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Naaree Interviews Shahnaz Husain, Empress of Herbal Beauty

Swarnendu Biswas interviews Shahnaz Husain for

Without her magnetic presence the world of beauty and wellness would not be so beautiful. Without her potent vision, probably the 5000-year-old art and science of Ayurvedic beauty would remain lost in the realms of antiquity and not be an integral part of modern day beauty and wellness traditions, as it is now.

Her infinite wisdom not only taught a whole new generation that the passion of chiselling beauty and enhancing the health and hygiene quotient of women and men can be translated into an enterprise, but also the fact that beauty must not be only about modern day cosmetics, some tagged with potentially baneful influences.

You can call this inspiring personality as the herbal empress of our modern era, the first beauty ambassador of India, or simply a living legend.

However, you can also call her Shahnaz Husain, the Founder, Chairperson & Managing Director of the Shahnaz Husain Group of Companies.

Beauty can also be about age-old herbals with lasting benefits, and Shahnaz Husain has managed to get global recognition for the very Indian tradition of beauty and wellness by packaging it in a post-modern avatar for the modern age.

Introduction to a Legend

Without Shahnaz Husain we would not have seen the mushrooming of natural beauty parlours and salons across our metros and small cities of India and the mushrooming of the Ayurvedic beauty business in our developing economy, for she stimulated this beautiful revolution into taking off more than four decades ago.

In 2008, the Indian market for beauty and wellness products was a whopping 5.7 billion USD in size and growing, and she was one of the innovators who gave shape and credibility to this industry.

Before her, looking good and making others look good was just a distraction for most Indian women. After her regal entry into the realm of beauty and wellness, it graduated into a lucrative career option for many women, and also men, in India.

She revived a long forgotten science of wellness and made it trendy by bolstering it with the latest research and technologies, and inspired a cottage business to become a global industry worth many thousands of crores, that was also to provide livelihoods to millions in the decades to come.

Amidst all these, she also created a huge empire for herself that seems to be growing unabated. It was worth 100 million USD a decade-and-a-half ago, by which time it has grown manifold.

In comparison to large numbers of modern Indian women who are delaying marriage because of their careers, it is interesting to note that Shahnaz, who was born into a royal, affluent, but conservative family of legal luminaries, was married at 15 and embraced motherhood at the tender age of 16.

Millions of women would have reconciled themselves to their marital cocoons and crushed whatever dreams they had. But Shahnaz was obviously made of different stuff; the stuff superwomen are made of. She rose above her day-to-day family responsibilities and hackneyed traditions through her sheer grit and passion.

“Life seemed perfect, but I was bored with the drudgery of perpetual 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 available and decided to work my way to the prized institutions of the west, to learn the intricacies and nuances of cosmetic therapy and cosmetic chemistry,” explains the great lady.

Inspired by Beauty

Shahnaz dreamt of making a career in the beauty business at the tender age of 17, and thought of honing her inherent predilection with the best institutions in the west. Even in those days, she achieved whatever she set out to do.

“I started studying the science and art of beauty at 17 and went on from London to Paris, Germany to Denmark and New York, over the next 10 years. I was trained for 10 years in cosmetic therapy and cosmetic chemistry in leading institutions of the west such as Helena Rubinstein in London, Christine Valmy in New York, Swarzkopf in Germany, Lancome in Paris, and Lean of Copenhagen among others,” recollects the diva. However, her initial foray into the creative world began with writing, a fact that made me proud when I learned of it, for obvious reasons.

“My husband was posted in Tehran at the time, as head of foreign trade with the State Trading Corporation of India. I was not a college graduate, but I loved to write, so I started writing articles for the Iran Tribune. As the Beauty Editor of Iran Tribune, I was asked to give them 500 words a week, but I gave them 10,000 words a week instead,” says Shahnaz with a laugh.

Her prose was so compelling and potent that the editor was happy to publish it all. “I wrote on every topic under the Sun, from heaven to poetry. Finally, there was one issue that had six articles written by me, under fictitious names,” reveals Shahnaz, to my astonishment.

Today, despite running a huge conglomerate and heading a globally renowned brand, she has managed to maintain her passion for writing. The exquisite prose in her blogs testifies to her literary predilection. She has also written three books on beauty care, the names of which are, Forever Beautiful, The Shahnaz Husain Beauty Book, and The Book of Absolute Beauty.

It sounds strange that after having such a solid grounding in western tradition of cosmetic therapy and cosmetology, she preferred to return to the ancient herbal healing system of Ayurveda to address a young and aspiring nation’s beauty and wellness solutions.

“I inherited my faith in herbal healing from my family. We always used herbal beauty aids and herbal remedies for common ailments at home. Furthermore, my own study of Ayurveda convinced me that it could provide the answers to my concept of beauty care,” explains the dynamic entrepreneur.

But I was curious to know what induced her to tread an alternative, and yet largely unexplored, route to beauty care and health.

“While training in London, I came across instances of physical damage caused by chemical treatments in beauty care. During my stay in Rubinstein, when I was dealing with skin disorders, I realised that a large number of problems were due to the absorption of synthetic cosmetics. In a way, those real life examples changed the course of my life and career. I wanted to find a natural alternative to beauty that was safe and without risks,” proffers Shahnaz adding, “Surprisingly, when I looked towards nature, I found a better alternative.”

And soon she acquired enormous mastery over Ayurveda. “From my family I inherited faith in natural healing and my thorough study of Ayurveda convinced me that this ancient Indian medicinal system, which in my opinion is the oldest and the most organised system of herbal healing in the world, could offer the ideal answers to modern day cosmetic care,” avers Shahnaz.

An Inspiring Journey

“I opened my first herbal salon in 1971, in a modest way, on the verandah of my home in New Delhi. My enterprise was called Shahnaz Herbal and so was my first range of products,” says the lady with empowered vision.

The rest, as they say, is history, where she went on to create a huge empire and was inspired to give form to a burgeoning industry over the next four decades.

I asked what inspired her to create the legend of Shahnaz Husain. Without harbouring any false sense of modesty, Shahnaz noted that her independent spirit was one of her inspirations.

“I think it was my independence of spirit that acted like an inspiration. It made me determined to emerge from a sheltered and secure life and venture into a totally different world of entrepreneurship,” she asserts. However, besides giving credit to her fiercely free spirit, she credits her father as her other major inspiration.

“My father inspired me to follow my dreams. When I started my business, he taught me to have faith in my own abilities. He was a constant source of encouragement and support. In fact, it was my father from whom I borrowed Rs. 35,000 to start my first herbal salon,” adds Shahnaz.

Shahnaz HusainShahnaz’s father’s influence helped shape her fertile mind and intellectual growth even in her early years, when she was being schooled at La Martiniere in Lucknow, and also at an Irish convent (Queen Mary’s), in Allahabad. Those influences are still obvious in the supremely talented lady.

“My broadminded father, who was Oxford-educated, instilled in me a love for poetry and English literature. He also imbued in me the right combination of traditional values and progressive ideas,” explains Shahnaz, her voice becoming slightly emotional.

Within seconds, the steely determination in her voice returned as she patiently answered my not-so-intelligent queries. Her powerful voice began to resonate across the room, until I could hear nothing else, not even the gentle buzz of the air-conditioner, except her voice, and see and experience her enchanting and flamboyant presence.

“From the very beginning of my enterprise, I began to implement my ideas of natural beauty care, with an emphasis on good health of the skin and hair. I also established customised beauty care, with a personalised style, based on addressing individual needs and problems,” explains the genius who rightly believes that she has been presenting a rich facet of our 5000-year-old Indian civilisation in a bottle.

Shahnaz is not only a pioneer, but knows she is one, and neither does she hesitate to proclaim it. “When I began my career, organised and institutionalised herbal beauty care, as we know it today, did not exist. There were no salon treatments based on herbal remedies. There is no doubt that I am the pioneer of modern day herbal beauty care in India and I offered a new concept of customised beauty care in the country, based on individual needs and problems,” she elaborates, coming across as an embodiment of the unlimited strength of woman power.

“In order to emphasise that beauty lies in the health of the skin and hair, I also introduced clinical treatments and therapeutic products for the treatment of specific skin and hair problems,” she points out.

“I rejected the existing salon treatments and devised my own,” says the tireless creator. “Since the early 70s, I began formulating my own products, by combining age-old herbal remedies with the latest techniques. Within no time, these products began generating massive client feedback,” affirms Shahnaz, casting her trademark ravishing smile.

This was the genesis of the legendary Shahnaz Herbal range, which was then followed by other ranges. In fact, she has become known for specialised clinical treatments and therapeutic products for specific problems like acne, pigmentation, scars and blemishes, skin-sensitivity, dandruff, hair loss and alopecia.

Founded on the principle of ‘Care and Cure’, today the Shahnaz Husain name has become internationally renowned for its specialised treatments of skin and hair problems.

Salon Chains to Success

Her company’s stupendous success story is reflected through an integrated system of salon chain and its plethora of care and cure products. Her salons and spas offer her innovative beauty treatments as well as her wonderful range of herbal products. The Shahnaz signature salons offer exclusive solutions for skin, hair and body care.

Over the years, Shahnaz Husain has created an array of proprietary treatments for skin, hair and body. Among her most popular facials are the Platinum Facial, Diamond Facial, Gold Facial, Pearl Facial, Oxygen Facial, Step by Step Aromatherapy Facial, Flower and Fruit facials. Thermoherb Mask and Vegetable Peel are few other new-age treatments offered at her salon, which were also invented by Shahnaz.

“These luxury facials are essentially revitalising and rejuvenating. The formulations used in the treatments rely on the rich Indian herbal heritage, with infusion of plant products, minerals, gems, natural substances and essential oils,” explains Shahnaz.

She informs me that cleansing, purifying, stress-relieving and rejuvenating massages are also provided at her internationally renowned salon chains.

“The Shahnaz Husain salons have also become renowned for specialised treatments for skin and hair problems. Today, our salon treatments and our products are regarded as breakthroughs in natural beauty cure and care. We have become known, not only for our treatments for general beauty care, but also for our therapeutic products and our salon treatments for addressing problems like acne, hyper-pigmentation, scars, premature ageing, dandruff, hair damage, hair loss, etc,” explains the new-age power woman, who has close to 375 products for beauty and healthcare to her credit.

She observes that at the Shahnaz Husain signature salons, apart from the basic salon services, treatments like anti-ageing facials, rejuvenation, body massage, body polish, hair spa treatment, have also steadily gained in popularity.

With the concept of ‘total well being’ gaining momentum, she also introduced spa treatments at her signature salons, which include wellness options like body polish, hair spa and foot spa among others. “In fact, we have introduced an entire new repertoire of spa treatments, using traditional and exotic Ayurvedic ingredients,” she elaborates.

An Unusual Success Story

While studying her unusual success story, one must infer that her marketing strategies are also simply remarkable. “Till the 1990s, we did not enter the retail market and my salons were the main outlets for accessing my products, till then,” states Shahnaz, who has never relied on commercial advertisement, but on “word of mouth.”

But today her products are available at leading stores worldwide, which includes Selfridges, the renowned London store. “With department stores and malls catching on as shopping destinations, our retail format is focusing on the ‘shop in shop’ concept, with trained beauty advisors,” she notes.

She always emphasises the fact that a satisfied client is the best advertisement, and her unique marketing strategies have created immense fortune for her.

“In fact, I was invited by the Harvard Business School, and MIT at Boston, USA to speak on how I established an international brand without the help of commercial advertising. In the lectures, I also highlighted the strategies I adopted to establish our global network of franchise ventures,” she explains.

The Oxford University and the London School of Economics are among the other few globally renowned institutions which had the coveted honour of featuring Shahnaz’s talks on business strategies and women entrepreneurship.

Expanding Through Franchise

Shahnaz has propelled the unbelievable expansion of her global enterprise through a system of franchises, which helped her to spread the fame of her herbal beauty products and Ayurvedic treatments across the globe.

“We started franchising in India in 1979, when our first franchise salon was opened in Kolkata,” Shahnaz notes. She admits that the franchise system has helped to extend her group’s salons worldwide. “It has also helped in promoting our specialised treatments,” she states.

Today, Shahnaz Husain heads a chain of over 400 franchise salons in India and abroad, with outlets in prestigious stores and locations all over the world. “Our salons have extended on a unique franchise system. In fact, all our business ventures are based on our franchise system,” notes Shahnaz.

Her owned salons are in Delhi, but her group of companies has presence in over 100 countries, with its franchise salons & spa, beauty training academies, shops and direct product distributors.

The Range of a Genius Innovator

I attempted to explore her impressive array of ranges of care and cure which she has presented the world with. “Our legendary Shahnaz Herbal range, which comprises of therapeutic products and products for general care, has remained steadfast as a popular choice over the last four decades,” asserts Shahnaz.

Besides the Shahnaz Herbal range, there are ranges comprising products catering to precise needs, as well as those based on specific extracts. They include Flower Power (of floral extracts), Neem Range, Honey Collection, Himalayan Range, Sun Collection (sun-block products), Man Power, Colour Magic (range of make-up cosmetics), and Professional Power among many others. It goes without saying that each of these ranges is specific and has gone through years of research and clinical trials, before entering the market.

Over the years, Shahnaz has also introduced a line of Ayurvedic herbal drinks, herbal teas, Ayurvedic slimming capsule, pain relieving balm, aromatherapy’s essential oils to spread the message of holistic wellness across the society. That is not all.

“The group has recently launched some revolutionary products in modern skin-care, which include the 24 Carat Gold Range, Pearl Cream and Mask, Oxygen Cream, Diamond Collection, the revolutionary Platinum Range, the Nano Sun Block products, etc.,” informs Shahnaz, adding, “The group has also introduced a range named Shahnaz Forever, which is targeted at the mid-market segment, where holistic beauty care is presented at affordable prices for the middle class people.” Ingredients of superior quality, with the gentle healing touch of nature, have been blended to formulate all the products in this comprehensive range; needed for holistic beauty care routine.

Now thanks to this globally renowned innovator-entrepreneur, cancer patients have something to cheer for. “We have also introduced an advanced therapeutic range called Chemoline, with the objective of alleviating the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation on the skin and hair,” reveals Shahnaz.

Even after creating a plethora of landmarks in the realm of beauty and wellness, both in terms of product range and treatments, Shahnaz doesn’t believe in resting on her laurels, which would have made many hundreds of ordinary women proud many lifetimes over.

“Product innovation has helped our organisation to remain a dynamic one, and we will continue to launch new and revolutionary products. Our recently launched premium ranges like Plant Stem Cells and Platinum have stormed the international markets,” confirms Shahnaz, adding that, “We are about to launch the Telomere products in London. Telomere products are based on the most advanced biotechnology inventions of our time. It is the result of cutting-edge research in chromosomes, in an effort to slow down the ageing process,” she explains.

It is sheer ignorance to slot Shahnaz only as a globally renowned beauty expert and a hugely successful businesswoman.  She is a great scientist, a visionary beautician, a powerful industrialist, a wellness expert, a marketing wizard and a revered institution all rolled into one.

Shahnaz has no hesitation in admitting that her concept of herbal care and cure was a “totally unique, path-breaking concept in beauty and wellness in those times.” However, she was not content to be known only as a genius innovator and entrepreneur. She has also been responsible for introducing countless women and men into a career of beauty.

Over the last three-and-half decades, Shahnaz Husain’s beauty training institutes have remained committed towards providing excellence in vocational training in beauty and wellness, by offering professional courses of impeccable order.

Over the decades, thanks to the pioneers like Shahnaz Hussain and Vandana Luthra, the beauty business in India has not only grown tremendously but there is also great potential for its further growth.

In this climate, there is great demand for trained beauty personnel, hence the need for quality training institutes in beauty and wellness, especially in urban Indian society.

Training an Industry

Shahnaz, with her superhuman intellect, foresaw the emerging need in an increasingly beauty conscious Indian society for quality beauty training institutes.

“I opened my first beauty training academy about 35 years ago, as I wanted to introduce professional beauty training for the people who wanted a career in the beauty industry. I started encouraging ordinary housewives to start salons in their own homes. I trained them and gave them the Shahnaz Herbal franchise,” she notes.

At her institutes, students have the benefit of theoretical approaches to skin and hair health, body care, as well as to the latest techniques in practical skills. The courses offered enable students to obtain professional qualifications, in keeping with international standards, thereby opening up a vista of career opportunities for them.

“Our beauty institutes offer professional diploma and post graduate courses, which together facilitate to equip the students with expertise in all aspects of beauty care, beauty business and salon management, as well as about client handling,” explains Shahnaz.

Besides offering a Diploma in Beauty Therapy, and the Post Graduate Diploma in Skin and Beauty Therapy, the beauty training institutes carrying the brand name of Shahnaz Husain also offer an array of short-term vocational courses in beauty and wellness. A personal grooming course for self-improvement is also available.

Today, there are 70 beauty training academies in India and abroad carrying the Shahnaz Husain brand name.  Like all her other ventures, her beauty training academies have also proved to be a huge success story, in which the franchise system has played a big role.

“They have also been extended on our franchise system that indicates the success of our beauty training programme,” she explains with a regal air of a person for whom success is as much of a habit as eating and sleeping is for us ordinary people.

Stringent Standards

However, becoming a franchisee of any facet of Shahnaz Husain’s conglomerate is not an easy task. “The franchisee has to instill confidence in us of having the dedication and the ability to maintain the expected standards and conform to the vision of a successful brand name,” declares Shahnaz with all seriousness.

Shahnaz has aspired and attained the optimum solution in her franchisee selection process too.  “Our decision on giving franchise rights is based on stringent selection criteria. There should be a sound financial background. The eligibility of the franchisee is discussed and decided after a personal interview, where several aspects are taken into consideration, like the city / town, sound financial capability, location, etc.”

Moreover, the franchisee has to complete a beauty diploma course, as well as an advanced course in cosmetology and Shahnaz Husain’s specialised treatments. “If the franchise is for the beauty academy, it is also necessary for the franchisee to complete our Teacher’s Training Course,” points out Shahnaz.

However, once a franchisee gets selected, s/he or the organisation concerned gets great support from the globally renowned Shahnaz Husain brand. The franchisees get support by way of equipment, site selection, project management, layout and interiors planning, recruitment and training, launch planning, R&D and in various other crucial aspects of the business.

“We have a business model with proven success rate. Our franchisees are guided towards achieving this. Effort is focused to help each franchisee outlet be a reflection of the highly successful international brand name,” confirms Shahnaz.

Moreover, she articulates, each franchisee outlet of her group of companies must be endowed “with a standard look and feel.” She also ensures that each of her franchisee outlet be the epitome of the highest level of service, with properly qualified and dedicated staff.

Honours and Awards

I asked her what were her other turning points in her magnificent journey through dizzying heights of success, besides her awakening to the baneful influences of chemical ingredients and treatments of conventional cosmetic therapy during her learning and training stint in London.

“Another important turning point in my career came when we entered the international market. We participated in the Festival of India in 1980, and were given a counter in the perfumery section in Selfridges. In the face of fierce competition, it was not easy to sell an entire civilisation in a jar. But, our entire consignment was sold in three days and we broke the store’s cosmetic sales record,” elaborates the flamboyant diva.

Shahnaz Husain with Abdul Kalam

Since then her prominence in the international beauty industry gathered momentum, and eventually helped her establish her brand as a top-notch beauty brand in the west. While writing her wonderful success story (or is it an epic novel!) Shahnaz has received several prestigious awards.

“I received the ‘World’s Greatest Woman Entrepreneur’ award from Success Magazine, USA, becoming the first woman to receive this award in the 107-year-old history of the Success awards,” she stated.

The Success award is a highly regarded and prestigious award in the international business sphere. That was in 1996. In September 2003, Shahnaz Husain was selected for the prestigious Global Indian Woman of the Millennium Award, presented by Global Indian Congress, based in California, USA.

She won the Udyog Ratan Award for Export Excellence, the Rajiv Gandhi Sadbhavana Award, and The Arch of Europe Gold Star for Quality. Over the years, the Shahnaz Husain Group has received many awards for quality excellence, including the WQC International Star Award in Paris and the prestigious International Star Award in Geneva. In 2006, she was bestowed with the Padma Shri.

She also attended the US President Barack Obama’s Summit of Entrepreneurs twice in one year, which she counts as a rare achievement. The first was in Washington DC in April 2010 and then in Mumbai, during President Obama’s visit to India. “I was among eight leading entrepreneurs to attend a closed door meeting during the Mumbai summit. It was international recognition of my achievements,” states an elated Shahnaz.

A Tireless Innovator

Even after achieving a cult status and setting new global benchmarks in beauty and healthcare, Shahnaz has the fire to succeed in whatever venture she undertakes burning brightly inside her, just as it did in her younger days.

Her recipe or the ingredients of success are rather simple to state but extremely difficult to achieve. “The continuous desire to excel, courage of conviction, relentless determination to succeed and the ability to work hard are the necessary ingredients for success,” asserts the high priestess of beauty care.

Shahnaz is extremely optimistic of the beauty business in India, which she rightly believes, is thriving, and has tremendous potential for growth.Over the last two decades, Indians have been spending more and more on beauty and wellness than they did ever before. Personal care products as well as salon care for men have also grown steadily. In fact, men’s salons have mushroomed at a phenomenal pace,” she states.

According to her, the burgeoning growth in the beauty business in India can be attributed to the increasing awareness towards fitness and grooming in the society, competitive work environment where physical presentation also plays a key role, and of course, higher disposable incomes in select pockets of society.

“Today, beauty is also a matter of feeling good. It does also involve freedom from stress and entails high level of fitness,” she opines. She sagaciously infers that going by the current trend in beauty and wellness, holistic beauty care and spa treatments will become more and more popular in the coming days.

She envisions that a major thrust in the growth in beauty and wellness business in India during the coming years “Will be in the form of increasing demand for spa and wellness treatments. Consequently, salons are including spa treatments or are being converted into ‘day spas,’ offering both salon and spa services.”

I didn’t realise when the time given to me for the interview got over. Her invigorating and potent presence had taken me to another world, into another dimension…

As I had some more questions, she kindly extended my time by fifteen minutes, with a chuckle, despite having a succession of meetings coming up. Soon those wonderful fifteen minutes too were spent, as though within a split second.

As I was about to take her leave, I couldn’t help admiring the courageous smile on her face that complemented her colourful, flamboyant and age-defying dress sense; a smile that has the power to drown a sea of tears…

Despite suffering the enormous personal tragedy of the untimely demise of her son, she still has the stronger than iron resolve in her advancing years to run her empire with great success.

She ceaselessly strives to innovate new products and extend the pre-conceived horizons of beauty and wellness, and is succeeding remarkably in such endeavours.

For she cannot afford to fail herself… Legends cannot die, like sunsets. Like sunrise, they must just inspire.

Acne/Pimple – A Proprietary Treatment of Shahnaz Husain

The treatment is based on a highly effective and clinically proven procedure. It helps to decongest and purify the skin, curing and soothing eruptions.

The formulations used in the treatment have powerful healing properties and have a high success rate in controlling acne conditions and restoring health to the skin. Specialised cleansing procedures are followed to reduce oiliness and purifying the skin.

After the extraction of blackheads, procedures with gadgets and formulations are used to refine the skin. The skin is also toned, followed by protective measures.  The treatment helps to soothe the skin, reducing inflammation and curing the condition.

The oily-skin and acne treatments make use of ingredients like clove, sandalwood, rose, eucalyptus, neem, tulsi, mint, etc. These ingredients are known for their germicidal, antiseptic and powerful healing properties.





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