind of entered the marketing space, but was very much in the digital aspect of it. I went to school at Northwestern to get my master's and specialize in digital media and marketing statistics for online companies. Then I spent many years in New York working at different digital and social agencies. Some of my favorite clients I worked with were Adobe, Volvo, Neutrogena. I was kind of in the tech and CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) world as a digital and social consultant for these brands. I did a lot of digital analytics and strategy for them. Then I moved over to Conde Nast, the big publishing company. This was when they were first building out their digital business. I was one of the first new hires. I started at style.com and then vogue.com, and then moved over to GQ, and led digital strategy and analytics for those brands. Then my last few years at Condé Nast, I was in a senior position where I led digital growth and innovation across the entire portfolio. Then earlier this year, I became full-time on Shaz & Kiks. We've been working on Shaz & Kiks for over two years conceptualizing, doing it on our evenings and our weekends and our visits when we come together. We don't live in the same cities. I was really excited to move full-time and really focus on bringing our company to life.

Hands dipping into Shaz & Kiks prewash

Instagram @shazandkiks

On working together

Kiku: We're nine years apart so we have a pretty big age difference, but we’ve always been close and we've always had a great dynamic. We have very different personalities that complement one another, but also when it comes to communication and work ethic and the way we approach projects, there are a lot of similarities. This sounds bizarre, but we really never fight. The pinnacle of our fighting was when I would steal her clothes, but even then it wasn't that common. We've always wanted to do something together and I think we always knew that we would be good business partners. It's been about two years since we've started working together and our relationship is still as it has always been.

Shaz: Our immediate families are also very integrated into our business. Even at a family dinner a lot of the conversation is around the business. I have two teenage daughters who are very invested in it. They have a lot of opinions and they feel they have a stake in the business. I think that helps—it being more of something for the whole family, not just Kiku and I doing it.

Kiku: When we all get together, it's just part of our conversation, part of our activity. Because it's something that is rooted in our heritage—our partners are also of Indian descent—I feel like we all feel something that's kind of personal, that we feel super connected to emotionally so it goes in and out of our conversations when we hang out and it's also a fun product to talk about.

Shaz: It’s pretty seamless. We’re never like, "Let’s not talk about business right now." At least, that hasn't happened yet.

Dog wrapped in towel

Instagram @shazandkiks

On the pandemic delaying the launch

Shaz: It's not like we had a set deadline, but it was a disappointment not to be able to launch when we wanted to. In the end, I think it actually worked out. There was a period of uncertainty in terms of when we would be able to launch based on our production facility, but in the end, COVID and the pandemic almost set up a great environment for us. People had more time to take care of themselves and get into rituals outside of what they normally do. With the pandemic, I feel like there was this shift toward overall wellness and Shaz & Kiks slotted in really well.

Kiku: We know that skincare has evolved and is so advanced here in the States and in the Western market, but from our background, haircare in South Asian and Indian culture is as important if not even more important. You're taught from a very young age how to holistically take care of your hair. Fom the time your little baby, your grandma, your Auntie's, and your mom will massage oils into your scalp and your hair. It's something that is done very regularly. Focusing on the health of your hair is just as important as the rest of your body. That's very much the mentality that that's ingrained in the culture and it has existed for thousands of years.

We really wanted to bring all those concepts into Shaz & Kiks and we knew that the Western market is ripe. People really care about their skin. From a business lens, we were like, “Wow! Everyone is really taking care the other parts of their body, but not much has really happened with the scalp and the hair.” Your scalp is actually more sensitive than the rest of the skin on your body—it has more follicles and more oil glands. There's a lack of knowledge in the haircare market. We really wanted to come in and provide all the information and take a step back from the main focus of styling. We wanted to rewind and start fresh with everybody. Styling and all that stuff is great, but you want to make sure that you have a solid foundation. That's where we came in. During this pandemic, people are really reevaluating and focusing on establishing a good foundation throughout their body and that includes their scalp.

Women smiling and laughing on floral background

Instagram @shazandkiks

On inspiration from summers in India

Shaz: We spent every summer in India. My mother would always take us. Our maternal side lives in a smaller town, up in the foothills of the Himalayas. It's very lush and green and an amazing place to spend your summers. In the mornings, my grandmother and aunties would go into the garden of the estate they lived on and pick some of the ingredients they were going to use for meals and some ingredients that have existed for generations as beauty lure of what's good for your hair. They would bring those ingredients back, and then they would go about their morning chores. Then before taking a shower, they would utilize everything they put together, whether it's an oil that has the benefits of herbs seeped into it for massaging into your scalp or even stuff for your face. This ritual also happened outside so the heat of the sun accentuated the benefits. That's very much ingrained in our memory, that beautiful ritual with not just our grandmother, but with all the women in the family.

Kiku: On our packaging there are two woman swimming in a forest and that is representative of not just myself and Shaz—two ladies—but women collectively together, taking care of one another. Of course, all the beautiful leaves and flowers and all that stuff that's illustrated on the box is an homage to our maternal grandparents and their estate.

Woman combing Shaz & Kiks prewash through her hair

Instagram @shazandkiks

On how the prewash works

Kiku: Our prewash is formulated for two hair categories: curly/dry hair and thin/oily hair. To apply it, you massage it into your scalp and then distribute it through your strands when your hair and scalp are dry. Then you let it soak in for at least 20 to 30 minutes all the way to several hours if you want to sleep with it in. These days, I put it in my hair and I braid it. Then I go through my whole work day and take a shower afterwards. You can keep it in as long as you'd like.

We like to say our prewash is three fold in what it does for your scalp and hair. First, it is chock full of all the different types of vitamins, antioxidants, and minerals that your hair follicles and hair roots need. It gives them all the right nutrients, especially when you massage it in. When you increase your blood flow to your scalp, that's where it really helps soak in those nutrients and oxygen—all things that are really needed to make sure that the hair follicle is as healthy as possible so your hair starts growing from the very beginning in its healthiest state.

Second, what it does for your scalp is cleans and balances. There are natural surfactants, which are cleansers, in our formula that help gently take away any excess oil, dirt, and debris, but keep the natural oils there that are very much needed, that most shampoos completely strip you of. Our prewash is also the exact pH of your scalp and that's really important because water and shampoo are both at a higher pH level. Your scalp and your skin and your hair are a little bit on the acidic side. When you go into the shower, your water and your shampoo are all a pH of seven and above so our pre-wash helps reset and balance your hair and scalp.

Third, it creates this great protective shield. All hair is porous, some are more porous than others. What happens is that when you jump into the shower or jump into the pool or ocean, your hair starts absorbing all that water. But the hair structure is not flexible so it absorbs water and then it gets to the point where it's too much and it starts breaking, which is why wet hair is the weakest hair. You don't want to brush your hair when it's wet. One of the best ways to reduce that water damage is to put in a prewash like this, which creates a nice gentle protective shield from the oils that are in there so when you jump into the shower, only a little bit of water, which is all you need, is able to get into your hair strands so it is protected and less susceptible to breaking, to becoming brittle, to be hair frizz, which is a very common thing that happens when your hair absorbs too much water. It's a little bit like a raincoat so your hair doesn't flood in that water. It could be the healthiest water, it could be chlorine water, it doesn't matter. Too much water in your hair strands allows it to break and be unhealthy.

Woman dancing on Shaz & Kiks prewash stage

Instagram @shazandkiks

On ayurvedic ingredients

Shaz: When we were growing up, using these ingredients was just kind of the norm. You didn't really know why you were doing it. You just did it because that's what you were taught to do. It was only when we really started digging into the benefits of these ingredients that it was revealed that the ingredients and the rituals are based in science.

Kiku: When it comes to the ingredients we really wanted our prewash to be our hero product. You're never going to get as much nutrition as you can possibly get from this prewash. It has over 20 herbs, oils, and flowers. One of my favorites is Amla. Amla is an Indian gooseberry. It looks like a little berry. It’s very popular in that region. You can eat it. It really helps with a lot of different internal digestion issues. It's very common to have as an oil you put it into your hair. It is very high in all of your omegas so it has a lot of the fatty acids that your strands really benefit from, but it's also incredibly light. Unlike castor, coconut, and even olive oil, amla is a very light oil that can be used on any hair type from coily all the way to super thin and fine. It also replicates the sebum your body naturally produces so it's a great ingredient to moisturize and nourish your scalp.

The other one we have is turmeric root oil. That's something that's familiar to a lot of people. Turmeric root oil is great because it comes from the actual root. It’s very concentrated in the beneficial elements that make it perform so well. It’s anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial so it keeps itchiness and sensitivity on your scalp down. It is also a natural stimulant, so going back to the wonders of increased blood flow. Besides physically being able to increase your blood flow, there are certain natural ingredients like turmeric root oil that naturally get your blood going.

Shaz: Because I have really fine hair that tends to get really greasy from my oily scalp, one of my favorite ingredients is reetha or soapnut, which is essentially a natural cleanser. The benefit that I see with it that I never experienced before is that I always have to shampoo my hair every single day, I've always had to do that otherwise, it looks gross and greasy. But after using our prewash with reetha in it, what I've noticed is that I'm able to go every other day or maybe even every two days without washing because it absorbs that oil but in a very gentle way without stripping it.

Illustration of India with ingredients

Instagram @shazandkiks

On their husbands using prewash

Shaz: Both of our husbands have very different hair textures so they've been very much part of our trials. My husband does a lot of triathlons. He swims a lot throughout the year, and one time he had put it on and then he went for a swim. He had his cap on top, but you know, when you come out of the pool your hair, with all that chlorine, it really doesn't feel great. He did that and his hair felt really good afterwards. It was super protected from the chlorine water. So he was like, "Here's another avenue where you can go down," which was cool.

Kiku: They're very vocal. This specific prewash is visually marketed towards females, but there's actually no biological difference between a male and female scalp and skin. Besides our family members, we get a lot of customers being like, “Oh my God, my husband started using it and he's loving it.” A lot of women say they bought another one for their husband or their male partner, because men also care about their hair. It's probably one of the biggest parts of their body that they care about.

Hand holding neem comb

Instagram @shazandkiks

On the Shaz & Kiks comb

Kiku: Our comb is wooden. It's made out of a tree called neem. The neem tree is one of those A+ students in the world of herbs. People outside of the South Asian region are not as familiar with it yet, but hopefully it will become as popular as turmeric. It has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes, it is high in antibacterial and antifungal components in the wood. This wood has been used for centuries as a tool to help clean your scalp and keep it balanced and to keep it clean and bacteria free. We also love the comb because it's multi-functional. One of the best ways we love to use it is for you to comb out your hair, get out the tangles, and get your blood circulating. Then you put on the prewash and it helps you distribute it nicely and evenly. Then after you wash it out, you comb out your wet hair. It doesn't matter what kind of material it is, a comb is always a lot more gentle than a brush. You want something that is not plastic. Something that's wooden or resin causes so much less friction so you get less static, less frizz, and less breakage.

Hand holding shampoo bottle

Instagram @shazandkiks

On expanding the Shaz & Kiks line

Kiku: We are kicking off working on shampoos for two different types of scalp. The concept for one of them is a gentle herbal cleanse perfect for those with dry, curly hair or if you have a dry or sensitive scalp, which lines up with the dry, curly or frizzy prewash. The other one is going to be clay based so it’s great for that thin, fine hair or oilier roots and an oilier scalp so you need a little bit of a deeper cleanser that absorbs the oil but keeps your scalp balanced.

Shaz: I think people are used to having a shampoo and a conditioner. You’re always taught you do shampoo then you do conditioner. It’s ingrained in us. For somebody with my hair, conditioner isn't necessary. Kiku has been trying to convince me for many years now not to use it, but I was just like, no I have to use it. Then I went on this journey, and you just have to dive in there if you think you want to try it out. Now, I don’t use conditioner, but we know that there are people who do need conditioning and there are people who are like I was a few years ago who feel like they do need to condition. So a conditioner is definitely in the pipeline as well.

Have you tried the Shaz & Kiks Prewash? If so drop your review below and show us your gorgeous, healthy scalp.

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