You have been in the business of beauty for the last four decades. How did this journey begin and how would you sum it up so far?
Much more than I ever dreamed has come true! I never planned it this way. My life was on a very different course. I was married at the age of 15 and by the time I was 16, I had become a mother. Life seemed perfect, but I was bored with the drudgery of endless routine. I was always interested in beauty and in making others beautiful, so I decided on beauty as a career. I was determined to get the best training possible and worked my way to leading institutions in the West, like Helena Rubinstein, Christine Valmy, Swarzkopf, Lancome and Lean of Copenhagen.
While training in London, I came across instances of damage caused by chemical treatments. In a way, this changed the course of my life and career. I wanted to find a natural alternative that was safe and without risks. My study of Ayurveda convinced me that it could offer the ideal answers to modern cosmetic-care. I came back to India and started my first herbal salon on the verandah of my home in New Delhi, in 1971, in a very small way.
I established customised beauty care, with a personalised style, based on individual needs and problems. I also adopted the concept of “herbal care and cure.” Today, we are known, not only for general beauty care, but also for our therapeutic products and clinical treatments for specific skin and hair problems. I began to extend my salons on a unique franchise system. We operate / export in more than 100 countries, with our franchise ventures and direct product distributors. We also formulate over 375 products for beauty and health care. From one herbal salon to a worldwide chain of ventures, it has been a phenomenal journey.
What are the challenges that you faced as a woman entrepreneur in the country over the years?
When I started my career more than four decades ago, women were stepping out of their home. I had an advantage, because my enterprise was woman-centric at the time. It involved mainly women and being a woman, I felt I could understand the business better. One of the main challenges faced then and also now is that of vocational training. At that time, there were no professional beauty courses in India. The beauty business relied on apprenticeship training.
Entering the international market was the biggest challenge. India was not even represented at that time, but I attended International Beauty Congresses on my own steam, speaking on Ayurveda and trying to popularise Ayurvedic beauty care. I participated in the Festival of India in London in 1980 and was given a counter in the Perfumery Section at Selfridges. In the face of fierce competition, to stand up alone and sell India’s ancient civilization in a jar was not easy. To everyone’s surprise, the entire consignment sold out in 3 days, breaking the store’s existing cosmetic sales records. It resulted in a permanent counter at the London store. From there, we moved on to Harrods in London, Galeries Lafayette in Paris, the Seibu chain in Japan, La Rinascente in Milan and El Certe Inglis in Spain. Over the years, we have experienced the increasing demand for Indian Ayurvedic products across the globe.
How has your franchising system helped you in realising your business goals?
For us, franchising has been the core of the success of the Shahnaz Husain brand. All our ventures have extended on the franchise system. In fact, our fast paced expansion is due to the franchise system. We have no share in the profit or loss of the franchisee’s business. Therefore, we extended Shahnaz Herbal franchise salons, retail stores, schools, spas without investing in them.
They served as outlets for our products and treatments. For us, franchising offered distinct advantages also in terms of popularising the Shahnaz brand of Ayurvedic beauty care around the world. We have also been able to promote and popularise our specialised treatments. We attribute our fast paced growth to our franchising system and business model.
What steps do you feel the government should take to boost exports of products in the beauty and wellness segment? Is enough being done?
The future seems brighter, because we now have an International Yoga Day, which is celebrated worldwide. Then there is the Ministry of Ayush, to propel our traditional and holistic systems further. Thus, the beauty and wellness industries are certainly getting more attention. Spa treatments are catching on and I find that Ayurveda is ideal for spa treatments. We can boost exports and also our service sector. Our traditional Ayurvedic treatments of Panchkarma, Dhara and Kerala massage can be propagated, along with the herbalised and aroma oils.
How has the beauty business changed over time?
Four decades ago, when I started my career, beauty treatments were mainly “colour and cover.” The concept of beauty care was very superficial. No heed was paid to the health of the skin and hair and the potential dangers of chemical treatments. The “back to nature” trend had not yet begun. At that time, the beauty industry in India, including the beauty services industry, was also largely unorganised and fragmented.
Only some basic beauty products were available on cosmetic store shelves. The word “cosmetics” mainly implied make-up items. Herbal beauty care, as we know it today, did not exist. There were no herbal products and no salon treatments, based on herbal remedies.