Cosmetic Queen in India Grows from Strength to Strength

by Kathy Jones on  June 4, 2012 at 8:40 PM Lifestyle News
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Shahnaz Husain has single-handedly built a global corporate empire of cosmetics. She has come a long way from when she was a bored housewife.
 Cosmetic Queen in India Grows from Strength to Strength
Cosmetic Queen in India Grows from Strength to Strength

More than 40 years on, Husain presides over a private company selling more than 250 products in 60 countries and is feted as one of India's leading business gurus and a rare example of female success in its commercial sector.

"It's not what you want, but how much you want it," is her advice to budding entrepreneurs.

Renowned for her forthright style and glamorous appearance, Husain constructed her empire using a system of franchises that enabled her to ride the wave of ayurvedic treatments becoming fashionable around the world.

Ayurveda, which originated in India, aims to restore balance in the mind and body through herbal therapy, diet and massage.

Its lucrative commercialisation is sometimes criticised by doctors in India, who believe it is a scientifically proven holistic approach to health, but Husain has no such qualms.

"I am selling people 5,000 years of Indian civilisation in a bottle," Husain says, tossing her leonine hair with a verve belying her nearly 70 years.

The Shahnaz Husain Group now stretches across India and to Dubai and London, where her products sell at top department store Selfridges and where she runs a clinic in Harley Street.

"Husain pioneered selling ayurvedic products across the counter," Ina Dawer, a Singapore-based analyst at marketing research firm Euromonitor, told AFP. "She's basically an upscale premium ayurvedic brand."

Now Husain's daughter, Nelofar Currimbhoy, has written a biography, "Flame", tracing the unusual life story of her mother, who was engaged at 14, wed at 16 and became a mother the same year.

"She's a true example of an integrated Indian -- a Muslim taught by Irish nuns who has spent her life devoted to propagating a (Hindu) Vedic system of medicine," says Currimbhoy.

Key to her success has been developing treatments that were once only found in Indian ayurvedic centres into products suitable for Western spas, health resorts and individual consumers.

"I was the only game in town for this and I was good at it," she recounts at her Delhi mansion, whose exterior resembles an English country house while inside is a rich mix of rococo, Art Deco, classical and Indian styles.

"I was so busy I didn't have time to count the money," she says.

Her products are now sold in some 150,000 stores in India and she has 300 salon franchises and 53 beauty schools, according to the company, which does not release sales figures.

Born in pre-independence India, Husain had a sheltered childhood, riding to school in chauffeured cars with curtained windows that she kept opening to peer at the world outside, to her conservative Muslim mother's dismay.

Her more liberal father "never forgave himself for letting me marry so young", she says, clad in a dramatic self-designed silver-sequined black gown.

"He had such ambitions for me, he wanted me to go to Oxford, but my mother worried I'd get out of hand, and he gave in."

Despite her tender years, the marriage was a huge success and Husain was heartbroken when her husband died 15 years ago.

He and Husain's father supported her when she was overcome with boredom at home and was seized with a passion to become a beautician.

She trained at several European beauty schools and then started a salon at her Delhi home in 1970. Offering free consultations and charging for her pots of creams, she was soon flooded by clients.

Sitting giggling together, mother and daughter could be sisters.

Currimbhoy is now president of the company but even today Husain, who declines to reveal her age, is the one who calls the shots. Staff, summoned by buzzers attached to chairs, scurry at her beck and call.

Multinational rivals such as Estee Lauder and The Body Shop have not been slow to spot potential in the expanding ayurvedic sector.

But Husain, who has lectured on her success to Harvard business students, says she is ready for the competition and plans to soon launch a new stem-cell anti-ageing potion -- tentatively called "Ageless".

"We're a serious treatment line, we're not just a cosmetics company," she says.

Source: AFP

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