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Motherhood, social media, and the true business of beauty with Diipa Büller-Khosla

It’s a charmed life that I see on Diipa Büller-Khosla’s Instagram page. There is a glaze of glamour, and with it is a palpable whiff of a real world, a full life, an amalgamated world where she is a social media star, an influencer, a model, a mum, a wife, an advocate for skin pride and now, an entrepreneur.

My favourite is this one happy photograph of Büller-Khosla in a yolk yellow Studio NK organza skirt, sitting cross-legged on a stool with a pair of breast pumps attached to her corset. It’s July 2021 at Cannes. Her daughter Dua was merely three months old at the time and back at home in Amsterdam. This picture was Büller-Khosla’s little breather from the couture and the chaos. A few hours later, she was killing it on social media in a striking ivory Tony Ward gown.

On other more normal days, there are nearly impeccable photographs of Büller-Khosla—dressed in striking green Carolina Herrera in Saint Tropez, shooting for Vogue in Paris, sliding into an azure pool in the Maldives or lounging on a terrace across from Tower Bridge in London. And then there are those candid moments in distressed denim, her hair blowing in the wind, on a sunset boat ride through the canals of Amsterdam with family and friends.

The social side of social media

In the nearly seven years since she quit law, Büller-Khosla, 31, has become a self-made global influencer, with 1.4 million (and rising) followers. She has scored a dozen prestigious brand collaborations (which include Louis Vuitton, Fendi, Bulgari and Dior), global magazine covers (18 at last count), Cannes red-carpet runs, influencer titles and TEDx awards. “I have always been entrepreneurial about everything I do. It’s the diehard Punjabi in me,” grins Büller-Khosla. She is pretty serious about being an achiever, as I soon learn.

For someone with an already exhaustive rota, there was also this old promise she had made to herself at the age of 12: that she’d be pregnant before she hit 30. And when the pandemic started in March 2020, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. As luck would have it, she conceived a month before she turned 30 and it was through her pregnancy and post-baby phase that she also dedicatedly grew her business idea.

And now, Büller-Khosla’s second baby, her highly anticipated beauty brand Indē Wild, drops its launch video on September 18, creating a good few weeks of buzz until sales on her first two products commence on October 11. Indē Wild is pitched as a beauty line that combines Ayurvedic superfoods with clean chemistry. “My mum is a dermatologist and an Ayurvedic doctor, which basically means I have been obsessed with skincare and the science behind it since I was a little girl,” says Büller-Khosla. It seems like a brave jump from social media, but it is her sheer street cred on which all bets are in place.

The road from Delhi to Amsterdam

Büller-Khosla was a Delhi girl until she moved to Ooty when she was 12 to attend the boarding school, Hebron. Later, she moved to Holland where she studied law at the University of Utrecht, a paradigm shift from her little Ooty bubble. Despite Büller-Khosla’s extremely outgoing public persona, somewhere there is still that vulnerable young first-generation immigrant making her splash in the world. “There may be days when I let insecurities take over, but my thermostat is always set to positive,” she says.

She met her husband Oleg Büller, a diplomat for the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at university and they had a beautiful Udaipur wedding three years ago. Shortly after marrying, the couple co-founded an NGO called Post For Change, which aims mainly at initiatives towards equality for women, sexual rights and mental awareness, but the search for her next challenge was always on.

It’s business, baby

Apart from baby Dua—already a budding Instagram star, incidentally—and her drooping cheeks and involuntary mohawk, Büller-Khosla’s current life obsession is Indē Wild. It has her sweat, in almost every sense. The plan to launch her own beauty brand originated quite unexpectedly when an email she got in 2019 instigated the idea. With her mother being an Ayurvedic doctor and having suffered skin issues in the past, a beauty brand resonated the most with her. “That’s the first time I thought, ‘I am ready for this.’ Instead of constantly promoting other brands, I see the niche missing for a consumer like me, a brown girl making her mark,” she says with a smile. What could have come out in six months ultimately took over two years because she was determined to do this from scratch, to see every step of the supply chain and vet each ingredient. “I have always laid out my ups, downs and struggles for my followers. If I presented a brand that wasn’t completely transparent, no-one would believe I created it,” she says.

Büller-Khosla was clear she wanted to build a beauty ecosystem that was a modern desi woman in a bottle. (Her ‘desi’ defines all South Asian women worldwide.) For someone who has always vocalised her struggles with racism and colourism from an early age, Büller-Khosla is an active proponent of skin pride. And her affinity to represent India had already been growing from the time she saw that almost all the influencers at her agency came from the US and Europe, with no Indian representation on the global beauty and fashion space. “Every successful desi woman, whether she’s in Mumbai, Durban, New York or Toronto, has an interesting friction point,” she explains. “We lover our culture and we love our mothers and grandmothers. But we also want to be financially independent, love who we want to love and make our choices independently. My brand is inspired from this insane groundswell of it’s-my-time-now feminism.”

A tale of two babies

While this was brewing in Büller-Khosla’s life, there was also a little baby growing inside. With the pregnancy came a deluge of work for her new venture. Valuation, angels, unicorns—all hitherto unknown entities came to the fore. It was pretty much a one-year MBA assisted by YouTube, Google and Oleg.

“My first trimester was absolute hell. My hormones were surging like crazy. I’d have to excuse myself from a heated meeting to run out and puke. I was superstitious about announcing my pregnancy for 12 weeks. My team wondered why I was so sleepy in the day,” she recalls. It was a lot to deal with. But, fortunately, the second she hit 12 weeks, things turned. She had more energy than ever. Well-timed, because that was her raising round and the most hectic days of her life.

A people-powered idea

By the start of her third trimester, she had the funds to put together a kick-ass team. As autumn crept into winter and before Europe headed into another major lockdown, Büller-Khosla powered through to create a unique expert board for her beauty brand, a group she kept referring back to for every aspect and element. “I put together a professional panel of four women (two of whom are desi): a formulator with 15 years of experience, a PhD student studying skin and hair, a Harvard dermatologist and a third-generation Ayurvedic doctor. I wanted to create an affordable yet perfect product backed with their knowledge.”

Another major value-add was her creation of focus groups over Zoom calls with 60 of her top desi female followers across different continents. Some struggled with acne and pigmentation while many wanted SPFs that wouldn’t leave a white cast. Büller-Khosla took each query back to her expert board, where they’d brainstorm. She calls it a people-powered brand from every aspect. “I am writing the chemical and common name for every single ingredient. This radical transparency is what beauty brands today need,” explains Büller-Khosla.

Indē Wild’s inaugural skin launch is one AM and one PM serum. “As an avid traveller, I’d often wonder why no-one had yet rolled all the skin essentials into one bottle,” she says. So while the AM serum has ashwagandha, vitamin C, niacinamide and blue light veil among others, the PM serum comprises of bakuchiol, a rejuvenating plant-based retinol. Both come in sustainable glass bottles. Her R&D is already bending over backwards to create a sunscreen next.

With immediate plans to launch close to her base (in the UK, US, Europe and Canada) just so troubleshooting is easier, Büller-Khosla is keen to work towards a big India unveiling later. India (especially Mumbai) is in her soul, a country she dedicatedly came back to every three months until the pandemic hit. “I want my India launch to be the talk of the town,” she smiles.

The balancing act

Motherhood changes things. Büller-Khosla still wants to have a lot, but she wants to be there for her baby and also give a lot. “It’s great being my own boss. I get to define my life. And with some careful planning and support, I plan to juggle it all,” she laughs.

As if there wasn’t enough on her roster already, Büller-Khosla and her little family will soon be moving to a lovely 400-year-old canal house in Amsterdam which is currently being furiously refurbished under her watchful eye. “I feel empowered today,” she sighs. “I can give birth to a child and build a global brand. I can be a daughter, wife, mother, CEO, influencer, entrepreneur and content creator.” And even as we wrap up a marathon interview, she is already toying with yet another new opportunity, something she can’t say much about just now. Life, in her dictionary, is a multi-hyphenated word.