My AirPods have – naturally – died right before my Zoom conversation with UN_DID’s Romi Dasani.
I have also pulled a paranoid all-nighter in order to make the 8 am meeting. Dasani is in the United Kingdom and extremely busy; the last thing I want to do is reschedule this meeting because I slept through my alarm.
I have been excited about this phone call for a long time. My sleep deprivation fails to hide this excitement, and Dasani kindly recognizes it.
“I’m loving the energy! It’s evening for me here at the moment. So it’s giving me the boost that I need for the day,” he smiles.
His evening plan sounds extremely relaxing: finish this call (the last of many), have a drink, and write in his notebook. “I’m gonna write and structure my thoughts,” he says. Creating a plan for the next day helps him wind down, because he can sort out priorities, “go all in on that, and everything else can just wait for the time being.”
I look at my desk and realize my own notebook isn’t there, and that I haven’t known where it is for… longer than I’d like to admit. The notebook is MIA.
Dasani’s comment inspires me to make a mental note to locate it. But for now, I go all in with this interview and begin with the big questions.
UN_DID is UK-based skincare brand, offering the “money wash” cleanser and “meltdown.” balm. The brand was born because Dasani was sick of seeing performative activism in the beauty industry. As someone from the LGBTQ+ community, the rainbow flags and Pride celebrations that appeared in June but disappeared in July were frustrating.
“The struggles and the fight for LGBTQ+ people don’t stop after July. It doesn’t end there,” he says, and I nod in strong agreement. “It’s an everyday kind of challenge and it’s an everyday conversation. So there were just some kinds of things that didn’t necessarily sit well with me,” he says.
Then there were the companies that, forward facing, appeared to be extremely progressive. But behind the scenes, it was a different story. “It was so contradictory,” Dasani tells me, “because I’m like, how can you speak to different types of communities if you don’t have those people internally telling you, or advising you, or guiding you, and giving their thoughts?”
It reminded him of a time he was at a previous workplace, when a coworker approached him in the lunch area. She told him to look around, and he did… unsure of what he was looking for.
“She said, ‘have you realized we are the only two people of color in this whole building?’ It was a light bulb moment,” he says. And while things have improved, years later, that interaction has stuck with him.
It took time, but the culmination of realizations and resulting feelings about the performative activism and the homogeneous culture behind the scenes encouraged Dasani to start UN_DID.
“The name UN_DID is obviously a play on ‘undo,’ and the whole concept is around undoing these kinds of stereotypes; undoing and instead trying to create this authentic, really cool, safe space where every gender, every kind of ethnicity, however you identify as a human being, as a person, can feel that there’s something there.”
Dasani has lit up as he tells me this, explaining the backstory. He smiles a little wider before saying, “…But that’s quite a heavy message, so I wanted to do it in a really fun, sexy, playful – just, a lighter way that people can instantly get that kind of warm, fuzzy feeling. That way, that message is delivered in a positive way.”
And fun, sexy, playful it is. Orange is the dominant color, bright and bold; the titles of the products are lowercase, with periods at the end. It’s all very sexy, very cool, very attractive to the eye. Throw in a backward “D” in “UN_DID,” and playful is an understatement.
The messaging is also on point: look at the product descriptions, and the amount of play on “UN” is impossible to miss. For example: “UN_believable? believe it!” describes their money wash, a cleanser for all skin types.
Dasani has created this brand all on his own, but “I lean on experts. I lean on freelancers. I lean on agencies to help me bring some ideas to life,” he says. And in doing so, he brings in diversity – diversity he believes other brands are neglecting.
“I did a big brand photoshoot about two, three months ago, and everyone who was there, models, people working behind the scenes included, were from a diverse background,” he says. “It’s important to represent behind the scenes as well, so you’re giving other people opportunities, and that’s what the brand stands for.”
So, fun, sexy, heartfelt, diverse, and inclusive are all at the heart of it. But why? Why does this man find it so important?
Well, it’s close to his heart, too.
Romi Dasani created a message directed to the world… but also to himself.
When I ask why he created his own skincare company rather than simply bringing this insight to a company he was already with, he pauses and thinks.
“For me to break away from [my culture’s stereotypes] and actually show that as a very proud, gay, Indian, British man, I can do this and I can break all of that kind of taboo… then it will hopefully start opening up more conversations,” he explains. Rather than being a doctor or lawyer, for example – something expected of him – he turned to entrepreneurship.
“There are so many people who are hustling and have creative ideas and want to change things,” he divulges. But there’s no competition, no edge to his voice. Instead, he sounds encouraged, excited by the prospect of so many ideas coming to life all at once.
“It has to start from somewhere and that’s why I wanted to do it by myself: to prove to myself that I could, and to show and represent myself as well to other people,” he says.
He wants it to be bigger than himself, though. “I want somebody else to be like, ‘he did it. He did it. I can do this.’ It’s setting that example: you don’t need to live in that box,” he shares.
“I identify in three different ways: I have an Indian heritage – that’s how I grew up, but I am British. I grew up in England, but I also identify as gay. So for me, this whole process is the idea of bringing together three identities,” he explains. “And it’s not about one being better than the other or one overtaking the other, it’s about: how am I bringing those three things together in my own way?”
Dasani genuinely embraces the differences that make us who we are. He doesn’t use it to build sales or “relate” to an audience he doesn’t actually relate to.
“Some past companies that I’ve been in, they would talk about [diversity and inclusion] because they wanted to win over the community and create a larger community, larger fan-base,” he says. But it would return in sales, and where it returned in sales was where the diversity and inclusion stopped. The same went on internally; as long as sales were up from the “marketing checkbox” of diversity and inclusion, the team stayed the same.
Which is why Dasani regularly asks himself of UN_DID: “How are we showcasing diversity? Not just externally to our customers, and our amazing community. But how are we showing it internally?”
As he mentioned, he leans on outside support. And looking at UN_DID’s website, with so many identities, ethnicities, races, all in gender-neutral clothing, the authenticity of his mission is clear.
Romi Dasani also takes sustainability and philanthropy into consideration.
The formulas are vegan and Leaping Bunny Certified; they use glass wherever possible; all shipping materials are made from 100% recycled materials; packaging like tissue paper and stickers are part of an eco-alliance; and all secondary packaging is fully recyclable. So that guilt? You can let it go and know that the brand is working around the clock to be as sustainable and clean as possible.
I’m thrilled by this sustainability, but I’m even more wowed by the dedication to supporting nonprofit organization akt. Dasani is practically bouncing when he starts talking about it.
“For our partnership with akt, we give 5% of sales of every product. It’s not of profits, it’s of the sale, which is more, and that’s of every single product sold,” he expresses. “And that is every day. It’s not just, ‘we’re doing a spotlight for it now because it’s a great moment to talk about the partnership during Pride.’ I wanted to be authentic, show that it is not just for Pride. It is every single day.”
I reflect on his previous statement, regarding companies that fail to realize the LGBTQ+ struggles exist outside of June. The companies that only give back profits of rainbow eyeshadow palettes. The companies that refuse to have a conversation when July begins.
“akt is about helping [LGBTQ+ people] progress and be self-sufficient and move forward with their own lives. akt works with specific faith groups, because akt are not the experts, who then help bring families together, if that’s what is needed,” Dasani explains. “Or if a person needs to be removed from the home situation, then they have their own housing. Or they help with life skills – they can help write CVs and prepare people for job interviews.”
I back up: faith. I know of many people who were part of a faith that prohibited them from living their lives. Dasani tells me that akt can help those “consolidate in their own mind what it means to be a gender identity or a particular sexual orientation with the faith background.” He looks at me with a gripping intensity – not joy, but depth. “It’s not about rejecting the faith background. It’s, how do you bring those two things together?”
He stops abruptly, then smiles sheepishly: “I could go on and on, there are so many services. I hope I’ve said everything. I should reach out to my contact there and be like, ‘did I say everything right?’”
The fact that Dasani has given back and is so passionate… well, why?
“No young person should ever feel at risk at home where it should be a safe environment. And I speak from personal experience.”
He divulges further: “my home situation hasn’t been good because of those same reasons. But luckily, I was self-sufficient by that point. But some of these young people are not as fortunate as I was.”
There’s a quiet moment, quick but noticeable. Then he continues: “I’m really happy that I can do even a small bit, whether that’s a small contribution or raising awareness.”
My admiration only deepens.
When I ask Dasani the second-to-last question – what do you hope to see in the beauty industry in the next few years? – this 13+ year veteran of the industry has an immediate response.
He’s positive, at first. With no criticism in his voice, he says he’s proud of where the industry is headed. “For the last two and a half years, I’ve seen the evolution and the change in beauty brands. And it’s been really good, actually.” I’m surprised by this answer, because many people to whom I’ve asked this question are critical right off the bat.
Dasani tells me, “I’ve been really excited that people are talking about things like diversity and inclusion and creating accepting spaces and creating safe zones. The diversity of our community can really be truly represented and shine and just be champions of that.”
However, he notes, the voices aren’t loud enough. They aren’t as consistent or strong in their beliefs as they should be, if they want to be true allies to the LGBTQ+ community.
“I’d like to see more boldness and more confidence in what [brands are] saying and what they’re doing, because if beauty brands take a stance, they stay confident in it; it can then inspire change in all of the community, I think,” he tells me. “Don’t get me wrong, brands are speaking out, but I think it needs to be more vocal.”
I ask him if there’s anything else he’d like to get in before we end our conversation. After all, I need to let him get to a drink and that notepad list of priorities.
He says yes.
“No one is just one thing. No one identifies just in one way. Everyone is very complex and everyone is so rich and beautiful and that’s what makes everyone amazing,” he says. It’s the uniqueness, the individuality that brings balance and interest to the world, ultimately.
“I think that’s the nuance of UN_DID. There are different things inside of you and that’s great. It’s how you bring those things together. That’s the beauty of it.”
It’s the perfect way to end a conversation with a man who sees diversity for what it is: absolutely beautiful.
We wind down our conversation, and I thank him for his time. After he hangs up, I simply want to nap. The all-nighter has hit me hard, and I’m ready to crash. But first? I locate my notebook and outline the day’s activities, circling the priorities.
And suddenly, I understand the weight lifted off Dasani’s shoulders when a plan has been made. I curl up and snooze for the next few hours with that same weightlessness.