Get to Know: Shilpi Chhotray, Founder of Samudra Skin & Sea

Get to Know: Shilpi Chhotray, Founder of Samudra Skin & Sea

While studying the human impact of coral reef ecosystems in Cairns, Australia, during her undergraduate years at Virginia Tech University, entrepreneur and environmentalist Shilpi Chhotray discovered a newfound respect for the integral role played by the oceans in the overall well-being of our environment.

An East Coast native, Shilpi earned a Master of Earth and Environmental Resources Management, with a concentration in Marine Affairs, from the University of South Carolina, and a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Policy and Planning from Virginia Tech University. Now located in San Francisco, Shilpi thrives on the innovative and creative spirit of the Bay Area, where she has had the opportunity to work on a range of projects dedicated to addressing marine environment issues.

Shilpi ChhotrayShilpi was further inspired by a trip to India in 2014. While there, Shilpi met with local seaweed farmers, many of whom are women, and learned more about the sustainable harvesting process and the health benefits of the plant. Channeling this knowledge and her passion for preserving and sustaining the oceans, Shilpi founded Samudra Skin & Sea, a skin care line that is 100% organic and natural and uses seaweed harvested off the coast of California. Through Samudra Skin & Sea, Shilpi hopes to bring awareness to ocean conservation and the sustainable seaweed processes.

In addition to Samudra Skin & Sea, Shilpi also works for Future 500, an NGO that specializes in stakeholder engagement, where she direct the oceans program with a focus on coalition building, and serves on the Advisory Board of the Whale Sanctuary Project.

Learn more about her what motivates Shilpi as well as her newest endeavor, Samudra Skin & Sea.

What was the inspiration behind Samudra Skin & Sea?
My work with seaweed was game-changing and something I’ve continued to pursue learning more about. When I was researching the environmental, economic, political and conservation aspects of seaweed, I also learned of its incredible health benefits , especially for skin, the biggest organ in the body. Seaweed is rich in essential vitamins, antioxidants and minerals that feed and nourish the skin. I was amazed by its inherent sustainability characteristics , as it needs only water and sunlight to thrive and can be grown without pesticides or harmful contaminants. And the more sustainable, the healthier it is for our bodies and planet.

I was also inspired by it’s ability to help provide farmers, specifically women, with green jobs that can help combat the pressures from climate change and over fishing. After a trip to India in 2014 where I observed the harvesting process used by women seaweed farmers, I was determined to incorporate this sustainable harvesting process to produce high quality, organic skincare. Samudra, which means ocean in Sanskrit, was born from my dream of blending global economies, cultures, and environments as well as the mind, body, and spirit.

Why focus on ocean conservation? What is the importance of oceans in the overall schematic of our environment?
Our oceans need more attention. The oceans cover more than 70% of our planet yet only 2.8% is protected. I’ve always been fascinated by and deeply respectful of the diversity of marine life, from charismatic whales and dolphins to colorful corals and seaweed, which provide food and shelter for countless marine species. Our monumental, dynamic, blue planet requires greater protection by governments, citizens, and especially the private sector, which is responsible for the extraction of marine resources and pollution through chemicals and plastic contaminants. Samudra’s role in providing clean, organic, and pure skincare is just as much about healthy skin as it is about healthy oceans. We want to educate consumers and encourage other companies to do the same. I believe the interconnections of people and planet connecting the dots between environmental and social issues, which are more in sync than we know. Through seaweed we can empower people and communities, and safeguard our marine resources for generations to come.


How do you harvest seaweed? How do you transform the seaweed into the end product?
Our seaweed is local, edible grade, hand harvested, and dried in the sun. We calculate our harvest volume based on growth rates and densities that do not interfere with the marine environment. By working with a commercial harvester who has innate knowledge of the marine ecosystems (he has been harvesting on the coast of Northern California for over 20 years), we know exactly what goes into the process first-hand. There is only so much you can learn from books and experts that spend more time in academia than actually in the water. I am a firm believer in integrating local and traditional ecological knowledge wherever possible. Furthermore, by harvesting myself, I have learned more about the ecological integrity of the process- providing assurance that our seaweed is handcrafted with conservation at the forefront, which goes hand-in-hand with producing the highest quality attainable.

Tell us more about the products offered by Samudra.
We have four introductory products which are 100% organic and natural, vegan, cruelty free and handmade without synthetics, fragrances or dyes, GMO’s, glutens and parabens. Products and packaging are plastic free to reduce environmental impact, especially stressors facing our oceans like single use plastics and microbeads. Our products include:

  • Healing moisture-rich body butter. Featuring pure Mendocino seaweed, shea butter, and avocado oil.
  • Rejuvenating facial cream. Featuring pure Mendocino seaweed, hibiscus extract, jojoba seed oil, and rosemary hip extract.
  • Detoxifying facial mask. Featuring pure Mendocino seaweed, betonite clay, activated charcoal, and colloidal oatmeal.
  • Lather-rich soap bar for hair and body. Featuring pure Mendocino seaweed, avocado butter, shea butter, maracuja and argan oils. Biodegradable.

Facial MaskWhat is your favorite product offered by Samudra?
I love all of the products, but I’d have to go with the body butter. It’s been an incredible solace for my dry skin and eczema. I have a number of food sensitivities and allergies that cause skin rashes so the Samudra line has been a turning point in my skincare routine since it’s plant based, consisting of high quality essential oils and pure ingredients. I’m not one to wear makeup, so having healthy and glowing skin via my soaps and creams is important to me.

What can we expect from Samudra in the next year?
We debuted our introductory products in April this year and are now in four San Francisco-based locations. We’re planning to launch our online shop this August and continue to expand our retail locations. We look forward to continuing our NGO partnerships – to date we are working with The Marine Mammal Center to raise awareness about the rescue and rehabilitation efforts of seals and sea lions on the California coastline. Secondly, we are partnering with 5 Gyres on a consumer action campaign to call attention to the state of microbeads and plastics ending up in our oceans.

Who has played a crucial role in influencing the events of your life? How so?
My parents, like most Indian immigrants are extremely hard working and have a strong work ethic that has been engrained in my sister and me. They have also supported me as I followed a not so traditional career path – I think they recognized from the time I was a young professional that I was not going to be fulfilled in a traditional 9-5 or following someone else’s direction forever. In the early days, it was more challenging, but they’ve really opened up to my ideas and approach to social entrepreneurship.I have an incredible network of strong women in my life- friends, family, and other female entrepreneurs who constantly provide me with inspiration and confidence in a heavily male-dominated society. Finally, my fiance who is a creative soul- an artist and engineer, is Samudra’s biggest fan and constantly encouraging me to follow my dreams and reach my goals, however unattainable they seem at the moment. I respect his views and opinions immensely so it means the world to me when we share ideas and collaborate.

Increasingly today, younger generations in the South Asian community are choosing nontraditional careers. What words of wisdom do you have for those, particularly women, who aspire to pursue their interests and embrace an entrepreneurial spirit?
Listen to your inner voice, more often than not, society and the status-quo will tell you otherwise. Do what makes you You. With hard work and a supportive community, you can make your dream a tangible reality. Especially for women of color, the time is now to demand gender-equality in the workplace and this goes towards entrepreneurship too, we are still fighting an uphill battle to earn the same opportunity, pay and arguably respect, for the SAME work to our male counterparts. A united voice alongside female-led entrepreneurship networks are necessary, if not essential, to paving the way forward.

About the Author
Rina Shah is the CEO and founder of The Arpan Group, a boutique ad agency and public relations firm that specializes in capturing untouched ethnic markets. From press releases and media kits to marketing materials and by-line articles, The Arpan Group customizes solutions based on the client’s needs. For more information, visit or call (703) 651-6670.

Images provided by Samudra Skin & Sea and Shilpi Chhotray. Article appears in August 2016 Desh-Videsh magazine.

Get to Know: Nidhi Chanani, Illustrator

Get to Know: Nidhi Chanani, Illustrator


Nidhi Chanani, Illustrator
Freelance artist Nidhi Chanani has drawn over 700 illustrations, earning admiration and accolades for her whimsical and endearing portrayals of everyday life. Born in Calcutta and raised in Southern California, Chanani’s experiences both as an Indian American and a woman inspire the moments captured in her illustrations as well as her upcoming graphic novel, Pashmina.

Currently based in the San Francisco Bay area, Chanani studied literature at University of California, Santa Cruz, where she gained a greater understanding about storytelling. Her love for art never faltered, and even as she worked in the nonprofit sector, she felt something was missing. Encouraged by a former editor of India Currents magazine, she began to write a comic and realized the potential of pursing art as a profession. In 2008, Chanani was laid off giving her the opportunity to learn more about and pursue her dream of becoming an artist. Chanani then attended the Academy of Art in San Francisco for one and half years before dropping out to focus full-time on her art.

Chanani began creating daily illustrations first to friends and family, and later to a growing list of admirers. She now owns her own online store, Everyday Love Art, where admirers can view her work and purchase prints.

Learn more about what motivates and inspires Nidhi Chanani. View her portfolio at www.

Whimsical and vibrant, your illustrations offer a glimpse into moments individuals/couples/families experience on a day-to-day basis. What inspires you to portray these poignant moments?
Country Girls I feel like we are surrounded by inspiration. Every day. It’s hard to see because there are a multitude of distractions, but I truly believe that beauty is everywhere. I draw a lot from my life, my life with my husband and daughter, and from the simple desire to draw. If I want to draw a monster or a dinosaur, I take that desire and tell a story with it.
What do you hope readers will learn from Priyanka Das, the main character in your upcoming graphic novel Pashmina?
I am hoping they will learn about the experience of a first-generation teen. I also believe that Priyanka will take readers along with her on a journey to understanding yourself, your family, and culture.
How has your experience as a first generation Indian American shaped both your artwork and novel?

Most of the work I create is personal; therefore who I am and where I’ve come from will show in my work. My inspiration for Pashmina came from a variety of sources: my mom, growing up in the US, my first trip to India, and women’s choice – all of these things are woven into the story. From the beginning, I wanted to create a book that showcased India as a beautiful country. Growing up the United States during the 1980s, my idea of India was one of poverty, hokey gurus, and the kama sutra. Yet there is a side of India that immigrants know to be filled with strong family ties, deep spirituality, and beautiful landscapes.

When I was younger my parents would travel to India often. When they returned, their suitcases had a pungent, almost magical smell – from a place that seemed very far away. I was probably ten years old the first time this happened. Opening their suitcase made me feel close to this other world. In a way I believe this story has been with me since then.

Both Pashmina and my artwork have my identity woven throughout. I create illustrations with brown characters. My wood burning art is created by intricately burning lines on raw wood is influenced by henna art. Pashmina is a story that has lived with me for a long time, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share it.

There is a growing movement for more diversity in books and art, especially for characters to be more reflective of the true makeup of our communities. Do you see Priyanka as an “agent of change?”
Yes, definitely. Priyanka not only reflects the struggles of an Indian-American teen, but also her mother. The central characters are all women who have struggled to understand and accept their choices. The concept that women have choice is one that I wanted to focus on. Threading this theme into the core of the story was challenging. Women’s issues are changing – women are recognizing their voice. I wanted to capture and craft a story that encourages women to harness the power of choice within their lives.
Who has played a crucial role in influencing the events of your life? How so?

My mom and my husband. My mom is a strong, Indian woman who left her home in India with nothing to come here with my dad. When their marriage didn’t work she made the bold choice to separate and was ostracized from the community. She didn’t let that stop her. Her example of working hard and keeping your head up has made me who I am.

My husband, Nick, has taught me so much about love and laughter. He’s the calm to my storm. I’m fairly practical, organized and ambitious. However, like most artists, I bury myself under doubt, and I’m a harsh critic of everything I do. He encourages me see the silver linings (even when they’re tiny), helps me laugh at myself, and tells me when I need to stop working. I feel more sane and balanced because of his presence in my life.

Increasingly today, younger generations in the South Asian community are choosing “non-traditional” careers. What words of wisdom do you have for those, particularly women, who aspire to pursue their interests and embrace an entrepreneurial spirit?

Surround yourself with people who believe in you and don’t be afraid to walk away from those who cannot understand your aspirations. Work hard and don’t expect over night success. Most success is a slow build. Celebrate your victories. Share your work.

All images provided by Nidhi Chanani. Profile image courtesy of Angela Grammatas.

About the Author
Rina Shah Rina Shah is the CEO and founder of The Arpan Group, a boutique ad agency and public relations firm that specializes in capturing untouched ethnic markets. From press releases and media kits to marketing materials and by-line articles, The Arpan Group customizes solutions based on the client’s needs. For more information,

visit or call (703) 651-6670.

Article appeared in February 2016 issue of Desh-Videsh.

Get to Know: Karuna Chani, Beauty Expert and Makeup Artist

Get to Know: Karuna Chani, Beauty Expert and Makeup Artist

Karuna Chani, Beauty Expert and Makeup Artist
Internationally recognized makeup artist and skin care consultant Karuna Chani is known for her ability to blend eastern elements with western beauty trends. Born and raised in New York City, Chani graduated from Parsons School of Design, and later attended the Makeup Forever Academy in Paris, France. During her internships and post-graduate work, Chani was inspired by how a face could be transformed in a short amount of time.

Switching her focus from fashion to beauty, Chani worked with big-name brands Laura Mercier, Chanel, Giorgio Armani and NARS on how to use their products and create custom looks for clients. Chani transforms young South Asian brides and professional models with ease and expertise. Owner of and lead makeup artist at KC-Makeup, Chani opened her first studio in 2007 and recently opened a new one in NoMad, Manhattan.

Recently, Chani shared more about her background and favorite beauty secrets.

Tell us a little bit about your career and how you came to be where you are today.
I did fashion internships while studying at Parsons [School of Design], coordinating fashion shows for designers such as Carmen Marc Valvo, DKNY, Calvin Klein, etc. That work led to a realization that I wanted to be in the beauty industry, which changed my path from fashion to beauty in 2001. At the time, I was totally fascinated by how makeup could transform a face in 30 minutes and give a person such confidence all in one. Fashion and beauty go hand in hand though, so I wasn’t far off.
As a renowned makeup artist, you have had the chance to work with quite a list of stars. Who are some of your favorites and why?
Bollywood actresses Priyanka Chopra and Nimrat Kaur are my favorites, not only because they are natural beauties, but also talented, hard working, and an inspiration to all females. They are perfect representations that not only can you be beautiful, but smart and have it all! And to top it off, both are incredibly human and down to earth.
You also work with brides to ensure they look fabulous for their big day. What can a bride expect when working with you and your team?

A bride can expect exceptional professionalism (punctual, polite, personable), creative, unique concepts. No cookie-cutter look or technique. Understanding the client’s needs and coming up with a unique concept to suit her personal style and vision for her big day is what KC-Makeup is all about!

What is your favorite skincare product – one item no woman should be without for healthy, glowing skin?
Any skincare product that has hyaluronic acid and/or triple peptides is definitely one of my favorites! It’s an instant skin booster giving a slight lift and glow all in one!
Is there one particular step in a skin care regimen women should not skip?

It can’t be one step. it has to be at least two steps! (I promise the one additional step won’t take much more time). Every woman should never ever skip cleansing and moisturizing daily. It keeps the skin clean and hydrated and is a must for supple looking skin.

Many South Asian women struggle with finding the perfect shade of makeup. Do you recommend any particular brands to ease their search?

This has been an ongoing issue in the industry, since I began working in beauty and still continues to be an issue to this day. While it has improved in the past five years, for many it is still difficult to find the right shade of foundation. I would recommend NARS, Bobbi Brown, Laura Mercier and/or Makeup Forever to find the perfect shade for South Asian skin tones.

Increasingly today, younger generations in the South Asian community are choosing “non-traditional” careers. What words of wisdom do you have for those who aspire to careers in fashion and/or beauty?
Don’t do it unless you’re 100% committed and prepared to put in the required hard work, passion, perseverance and dedication. because this career is demanding, always changing and forces you to remain at the top of your game creatively and professionally. Oh and your social life may slowly slip away as you become more and more successful.

Work is my life. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it’s not for everyone.

How would you characterize your own style?
Classic and trendy with my very own unique flair.

Visit to learn more about Karuna Chani, KC-Makeup, and her services.

About the Author
Rina Shah Rina Shah is the CEO and founder of The Arpan Group, a boutique ad agency and public relations firm that specializes in capturing untouched ethnic markets. From press releases and media kits to marketing materials and by-line articles, The Arpan Group customizes solutions based on the client’s needs. For more information, visit or call (703) 651-6670.

Photos provided by Karuna Chani and Tara Sharma Photography.

Article appears in November 2015 issue of Desh-Videsh magazine.