Sonika Malhotra, 36, has been mixing purpose and personal care successfully for years, recently leading to her promotion to the role of chief marketing officer for hair care in North America at Unilever.
Unilever’s Sonika Malhotra on finding purpose in hair care
Malhotra was co-founder of Unilever’s purpose-driven Love Beauty and Planet brand in 2018. This year she led the launch of Beautiful Hair and Scalp, an anti-dandruff offering aimed at breaking the social stigma of dandruff and scalp issues that has beat Unilever’s going-in projections for sales. Her portfolio also includes the premium Nexxus salon brand and the value-priced Suave.
As Malhotra sees it, beauty isn’t just about selling products, it’s about giving people confidence and joy and doing it responsibly.
“You can’t BS your way through purpose,” Malhotra said. “When the purpose is sustainability, it’s rooted in science.” So, she’s been learning about climate change and the impact of plastics and biodegradability, last year launching 100% biodegradable and micro-plastic-free products that leave no trace in waterways.
Malhotra has seen Unilever from many angles during her 15-year career there, starting in south Asia working in ice cream and refreshments, moving to London and the beauty business last decade and assuming her new North America position in July.
But she started out in theater. “I used to write stories and produce plays mostly on death and human truth,” Malhotra said. “Then I started learning about marketing and how marketing also has a lot to do with addressing human needs and telling human stories.”
If you could have dinner with one person, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
Andy Warhol. I have always admired how he brought artistic expression and pop culture and advertising and celebrities together in his work.
What are the top two social media sites you use on a regular basis?
No surprises here. Instagram—I enter the rabbit hole and that’s it. And TikTok, because some of it is “But why?”
What’s currently on your bedside reading list?
I am reading “Wabi Sabi” by Beth Kempton. And when I come up for some light freshness, then I munch on Urdu and English poetry—words that can be bottled like perfume.
What was the last show you binge-watched?
At what age do you hope to retire?
Maybe like 92 when I’ve replaced my knees and everything else a few times. I enjoy being busy and then finding moments of chill.