Diaspora Co. Founder Sana Javeri Kadri Is Redefining What “Made in South Asia” Means

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From the ingredients they share to the rich cultures they reflect, the worlds of beauty and food — and the people who merge them — are in constant conversation. Welcome to Well Fed, a column that celebrates how we nourish our bodies, from face to plate.

Sana Javeri Kadri and I have been speaking for approximately three seconds before she starts hyping other people up. She’s also bleeding. 

“I was stupid. Do you know Hedley & Bennett, that really cool apron company?” she asks, collecting herself over Zoom. “[Its co-founder] Ellen Bennett is amazing; she’s on our board. She sent me their new chef’s knife and said, ‘It’s super sharp, have fun!’ and I had so much fun that I sliced my fingers.” Most of our conversation goes on like this: Kadri walks me through her accomplishments — which are many, considering she’s just 28 — and interjects glowing testimonials about her fellow women entrepreneurs, beauty brands, and farmers at every turn. All these tangents are entirely welcome, especially since they speak to the mission of Kadri’s business, spice company Diaspora Co., at large: it’s all about sharing the wealth.

You’ve likely seen the brand’s offerings all over Instagram, housed in aesthetically-pleasing golden and magenta jars: sweet jaggery, fragrant cardamom, and sinus-jolting chili powders to name just a few. The spices are beloved by food industry folk and home cooks alike for their flavor and accessibility — they’ve been staples in my own apartment as long as I’ve lived there — but it’s their origins that most make them worth investing in. The spice trade’s history is long, complex, and dark, and Diaspora Co., along with its founder and CEO Kadri, are offering a chance for those it’s taken advantage of to reclaim it. 

Kadri making chai.

Kadri was born and raised in Mumbai, India, and moved to California a decade ago, where she began a career in food marketing and agriculture after graduating college. That’s when Kadri, at age 22, found that sourcing problems were selling her own country’s exports short. 

“I was seeing really beautiful ingredients being sourced from farms in California, like the Masumoto Family Farm peaches and Full Belly Farm tomatoes, and there were such quality standards,” Kadri says. But, when it came to food in the so-called ethnic aisle, she found the quality to be lower and the sourcing practices of the companies selling that food to be questionable. “My hunch was there have got to be incredible South Asian regenerative farmers growing beautiful products, and that if we told their story to the fullest capacity and created a brand around them, these shelves could look better and we could all have more delicious ingredients.”    

As she’d expected, she found an entire generation of ambitious regenerative farmers across South Asia who she could uplift and help get their product out into the global market for the earnings they deserved. “They were taking this old colonial spice trade— which was set up to harm them and set up for profit, not for quality — and doing the really, really hard work to undo that,” explains Kadri. “They were growing product for flavor and aroma, not for shelf stability, or yield, or profit.” She says she realized her job, from that point on, was easy. “They already exist; they’re already doing the work. All I have to do is market that and tell their stories, and I love storytelling.” 

Now, the 28-year-old founder and CEO and her mission have become a massive success story: The company financed $2.1 million as pre-seed capital to expand the company’s team and supply chain, and the brand currently offers 41 spices from about 200 farms. Fresh off the success of its Chai Masala and curated Chai Kit, the brand recently launched additional masalas, or spice blends, in October (Kadri pegs the Biryani Masala as a hero) along with Surya Salt, a cooking salt harvested by the indigenous Agariya community working in the salt district of Gujarat, India for generations.

Diaspora Co. Biryani Masala

Kadri describes the myriad ways her company supports its farm partners in detail but, distilled down, shortening the supply chain and providing farms with resources are key for her mission to bring autonomy back to regions that were colonized largely to control these indigenous ingredients. The Diaspora Co. process starts with taking samples of dozens of spices from dozens of farmers and testing them for taste, quality, evidence of bacteria, and the like. After they’ve narrowed down the best contenders, they hold calls with each farmer. “We’re figuring out whose values are aligned [with ours], and who truly is passionate about regenerative agriculture,” Kadri explains. “Who can scale with us? Who has the ambition to scale? That’s how we narrow it down to the partner that we choose to work with.” 

After that, Diaspora Co. sets their new partners up for a successful harvest with new tools or machinery if needed, a 30 percent advance before the harvest when they’re ramping up on labor cost, and another 30 percent when that harvest reaches Diaspora Co. in Mumbai, which Kadri says means farmers are getting paid more and sooner, no matter how well their bounty sells. The company also offers farmers more control over their final product, something that’s often lost in the long journey from spice farms to the consumer’s pantries when second and even third parties mill and powder their original product. 

“We’ve found that our farm partners have deep pride over that final product, and that they know that we’re selling what they made,” says Kadri,  “That means that we can pay our farm partners more for doing that: Oh, you need a mill to be able to do that? Great, we’ll give you an interest-free loan, buy a mill. That means we have long-term partners who never want to leave us because it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.” And after these products go to market, Diaspora Co. offers consumers transparency and education by sharing the history of the ingredient within the region, their farmers’ stories, and how to use the spices in your own meals. 

Fresh and ground turmeric.



Even with its massive growth, the first spice Diaspora Co. chose to source upon its founding — Pragati Turmeric from Vijayawada, India — still carries extra meaning for Kadri.  “I started with one spice from one farmer: our turmeric,” she says. “I’ve spent every harvest with them for the past five years, and being part of the turmeric harvest is a very emotional, beautiful process.” That harvest is also why she credits one of her own generational beauty rituals, a homemade scrub, as feeling more meaningful than ever. 

“My whole approach to beauty — growing up, at least — was very related to the kitchen,” she says. “My grandma would use sandalwood, chickpea flour, turmeric, and water or yogurt to make a paste, and you’d use that as a scrub all over your body and face every month. It’s an exfoliant meant to make your skin glow. I think the old-school way was to add lemon juice to it to bleach your skin, but we don’t play like that anymore. My mother was very good to me about being like, ‘yeah, we’re not doing that,'” she adds. Now, Kadri makes her own version of the traditional chickpea flour mask to clear up her skin while she’s traveling using the brand’s original turmeric and Kudligi Moringa for added clarifying benefits. Her other go-two mask is inspired by skin-care products by beauty brand Ranavat, helmed by Indian-American founder Michelle Ranavat.

Ranavat Brightening Saffron Serum

Ranavat Flawless Veil Resurfacing Saffron AHA Masque

“They have a saffron serum and a saffron mask; both are incredible. I basically do a DIY version: I’ll take a pinch of saffron, grind it in my mortar and pestle, mix it in with honey, then put that on my face. I’ll do it on a Sunday and leave it on for a couple hours. The honey is gentle, and the saffron is brightening. I guess as a spice dealer, I’m pretty rich in saffron,” she laughs (Diaspora Co.’s saffron is handpicked in Kashmir). “But it’s beautiful, and it’s really good for you.” 

Diaspora Co. Pragati Turmeric

Diaspora Co. Kudligi Moringa

Saffron being harvested in Kashmir for Diaspora Co.’s line.

Copyright 2021. All rights reserved.

Kadri also credit’s one Ranavat product with helping to restore her confidence — and her strands — after a years-long struggle with hair loss she believes was likely caused by the stress of the pandemic and a growing business. 

“My hair was falling out for three years. There was a point where I just had a bun on top of my head all the time and ignored it. I didn’t want to open it up because I’d see how much would fall out every time, and that was heartbreaking,” she admits. “Then I would avoid washing my hair, because I didn’t want to see how much came out in the shower. I had tried fucking everything, [then I started] obsessively using Ranavat’s jasmine hair serum, and that really transformed things for me.”

Ranavat Fortifying Hair Serum

Shaz & Kiks Scalp + Hair Prewash

Now, Kadri mixes up her hair routine, noting that hair oiling has been a familial hair-care practice all her life. “That was my Sunday ritual with my mom: She’d comb out my hair, put coconut oil into my scalp, and I’d get a head massage out of it. She’d braid it up and I’d spend all Sunday with a coconut oil braid, and then wash that evening.” Since then, Kadri says she’s switched to Shaz & Kiks Scalp + Hair Prewash instead, and that she enlists her mom to apply it when she visits India: “I have lots of cute photos of every time I’m in Mumbai. I saddle up to her and I’m like, ‘Can you do it, please?'”

The ingredients Diaspora Co. sources are clearly and intrinsically connected to skin care, hair care, and self care, and the emotional bonds those shared rituals can cultivate. And when Kadri launched her brand, spotted the obvious opportunity for breaking into the wellness space — but it didn’t pan out as she expected. Kadri says she’s tried to partner with beauty and wellness brands to use Diaspora Co. ingredients in their products, but hasn’t had much luck beyond a handful of one-off orders. “We’ve had this situation a few times: [A brand] will buy one lot from us and put us on their packaging. It’ll be a huge marketing blitz, and they’ll never order from us again,” she recalls.

This is indicative of a systematic problem in the beauty and wellness spaces (and arguably applies across all modern lifestyle industries): the willingness to invoke a culture’s traditions or language without the sustained monetary commitment to back it up, or even the due diligence to dig deeper into their regional significance. That’s why Kadri describes her personal mission for Diaspora Co. as “complicating and deepening what ‘Made in South Asia’ means.”

“I do feel like there’s such an exciting wave of South Asian brands in beauty right now. It’s been very cool to see. The food industry’s going through a very similar thing where we’re so hungry for representation and to even be on the shelf. To have the first South Asian [founded] beauty product in Sephora? That’s a pretty recent thing,” she says, referencing Kulfi Beauty and its founder, Priyanka Ganjoo, who was also raised in Mumbai. 

“Go Priyanka! I’m so damn proud of her! I feel like she’s opened the door and said ‘Great, now let’s get specific about our beauty traditions.’ What is the difference between Pakistani kajal culture and Indian kajal culture? There are differences there,” Kadri explains. “We owe people complicated stories and not flat narratives that really just don’t do our culture justice, because I think South Asian culture is just so much deeper and richer than that.”

Kadri says this shift feels like, in many ways, a beginning. “As an outsider, I’m also wary of [saying the beauty industry] needs to be better and more complicated, because I have no idea what South Asian beauty brands are up against, and I’m sure it’s a lot. I do know that for [the food] industry, it basically just feels like an uphill battle every day.”

That battle for complex representation is shared across beauty and food spaces. In the same way the Indian tradition of hair oiling is being appropriated by mostly white social creators as “hair slugging” (“That’s ridiculous,” Kadri quips) cuisines and centuries-old recipes from all over the world are being chopped, screwed, and simplified to satisfy the milder palettes of the TikTok masses. And while accessibility in cooking isn’t necessarily harmful, the appropriation that erases a dish’s origins is. But for Kadri, there’s a solution for those looking to enjoy the cuisine of other cultures without causing harm.

“To me, it’s so simple: if you nod to the origin, you learn more. You engage with the culture. Culture is what makes the world go round, and you connect more deeply with people without being offensive,” she explains. “Take the one minute to figure out where this came from. For me, I am fascinated by and really in adoration of Korean food and Korean food culture. But [rather than] saying ‘Oh yes, I came up with this variation on this tofu stew in my kitchen,’ it’s such an opportunity to be like, wow, there’s all of these amazing Korean-American recipe creators right now, and I’m going to give them the nod, engage with all of them, and champion them.” 

Adapting our thinking in this way, she says, can help create a more sound web of global food community. “When you’re appropriating something, it’s like, ‘Why?’ It’s because you’re coming from a place of scarcity and loss and wanting to say, ‘This is my thing’ when it’s somebody else’s. You interacting with [that culture instead] is more beautiful. The world gets better when we do things like that, not worse. We’re not losing anything.”

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