Shahnaz Husain - the uncrowned queen of India's beauty industry!
An household name in skin and hair care, she is often hailed as the "jet age beauty tycoon." Here's Shahnaz Husain, the inspiration for women across the globe, sharing her story of entrepreneurial success and how she spread the rich herbal heritage of India around the world!
1. How would you describe the "woman" Shahnaz Husain.
The “woman” Shahnaz Husain is emotional. I always say that I rule my organization with my heart. I love to paint and I also love to read and write poetry. Keats is my favorite. Right from childhood, I have expressed my innermost feelings in verse. I also value personal bonds and friendships. I never forget to send cards, gifts and flowers on birthdays and other occasions. I also love to entertain and often have people over for dinner, planning every detail myself, with lavish spreads and beautiful settings, in order to create the right ambience. For myself, I love simple home-cooked food and I am partial to yogurt, salads and sprouts. Social causes are close to my heart. I wanted to make a positive contribution towards empowering the less privileged by supporting vocational beauty training for physically challenged girls. This way they would have the opportunity to be financially independent and lead more meaningful lives. I started Shamute, our free beauty training course for the speech and hearing impaired in 1984. It was inaugurated by the then President of India, late Dr.Giani Zail Singh. Later, in 2008, we started Shasight for the blind. My philanthropic work has remained the nerve centre of my entrepreneurial success. I have always felt that those who cannot pay are still paying, because in turn they pray and prayer is one commodity that cannot be bought. It gives you great spiritual strength and the resilience to face life.
2. What was your primary source of motivation that led to the foundation of Shahnaz Herbals Inc.?
Translating my dreams and ideas into reality inspired me to become an entrepreneur. During my training in London, I came across instances of damage caused by chemical substances. In a way this changed my life and career. I was determined to find a natural alternative. The study of Ayurveda convinced me that it could provide the ideal answers to the demands of beauty care. My idea was to provide herbal beauty, based on the principle of “care and cure.” I knew that the only way I could translate my ideas was by starting my own herbal salon and thus implement my ideas of herbal and customized beauty care. It was a totally unique path breaking concept, because I rejected the existing salon treatments and devised my own. I also started formulating my own products, based on the Ayurvedic system. I was guided by an innate desire to take the Indian herbal heritage to every corner of the globe. I was convinced that India can provide the answers to the demands of beauty care, by way of Ayurveda. So, I returned to India and started my first herbal salon in a small way, in my own home. It laid the foundation of Shahnaz Herbals.
3. What has been your most memorable experience in such an illustrious journey?
One of the memorable experiences was entering the international market. 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. There was a headline in the London Daily, which said, “Herbal hell breaks loose in Selfridges!” 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. The Shahnaz Husain Group has experienced the increasing demand for Indian Ayurvedic products across the globe.
Another recent memorable experience was when I lectured at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), U.S.A.
4. Where do you want to see Shahnaz Herbals, ten years down the line?
I believe that I will realize my dream of seeing Ayurvedic beauty care leading the international cosmetic industry. We are expanding our footprints across the globe. We will be taking Ayurveda and Brand India to more countries within the next year. The future plans of the Shahnaz Husain Group includes concentrated international branding, strengthening and widening the global chain of franchise ventures and appointing distributors in unrepresented new markets. We plan to expand our presence in major countries like USA, Canada, Kazakhstan and Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand, Russia, Belarus and Latvia.
5. What do you feel are the challenges that a woman entrepreneur has to face in our country?
Nearly four decades ago, when I started my career, I felt strongly that women have the potential to be successful in the business world. And today, women have made a mark in every field, including the world of business. In terms of percentages, we still have a long way to go. Many factors, including socio-economic factors, have to be considered as challenges. The other reasons could be less motivation, less support from family, few opportunities for professional and vocational training, economic constraints and so on. A woman may hesitate to venture into business due to lack of family support. She may also find it difficult to get out of family responsibilities and surmount feelings of guilt in following her own dreams and career ambitions. There is always the fear of being unable to manage both home and career. However, in all these aspects, there is change for the better. I definitely feel that education and a professional qualification give a great deal of confidence. We need to give importance to the acquiring of professional qualifications and training, so that women can express their creativity and innovation with more confidence. Vocational training should include aspects of business management, in order to encourage entrepreneurship.
Marketing is an important issue in entrepreneurship. Women find it difficult to know the market and to face the competition. They have to depend on middlemen. This is one area where they need help and encouragement. For example, they can learn about the market and how to make use of changing conditions, like the internet, commercial advertising methods, different business models, etc.
One important change is that various institutions in the financial sector have been offering incentives to women entrepreneurs, in terms of loans and other schemes. But, there is still the question of making women aware of these incentives. In India, in the rural and backward areas, due to lack of education, the awareness is low. I know that for small scale industries, the government provides support by identifying markets, trade and promotions. With globalization, products and services are needed for the global market and this requires effort at various levels, from the Government, research institutions, vocational training institutions, export development and trade agencies, etc. Markets need to be explored. Presenting the products in a globally attractive manner is also essential, along with knowledge of the demands of the global market.
6. Your daughter has recently penned a biography of yours. Tell us something about the book.
Flame, the biography, written by my daughter, Nelofar Currimbhoy, takes the reader on a beautiful journey into the past, with glimpses of my childhood, my early married life and my struggle to emerge from a sheltered life into the world of entrepreneurship. It is a saga of a private life that seamlessly weaves into my professional persona, to depict the essence of a woman in all her completeness.
7. You've won several national and international awards and titles, including the prestigious Padma Shri and the World's Greatest Woman Entrepreneur Award. Is there any other goal or milestone that you want to reach?
My dream is to see India leading the beauty world and the international market with Ayurvedic beauty care. So, I will continue my crusade to spread Ayurveda to every corner of the globe. I never rest on my laurels. I always feel that there is another frontier to cross and another mountain to climb.
8. What is your word of advice to our readers, many of whom would want to be successful entrepreneurs?
First of all, professional qualifications and training is the order of the day. So, it is essential to acquire professional and vocational training in the field. If you can get advanced training and also specialize in some aspect, it can be an advantage. Believe in yourself and your own abilities. Keep learning. Have the courage to say “I don’t know this, but I can learn it.” The sky is the limit, but one should have relentless determination to excel and the ability for sheer hard work. Never give up. If you never give up, you cannot fail. Have the ability to adapt and adjust, because one has to adapt to the changing demands of the market and trends. This is a business where trends keep changing. Start in a small way, but think “big.” You have to think that nothing is beyond you.
9. What does woman empowerment mean to you?
To me, woman empowerment means self-reliance. For this, financial independence is most important, because it gives confidence and strength. In order to equip the woman to be financially independent, a professional, vocational qualification is imperative. Of course, times have changed and women have made a mark in every field. But we still have a long way to go. Attitudes have to change too. The woman herself has to realize her own strength as an equal member of the society. Father and mother must value the girl child and give her equal opportunities. Today, I feel sure that in the coming years, we will see the unleashing of woman power.
10. Are you glad to be a woman? Why?
Yes, I am happy to be a woman because a woman has an immense capacity to bestow love unconditionally. She manages her different roles of wife, housewife, mother, hostess, career woman with patience and understanding. A woman knows how to integrate and nurture and also hold her family together. Most of all, I am glad to be a woman because of her inherent inner strength and courage.
11. Share your experience at MIT, USA.
I was invited to lecture at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA). The lecture was held at the Sloan School of Management. The audience comprised of graduate students, MIT faculty, aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders. It was fascinating to see representatives from so many different fields…..from fashion and jewellery, to environment, crockery, metals, textiles and so on.” The program started with an audio visual on my career. After I was introduced to the audience, I spoke on woman empowerment and the positive impact of innovative entrepreneurship. I highlighted my product innovations, including our Chemoline formulations, which help to alleviate the effects of chemotherapy on the skin and hair. I told them how my business grew from one herbal salon to a global network of ventures through a franchise system. This was followed by a question-answer session. I told them about my unique networking system for women by which they could achieve financial independence. I mentioned the Indian context and said that education, vocational training and financial independence are absolutely necessary for woman empowerment, to make women self-reliant. I quoted Mahatma Gandhi, who had said, “If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate an entire family.” Advising the aspiring entrepreneurs, I told them “You were born to be leaders. Why should you be a follower? Be a leader and lead from the front.”
12. You established such a hugely successful Ayurvedic brand without commercial advertising? How did you make this possible?
Even at a time, when the demand for the product is sustained through commercial advertising, I did not and do not rely on it. This is because I established customized beauty care, based on individual needs and problems. It was also an integrated system of salon and product range, which rely on each other. In fact, our products grew out of clinical usage, based on massive client feedback. Till the 1990s, I had not entered the retail market and my salon and my franchise salons were the main outlets for our products. I relied on “word of mouth” and the fact that a satisfied client was the best advertisement. I devised treatments for specific skin and hair problems and prescribed products for home care. That is how the Shahnaz Herbal treatments became known. Today, there are many ranges for general care too and enough product information for over-the-counter sales. It is also easy to refer to salons, shops, counters and other outlets, as there are trained therapists and beauty advisers to guide customers.
13. You have had to your credit, the dual honour of speaking both at the House of Lords and the House of Commons. in the British Parliament in London. Kindly share your experiences there and the main message you conveyed to the audience.
During the month of July 2013, I managed to achieve the rare dual honour of speaking both at the House of Lords and the House of Commons in the prestigious British Parliament in London. The event at the House of Commons, was held to bring together young people with successful entrepreneurship, for inspiration and as a role model. It was held at the Jubilee Room and in my speech I said “Brand India Leads” and highlighted India has so much to offer the rest of the world by way of Ayurveda. I spoke on how I promoted the Indian herbal heritage worldwide and about my formulation of products using Ayurvedic ingredients, since they are ideal and safe for beauty care.
Earlier, I had spoken at the House of Lords in the British Parliament. I was Chief Guest at a high profile Entrepreneurship event held there. It was hosted by the Earl of Erroll on behalf of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Entrepreneurship. I shared my journey from one herbal salon to a global chain of franchise ventures; how I adopted the franchise system and based my products on “herbal care and cure.” My talk focused on how India can lead the world with the plant power of Ayurveda.