The Cosmetic Czarina – In Conversation with Shahnaz Husain


You started Shahnaz Husain Herbals (SHH) when you were just a young girl. Tell us a little bit about how you started. Who was the inspiration?
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. Then the mental upheaval began. 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 the prized institutions of the West, to learn cosmetic therapy and cosmetology. 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 returned to India and started my first herbal salon in the verandah of my home in New Delhi, in 1971, in a very small way. I adopted the concept of “herbal care and cure.” I rejected the existing salon treatments and devised my own. I also began to formulate my own products using plant ingredients and natural substances, based on the Ayurvedic system.
I think it was my independence of spirit that made me become an entrepreneur. It made me determined to emerge from a sheltered and secure life and venture into a totally different world of entrepreneurship. My father inspired me to follow my dreams. When I started my business, he taught me to have faith in my own abilities. When I opened my first herbal clinic in my own home, it was my father from whom I borrowed Rs.35,000. Behind my success lies my father’s faith that I would succeed. He was a constant source of support. Also my family’s encouragement, support and understanding made me what I am today.
What would you say about your growth and journey as a cosmetic czarina, female entrepreneur and as a person?
I would say that it is my relentless determination, iron will and sheer hard work that are behind my growth and journey. I had the burning desire to create something. Creativity and innovation are important for achievement as an entrepreneur. One of the reasons for my success in this field is due to the fact that I adopted natural beauty care and cures based on Ayurveda. I extended my salons through a unique franchise system both in India and abroad. I promoted Brand India and Ayurveda all over the world with a crusader’s zeal. It made me realise that India has so much to offer the rest of the world. I felt honoured when I represented India at American President Barack Obama’s World Summit for Entrepreneurs. I felt it was recognition of Ayurveda and my spirit of enterprise. My dream is to see India lead the international cosmetic industry within the next decade and all my efforts are towards realising this dream.
How has the cosmetic industry in India evolved over the last four decades? What do you think have been the major breakthroughs for the industry?
Over the last four decades, the cosmetic industry in India has become one of the fastest growing segments. India has also become one of the largest consumer markets in the world. This has encouraged foreign cosmetic companies to enter the Indian market. Over the last two decades, it is herbal beauty care which has driven the growth of the beauty industry in India. One of the major breakthroughs has been combining indigenous herbal ingredients with advanced techniques in cosmetic science. Scientific techniques and modern beauty concepts have influenced products. Many kinds of beauty products, for varied purposes, are now available, even based on individual skin type, from sunscreens and moisturisers, to specialised cleansers, toners, astringents, scrubs, masks, serums, shampoos, conditioners, hair tonics, hair serums and so on. It is an ever-growing list. There has been tremendous growth in the beauty service industry too, with growth of branded salon chains. Spa treatments have increased in popularity, with salons offering spa treatments too. The concept of Day Spas is also becoming popular. There have been many changes in the beauty industry. One prominent trend has been the growth of the men’s personal grooming business. This includes salon care for men, as men’s salons have also mushroomed at a fast pace. With the recent trend towards fitness and youth, the age group range of customers has also become wider. Older people are going in for beauty care, while anti-ageing treatments and products are flooding the market.
The beauty industry when you started out as compared to what it is now… what changes have you observed?
Four decades ago, when I started my career, beauty treatments were mainly “colour and cover.” Superficial beauty treatments and hairstyling were “treats” women went in for, without realising that beauty is actually the outcome of long term care. No heed was paid to the health of the skin and hair and the potential dangers of chemical treatments. In fact, there was hardly any awareness of other detrimental effects on beauty, like exposure to UV rays, environmental pollutants, artificial heating and cooling, etc. Beauty treatments from the aspect of cures, was unknown. The “back to nature” trend had not yet begun. The beauty business was largely unorganised and fragmented. Only some basic beauty products were available. 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.
When I started my first herbal salon, I rejected the existing salon treatments and devised my own. I also started formulating products based on the Ayurvedic system. I adopted the concept of “Herbal Care and Cures.” Today, there is no doubt that herbal beauty care in India is fashioned after the Shahnaz Husain innovations, products and treatments. There is also no doubt that it is herbal beauty care which has driven the growth of the beauty industry in India over the last few decades. Today, awareness of beauty products and treatments, fashion and grooming is at an all time high. This is attributed to exposure to global trends and lifestyle changes, higher disposable incomes and the trend towards fitness and youth. Today’s Indian consumer is aware of quality and the ingredients in products and wants to exercise this awareness by opting for high quality and safe products. We are formulating over 375 products for general care and also for the treatment of specific problems. We have also seen that the demand for our therapeutic products has increased phenomenally over the years. Product innovation has also gone to new heights. As already mentioned, spa treatments, men’s salons and personal care products are big business today, so are anti-ageing treatments.
The retail format has also changed by leaps and bounds. Today, it is at various levels in India. With malls becoming popular shopping destinations, the “shop-in-shop” concept has become the new trend. Malls are also making shelf space available to beauty brands. In fact, we have also started our lifestyle shops in malls, where all our products are available under one roof. Of course, the regular FMCG retail system of stores in local markets is thriving, but we are focusing on increasing our outlets in malls with trained beauty advisers.
Your company is very personality-driven and every product bears your face. How much do you think that has been a part of building a loyal customer base?
Ours is an image based business. “Shahnaz Husain” is not a faceless corporate or brand name. The image that is foremost in the mind of clients and consumers is that of a real person, who is herself trained in cosmetology and cosmetic therapy. Every label has become a symbol of my own understanding of Ayurvedic beauty care, my vision and philosophy. The mere mention of the brand name evokes the image of the person and her persona. Due to brand identity and brand loyalty, my name has become the brand. I am the reality behind the brand. These factors have played an important role in building a loyal customer base. Another feature is the fact that I established customised beauty care. Our products grew out of clinical usage. Till the 1990s we had not entered the retail market. Our products were only available at our salons. We introduced a clinical system with client cards, diagnosis and prescriptions. We did not advertise. We relied on word of mouth and on the fact that a satisfied customer or client is the best advertisement. This personalised system also played a big role in building brand identity and brand loyalty.
How do you deal with the competition?
Having started and established Ayurvedic / herbal beauty care, I would say that we are ahead of the competition. The beauty business is big business and there is room for many players. With greater awareness of quality, it is now a question of survival of the fittest. We are already the leaders in the premium segment of Ayurvedic beauty care. We are also doing extremely well in the middle segment on the strength of brand identity. Over the last four decades, we have established a country wide distribution system and have over 400 franchise salons in India and abroad. Our salons are also outlets for our specialised treatments and products. We have become known for product innovation. The introduction of advanced and unique products from time to time, is one of the reasons why the brand has developed so strongly. With the “back to nature” and “total well being” concepts sweeping the world, we not only have the advantage, but are miles ahead of the competition. We have met the competition in the international market too and held our own very easily.
Today, the Shahnaz Husain Group is positioned as the leaders in Ayurvedic beauty care, both in the domestic and international markets. In India, the Group has entered the middle and mass products segments on the strength of brand identity. The Group has acquired a global presence, with exclusive outlets worldwide, having sold at leading international stores and receiving several prestigious international awards for quality.
Do you have any unfulfilled dream?
My dream is to see Ayurvedic beauty care lead the international market and all my efforts are focussed on making this dream a reality.
Looking back at the journey of well over four decades, what would you attribute the success of Shahnaz Husain Herbals to?
The success of Shahnaz Husain Herbals is due to the fact that I adopted the Ayurvedic system and based our products and treatments on it. For success, it is important to have a dream, because that is the starting point. It is also important to believe in that dream. There must be a kind of burning desire to create something, or to improve and establish an idea or innovation. For instance, once I realised that India could offer Ayurvedic knowledge, it became my burning desire, not only to enter the international market, but to promote the Indian herbal heritage worldwide. The other reason is that I adopted “herbal care and cure” and provided a new concept of beauty care. When the worldwide “back to nature” trend started, I was already established. The success of Shahnaz Herbals is also because I translated my dreams into reality, living and breathing natural beauty care and cure. Shahnaz Herbals, is a magnificent expression of her dreams, hopes and aspirations. In fact, my work is not merely my career; it is the sole purpose of my existence.
Are your other interests?
There is so much more that I want to do, but the most precious commodity is the one thing of which there is a tremendous shortage in my life… and that is time. However, when I have the time, I love listening to music, soft melodies and ghazals in dim lighting. If ever there is an evening of leisure, I love to paint, expressing my thoughts and feelings with a riot of colours. Writing poetry is also something I love. Painting and poetry are ways by which I can translate my ideas, emotions and creativity. For others, a good life may be living for a hundred years, but I live a lifetime between the rising and setting of the Sun.
What’s next to you?
We are expanding our footprints across the globe. We will be taking Ayurveda and Brand India to more countries within the next year. We plan to expand our presence further in major countries like the U.K., USA, Europe, Canada, UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, South East Asia, New Zealand, CIS countries and Russia. Our future plans include concentrated international branding, strengthening and widening our global chain of franchise ventures and appointing distributors in unrepresented new markets. We also plan to set up Beauty schools globally to impart training on skin and hair problems with the powerful magic of herbs and plant power. Shahnaz Herbals also plans to supply the Chemoline products for skin and hair care to top Cancer hospitals all over the world, free of cost, as part of our CSR acitivities. Chemoline, based on Ayurveda, has been especially designed to help alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.

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