Waris Ahluwalia wants you to slow down—and live thoughtfully.
The actor, designer, entrepreneur and nonconformist learned early on that he was different than most. Instead of battling that, he learned to listen to his inner voice, always keeping in mind the values of his upbringing and culture.
Though he’s not inclined to synthesize his work down to a single category, Ahluwalia considers himself a storyteller and explorer of love and history. That calling has manifested itself in performance (for directors like Wes Anderson and Spike Lee), jewelry creation/collaborations (with brands from Gucci to the Gap) and activism (particularly in the realm of preservation of the Asian elephant). In 2016, New York City proclaimed October 19th “Waris Ahluwalia Day” for his work in spreading tolerance and inclusivity through his creative and social impact efforts.
Most recently, driven by a desire to create connectivity between people and nature, Ahluwalia launched House of Waris Botanicals, a line of adaptogenic teas based in plant science, community and celebration. In April 2020, just as COVID took strong hold, he released his long-awaited Immunity One blend to support well-being on multiple levels.
Here, the independent thinker explains why when humanity is out of balance, the planet is too:
Live The Process: You’ve been active in so many different creative endeavors and mediums. Is there a theme that you feel ties all of your work together?
Waris Ahluwalia: First and foremost, I'm a storyteller. That’s all I’m doing. Telling stories. Sometimes in gold, sometimes in film, sometimes in ink and now in tea. My inspiration has always been love and history. But we must be clear, I never claim to understand either of those two. This is my search for a better understanding. How history repeats itself all too often even though we as a species have been gifted the ability to learn. How love is a tool to fight fear and lift us all up together, but takes so long to nurture.
The only other thing I ever say about my career is I’m an explorer that makes things. Why create a parameter for myself? The world can do that on its own without my help. I’ve always immersed myself in everything I do with seemingly unnecessary detail, but it’s those details where joy lives.
LTP: What sparked your interest in botanicals and healing?
WA: Designing—whether it be jewelry, textiles, fashion or objects—has been instrumental in my creative growth. The rigorous approach defined my process. In jewelry, I worked in millimeters. If you’re off by half a millimeter, that stone will pop out. It’s taught me to not compromise. It’s taught me to push and to persist until I get it right.
However, there came a time when it was not enough just to make beautiful things with wildly talented artisans. There was a sense of personal responsibility that was always present. Working with conservation organizations like Elephant Family, visiting projects on the ground, learning and understanding the larger issues at hand made it all the more real and urgent.
Historically, as a people, we’ve been fine saying one thing, feeling another and doing yet another. All three can be different, and that’s the way society has functioned. But for me, personally, what I feel, what I say and what I do have to be aligned. The time had come to turn my energy towards something more universal.
It was time to step away from a broken system that put profit over people and try to create something that uplifts as part of its existence. Something that celebrates the planet and its offerings. Something that addresses the very human-made planetary crisis we exist in. Humanity out-of-balance creates a planet out-of-balance. An agenda that supports the ongoing destruction of our planet—not just climate change, but deforestation, overdevelopment and widespread killing of plant and animal species and eventually all of us. An agenda that pits us against nature and pits us against each other. It’s our collective unawareness of what the problem is: us.
Over time, we’ve been removed from ourselves, from each other, to create “the other.” First, the other is another human being, then the other becomes nature. We look at it as separate things when it needs to just be one.
LTP: What inspired you to launch House of Waris Botanicals?
WA: Wherever I went tea was served. At family gatherings, after dinner, tea was served. During laughter and celebration, tea was served. During quiet moments, in solemn moments, in moments of grief. It was always there. In my travels for jewelry production in Jaipur, or when I went to Delhi or Bombay, tea was served. When I went to meet with the elephant organizations and local conservationists, tea was served. It was right in front of me. The answer had always been right there.
House of Waris Botanicals is an exploration into a more thoughtful way of living through the use of plant science, community and celebration. It’s a company focused on redesigning our relationship to well-being and stress for a better you. We’re not in the wellness business; we’re in the celebration business. Celebrating life, celebrating humanity, celebrating plants, celebrating how all those can work together. Slowing down is part of that celebration. That’s a celebration of you. A celebration of your time on this planet. It's how you look after yourself. It's how you look after your loved ones. It's how you look after your community.
LTP: What exactly does the line offer? Do you have a personal favorite?
WA: We work with tea estates, farms and herbalists to develop proprietary blends that harness the power of plants—ingredients that have been under our noses for centuries. Our organic non-GMO herbs—rich in antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients—come from just about everywhere from Egypt to Oregon. Our blends include adaptogens, a category of herb known to help your body adapt to external stressors and bring itself back into balance. These herbs have been used by traditional practices including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and ayurveda and by many indigenous cultures across the world from the Siberian Plains to the northwest US. Our team of certified herbalists works on the function, while my focus is on the taste. It’s important that the blends are not only healing, but also taste outrageously delicious.
As of now, House of Waris Botanicals offers a collection of four adaptogenic blends with incredible ingredients. Here’s a peek at some of them: Love Conquers All, an aphrodisiac blend of heart-opening rose, damiana, saffron and shatavari; Night of Nights, a soothing combination of chamomile, linden blossom, jujube seed and passionflower that promotes sleep; and Sweet Clarity, an energizing concoction of rhodiola, holy basil, eulethero and ginger root. Then there’s our new Immunity One.
Hard for me to pick a favorite, but I love the dreaminess of Love Conquers All in the afternoon, while the smoky Sweet Clarity is perfect for my mornings and the Night of Nights helps slow my day down in the evening.
LTP: You happened to launch an immunity blend in April, just as the world was wrestling with a worldwide health crisis. What does that blend include and how can it boost our health?
WA: After a year and half in development—formulating, blending, tasting and rigorously sourcing—we finally released Immunity One in April. We were hoping to have this ready for launch in late January, when the endless winter has knocked us on our feet. But, as the great Scottish poet Robert Burns said, “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley.” And how awry they have gone.
Our Immunity One blend is a hearty adaptogenic blend with elderberry, hyssop, amla and cordyceps, taking from ayurvedic traditions as well as TCM. With herbs, especially adaptogens, the benefits are realized after regular and steady use.
LTP: What does the word “nourish” mean to you? For you, is it a physical expression or can it go beyond that?
WA: Tea has been connecting people for centuries. In every indigenous culture across the planet, tea has always served a purpose. It was a way to bond and a way to heal. It can do the same for us today. Allow us a chance to pause. To slow down. It’s a tool, not one that is on your phone, but in your cup. It comes from the planet that has the ability to nourish us if we in-turn look after the planet. Ingredients that have served humanity for centuries.
In the traditional practices of healing, one does not look at an ailment at a singular point, but rather as part of a larger picture. I think of nourishment in the same way.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
WA: Early in life, I realized that I would not fit in anywhere. It's not my purpose in life to fit in. I do what makes me happy and nourishes my soul and humanity. How the world reacts is not in my hands. The goal along the way is to stay true to myself and the values my parents and culture have given me. All I had were my instincts and I learned early on to trust them. It's a skill we’re given—a tool. It's up to us to sharpen it and learn to use it. We all have it to some degree. The universe speaks to us all; we just have to learn how to listen.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
From the beginning it is process that has drawn me close. Not just the what, but the ‘HOW’. Once you have an understanding, it can be applied across all aspects of life. Everyday is an opportunity to be better. To do better. This couldn’t be more relevant than today.