Beauty entrepreneur Shahnaz Husain was recently in Mumbai to attend a Harvard Conference on Creating Emerging Markets. Harvard University has recently added her herbal beauty business model as a case study to their curriculum. From starting out as a magazine writer when she was just a teenager to being the recipient of the fourth highest civilian award in the country, Ms. Husain has come a long way. The global pioneer in Ayurveda beauty recently took time out of her busy schedule to answer our questions.
Chemical-based beauty treatments like botox are known for their instant results. How effective do you think is Ayurveda as an agent of beauty enhancement?
Although Botox is not as invasive as cosmetic surgery procedures, it can still be called a “minimally invasive” procedure, because it temporarily blocks the signals from nerves to muscles. Yes, the effects are temporary and last for 3 to 4 months. This means that you need to repeat the Botox procedure every 3 to 4 months.
Ayurvedic beauty care is an external treatment and certainly not invasive in any way. It also makes use of plant ingredients and natural substances. Unlike chemicals, the human body actually responds much better to natural substances, while it has a built-in resistance to chemicals and synthetic materials. Also, chemicals can gradually lead to a toxic build-up in the body.
The Ayurvedic beauty treatments have a long-term effect. They can be carried out daily, as part of the normal skin care routine and would help to protect the youthful qualities of the skin for a longer time and also add a healthy radiance. They influence the skin at the cellular level and also boost the regeneration of healthy new cells.
There are Ayurvedic products, that use plant stem cells, which actually help to repair damaged cells. Similarly, certain substances like precious gems have been used in Ayurveda to purify the skin and thus have a pronounced age-control effect, rejuvenating the skin. These effects are not temporary and the routines do not use chemicals. Therefore, natural plant extracts and oils, used in Ayurveda and not only safer, but have a long-lasting effect.
You've been in the Ayurveda beauty business for decades...How has people's perception of Ayurveda changed over the years?
In India, there is faith in our traditional systems like Ayurveda and Yoga. During the last few decades, faith in Ayurveda has become stronger and has also become more relevant to the modern lifestyle, including beauty care. With the “back to nature” trend and the more recent “total well-being” trend, holistic systems like Ayurveda have become part of beauty care.
Today, the world is also looking at such holistic systems with enlightened eyes. Ayurveda has even prompted research in many countries. Some time back, prestigious international stores like Selfridges and Harrods in London had huge display boards in their show windows, advertising the benefits of Ayurveda. In fact, the Shahnaz Husain products are the only Ayurvedic beauty products selling at Selfridges which is a famous London store.
What do you think of your competition, particularly someone like Baba Ramdev who runs an Ayurveda empire of his own?
The beauty business in India is booming. India is also the second largest consumer market in the world. Awareness of beauty products has also increased, leading to an increase demand for beauty care. So, there is room for many players. Also, there are different segments in the market. We are the leaders of the premium segment in Ayurvedic/herbal beauty care.
Our products have also done extremely well in the middle segment, on the strength of brand loyalty and brand identity. Our products have stormed international markets worldwide. To succeed in the international market, it is necessary to conform to international standards. Also, we have an integrated system of chain of salons and product excellence, which rely on each other. Franchising is the core of the success of our brand.
Over the last few decades, we have set up a chain of franchise ventures, all over the world, comprising of salons, spa, retail outlets and beauty training institutes. We also manufacture over 375 products for specialized beauty care, There is no doubt that herbal beauty care in India is fashioned after the Shahnaz Husain products and treatments.
What have been the high points of your journey as a beauty entrepreneur?
One of the high points was when we started to extend our salons by a unique franchise system, way back in 1979. Today, our franchise system has become a very successful business model, with tremendous international goodwill. One of the most important high points was when we entered the international market.
We participated in the Festival of India, in 1980, in London, and were given a counter in the perfumery section in Selfridges. In the face of fierce competition, I stood alone and sold the ancient Indian civilization in a jar. It was not easy, but the entire consignment sold out in three days and we broke the store’s cosmetic sales record. We have never looked back since. Today, ours is the only Indian Ayurvedic beauty brand selling at Selfridges.
Another important turning point came when I received the World’s Greatest Woman Entrepreneur Award from Success, the U.S. based business magazine. This prestigious award was recognition of my international achievements and global standing. I also received the Padma Shri Award. Other important high point was when I was invited by Harvard Business School to speak on how I established an international brand without commercial advertising.
That made me a Harvard Case Study for brand creation. Harvard recently conducted my video interview for their Creating Emerging Markets project. The interview will be part of the curriculum for management students. I have also spoken at MIT on brand India and Ayurveda, as well as at Oxford University and the London School of Economics. Another high point is extending our business in the U.K. and Europe. In fact, Shahnaz Herbal has set up a Liaison Office in London, to oversee the business in Europe. For me, it is a dream come true to see the worldwide recognition of Ayurveda.
Who do you think is the most stylish Indian politician today?
I think our Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi is the Indian politician with the most sense of style. Even our designers are impressed with his choice of colours and clothes.
Is there any Indian politician that you think needs some style/beauty tips? What tips would you give them?
In general, I can suggest some tips to all politicians. Actually, politicians move from place to place, holding rallies and dealing with crowds, exposure to the sun, dust and pollution. Sun-exposure and toxic chemical pollutants disrupt normal balances of the skin, leading to problems like dryness, sensitivity, rashes, eruptions, tanning, etc.
Pollutants also cling to the hair and lead to problems, like dryness, dandruff, itching and hair loss. The hair needs frequent washing with mild herbal shampoos while electioneering. The use of hair rinses also help, as they restore the normal balance. Protective, anti-pollution creams and sunscreens are also necessary to protect skin and hair from environmental effects.
Creams known as “cover creams,” containing healing and soothing ingredients like sandalwood, aloe vera, rose, tulsi, etc are very useful for the skin, while hair creams and serums containing sunscreens help to protect the hair and prevent problems. Being among crowds, shaking hands with people also leaves the body exposed to infection. That is why the use of hand sanitizers proves most helpful.
Do you think that by promoting skin fairness products you are re-enforcing a beauty stereotype in Indian society?
In India, the desire for a fair complexion existed much before fairness creams. I have written time and again that the beauty of the skin lies in its good health and not its colour. I also wrote an article entitled, “Brown is Beautiful,” highlighting how a person with a dusky complexion looks beautiful in appropriate colours, jewellery and make-up.
But, the demand for a fair complexion continues to exist. You may ask, “Why do Indians put such a premium on a fair complexion?” The question does not have a simple answer. I think it has a lot to do with the Indian ideals of beauty. Different countries have different ideals of beauty. In India, “fair” is considered beautiful.
This obsession with fair skin does not seem to abate. My commitment to Ayurveda and natural beauty care prompted me to seek an alternative in terms of a NATURAL fairness cream. I highlighted the natural ingredients that help to lighten skin colour or remove tan, but at the same time, are actually better known for their other benefits in enhancing the health and beauty of the skin. I thought I could provide a safe alternative and also increase awareness of the benefits of skin health and beauty.
In fact, the focus of our research has been more on safety and protection, as well as enhancing the health and beauty of the skin and not just on lightening skin colour or tan removal. We have used plant ingredients like rose water, aloe vera juice, cucumber, grape, Vitamin E, saffron, arbutin (which is extracted from the bearberry plant), wheatgerm oil, chamomile in our products. This unique blend of plant ingredients makes the skin colour lighter and more radiant. It also has protective, healing and beauty enhancing properties.
What are your future plans with regards to your business? Is there something new that you are coming up with?
The future plans of the Shahnaz Husain Group include continued international branding, strengthening and widening the global chain of franchise ventures and appointing distributors in unrepresented new markets. We plan to extend our presence further in major countries like USA, U.K., UAE, Canada, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand and Russia.
Currently, the Shahnaz Husain Group operates in over 100 countries with exports, franchise salons, spa, shops, beauty training academies and direct product distributors. We will continue to give our Chemoline products for skin and hair care to Cancer hospitals, free of cost. It is a part of our CSR activities. The products are especially designed to help alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. These products draw upon the soothing and healing properties of Ayurvedic ingredients and are known for their beneficial effects on the skin and hair.
What is your legacy to the global beauty business?
I think a legacy goes beyond earnings, bank balance and wealth that you leave behind. To that extent, I think it shows how you have made a difference. When I started my career, I wanted to make a difference. A successful entrepreneur is one who has marketed an idea or an innovation. I not only marketed my innovations, but the ancient Indian civilization in a jar.
I feel I have introduced an entire concept of herbal care and cure, that caught the imagination of the beauty business in India. I upheld India’s glorious herbal healing tradition. I started the Ayurvedic beauty movement and created an international market for Indian Ayurvedic beauty care. I made holistic beauty care and Brand India relevant to the global beauty business, by way of Ayurveda. I have contributed to this natural beauty wave, which is here to stay. Today, beauty is not merely my career. It is the sole purpose of my existence. This is also my legacy to the beauty business.