Since Pritika Swarup first became involved with Operation Smile as a student volunteer, she’s kept the organization that provides free cleft lip and cleft palate surgeries and comprehensive care for people living in low- and middle-income countries close to her heart.
Today, she is one of the fashion industry’s brightest rising stars as she launches Prakti, an international beauty and wellness brand. Inspired by Indian beauty practices passed down through generations, the Prakti line of products is based on the belief that clean, beautiful skin is a birthright of all women, regardless of race, skin color, age, accessibility or location. The brand’s launch is the latest of a long list of accomplishments for the Virginia Beach, Virginia, native that includes her work as an international fashion model, Columbia University graduate, MBA candidate and entrepreneur.
And as Prakti debuts on the world stage, Pritika remains passionate about her role as an Operation Smile global ambassador. That’s why Prakti is partnering with Operation Smile to further raise awareness about the organization’s life-changing work, which, like Prakti, inspires young people to live their most beautiful lives fearlessly.
We recently caught up with Pritika to learn more about the launch of Prakti and her special long-time connection to Operation Smile.
Q: Could you tell us a little bit more about the inspiration behind the brand and your vision to create Prakti?
A: “It really goes back to my childhood and being exposed to Indian beauty from such a young age and understanding how effective and how powerful it is. But there was no representation in the product space, or even in media and entertainment. That was something that struck me at a young age. Fast forward to being in the modeling and fashion industry. There really was no representation in either of the markets for Indian beauty and for Indian people, and there wasn’t a true representation of the diversity of the world.
“That pushed me and made me want to understand how that can change. The question that was posed is, ‘Why hasn't there been an Indian beauty brand to reach global scale?’ We did lots of research, we did focus groups in India and the U.S. just trying to understand where the disconnect was. We realized that there was this white space between the super traditional Indian Ayurvedic brand and the more Western brands. There was really no brand that bridged that gap. That's how Prakti’s hybrid concept came into play. Also, the hybrid is based off my dual identity and the fact that I’m Indian and American. I’ve always felt really nurtured by both cultures.
“The hybrid is from the formulations to the actual brand name and the product names. The brand name is Prakti, which is a combination of Pritika and Shakti. Shakti means female power. That aligns with our larger purpose to inspire women to fearlessly pursue multi-dimensional fulfilling lives. This brand is so much more than a beauty brand. Our beyond beauty initiatives really align with Operation Smile and their larger mission. Multiple influences culminated in Prakti. The hybrid concept is a reflection of our society and who we are today. We’re all hybrids of heritage and cultures and passions and interests. I really wanted our consumers and women to feel like they can go out and pursue all of their passions.”
Q: Being from Virginia Beach, you share a hometown with Operation Smile. How did you become involved with the organization and how has your relationship with it grown over the years?
A: “I got involved at a very young age, I was in eighth grade. It struck something in me, and my friends and I all decided to join together, and we contributed in any way we could. You never really think you can make such an impact at a student level, but Operation Smile always made me feel like everything was always toward this greater goal and everything mattered. That was really important, I think, for students to understand that. As I was building up my career, I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to go back to the organization and support it. The next thing I knew, I was an Operation Smile ambassador. I was so excited because after building such a platform for myself, I really wanted to use that platform for good and use it to create more awareness and disperse the stigma associated with cleft conditions. I feel like I'm really fortunate to be able to lend my voice and support to an organization that really makes the difference.
“Just seeing that change in a child, it's really unexplainable. I get a little emotional about it just because it really changes a child's life. I’m thrilled that I was able to go on these missions and be able to share my personal experiences. I never would have thought that it would be like this in the sense that Operation Smile has touched every part of my life in the best way.”
Q: It’s clear that your involvement and support of Operation Smile has had a tremendous impact on your approach to creating the Prakti brand. Could you delve into why Operation Smile and its mission of creating solutions that bring safe surgery and comprehensive cleft care to people living in low- and middle-income countries embodies the Prakti brand philosophy?
A: “I think that it was super important that we were not just a beauty brand and that we could go beyond that and give back in a really meaningful way. I know that Operation Smile's work really does make that impact. The mission to provide safe surgery provides brighter futures for so many, and it’s perfectly aligned with the Prakti brand ideals: Inspiring people overall to live their most beautiful lives, fearlessly and feeling confident and that nothing can stop them. I feel like Operation Smile really gives people with cleft conditions the opportunity to do that by providing safe surgery. These people can go and live their beautiful lives. That’s something that the organization provides for them which is amazing. That’s how I feel like it really aligns. Prakti’s all about giving back.
“We just want to make sure that we're taking every little thing into consideration because you want to make sure you're leaving a positive impact in every way. Then our partnership with Operation Smile really helps us do that.”
Q: Operation Smile has a strong presence in India, operating four year-round care centers and takes a grassroots approach to patient recruitment by reaching remote communities where medical care can be scarce. What does it mean to you to help advance Operation Smile’s work in a country that means so such to you, your family and your brand?
A: “I’m really thrilled at how our involvement in India has grown so much since I was there on my first mission. It means the world to me, especially seeing the need in India. I think in India, it’s one of the tougher situations where there’s just such a stigma associated with cleft conditions. It’s linked to some religious beliefs like, ‘You’re born that way, so you have to stay that way.’ Especially when I was there, I understood how much it takes to go from door to door and find these patients and these people in need and make them feel comfortable and bring them to the mission site and let them know that they can trust us. I feel like for India, it’s going that extra mile and just seeing the need that is so great there. I feel really wonderful about our growing involvement there. It means a lot to me because when I saw children with cleft lips, I was thinking to myself how these children can go through their whole lives and not really understand or know that they have the option of surgery.
“In India, it’s sometimes more difficult to spread that awareness and to get that message out there and to break through some of the cultural and religious barriers, but it’s so important because there’s such a need. It’s shocking to see the number of cleft conditions in India. Since I’ve had firsthand experience in all of this, I’m excited that we can continue to overcome every barrier such as access to patient care. I always think we can do more. That’s something my mom always says, ‘You can do more, you can be better, you can help more people, you can continue to evolve in the sense that if something’s not working or if something isn’t impacting as many people as you would like then you can approach it in a different way.’
“Operation Smile opened many care centers, and they don’t just look at cleft conditions. They look at different types of conditions. It’s wonderful that people have access to our doctors because one thing is that there are great doctors there, but sometimes people aren’t necessarily trained for certain types of procedures, especially for cleft conditions. Operation Smile is able to transfer that knowledge as well.”
Q: How do you envision Prakti’s relationship evolving into the future with Operation Smile’s mission?
A: “I already have some ideas as far as different awareness campaigns and fundraising partnerships as we continue to grow. As the brand grows, our ability to champion Operation Smile and champion the work the organization is doing will also grow. It’s a matter of, as we grow, we’ll be able to present more opportunities, and same with Operation Smile. I’m looking forward to really building it out. India was a great start. I just feel like as Prakti grows, our commitment and our impact will grow.”
Q: What is something not many people know about you or your passion behind Prakti that you wish they were aware of?
A: “Prakti is all about diversity and inclusivity and representing the true diversity of this world. That’s in all of our visuals, our imagery and messaging. That also has to do with my experience even on mission trips and meeting people who don’t feel like they’re beautiful, or they don’t feel like they fit in. I feel like I always found something very beautiful about each person that I’ve met. Even when they’re going through some difficult times, beauty really comes from the inside, and everyone I’ve met really showed me that on these different mission trips. That’s why I really wanted to think about the brand in the sense that it's all about inner beauty.
“Everything about our brand is supposed to nourish your skin and soul. It’s about nurturing that part of a person. Just the experience of being on mission trips and understanding the beauty of all these people who we’re meeting. Even though they don’t feel physically beautiful, they just have so much to give to this world, we unlock that.”
Q: Where can we learn more about Prakti?
A: “We have our website, praktibeauty.com. We also have our Instagram, which is @PraktiBeauty. My Instagram page is @PritikaSwarup. I’m going to be sharing about the brand and really communicating our mission and our message. I'm really excited about the way we're going to be presenting Operation Smile as well. There are so many platforms these days, and I just really wanted to focus on a couple: Facebook, Instagram and our website, and TikTok.”