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The Empress of Beauty and Wellness, Shahnaz Hussain

Dec/22/2021 / by Swarnendu Biswas
Beauty entrepreneur Shahnaz Husain
Beauty entrepreneur Shahnaz Husain

Her magnetic persona can easily announce that age is just a number. Even after close to five decades in the highly competitive business of beauty and wellness she still reigns as the leader in Ayurvedic beauty care in India; a niche which she virtually created in the then still nascent beauty industry of India during the early 70s. 

Whether be her stupendous achievements or her remarkable personality, it is not only difficult but seems impossible to ignore Shahnaz Husain, the founder, chairperson and managing director of The Shahnaz Husain Group. For the last three decades, Shahnaz Husain has been an internationally renowned name in organic beauty care, based on Ayurveda. Her stupendous success lies in masterful blending of ancient traditions with advanced techniques.

Born as Shahnaz Beg, she is the daughter of Nasir Ullah Beg, a former chief justice of the Allahabad High Court and Sayeeda Begum, who was the daughter of the commander-in-chief of the Hyderabad army. She got married at the tender age of 15 and became a mother at 16. But responsibilities of marriage and motherhood couldn’t impede the ambition of this great lady.

From Passion to Education 

“Soon, I got bored with the drudgery of endless 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 to arm myself for such a career and decided to work my way to the coveted institutions of the west, to learn cosmetic therapy and cosmetology,” Shahnaz recollected. She got trained in leading beauty academies like Helena Rubinstein, Lancome, Christine Valmy among others for over 10 years and while training in London, she came across instances of damage caused by chemical treatments.

Shahnaz Husain receives the “Best Business Woman of the Year” Award in the Beauty & Wellness sector in early 2020 from Smriti Irani, Union Minister for Textiles and Women & Child Development.

“While dealing with cases of skin disorders, I realized 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. My study of Ayurveda convinced me that it could offer the ideal answers to modern cosmetic care,” Shahnaz said.

Herbal Care and Cure

She came back to India and started her first herbal salon in the verandah of her home in New Delhi, in a very small way, in 1971. Her maiden enterprise was named Shahnaz Herbal. The initial investment was only Rs. 35,000, which she borrowed from her father. Though her investment was less, her confidence in the potential of herbal beauty care in India was not.

“I studied and learned Ayurveda and herbal healing from Ayurvedic physicians. Since I had learned product formulation, I could adapt Ayurvedic ingredients to formulate beauty products. I adopted the concept of herbal care and cure. It was a unique, path-breaking concept. I rejected the existing salon treatments and began to formulate products using plant ingredients and other natural substances, based on the Ayurvedic system,” she explained while talking about the line of products under Shahnaz Herbal. Gradually, her brand became known, not only for general beauty care, but also for therapeutic products and treatments. 

“I did — and still do — customized beauty care, with a personalized style, based on individual needs and problems,” she explained.

range of products by shahnaz hussain

Brand Awareness

She developed an ingenious way to gain brand awareness without any advertisement. 

“I increased awareness of the healing powers of herbs and the dangers of chemical ingredients by contributing articles in leading newspapers and magazines. I replied personally to letters seeking solutions for skin and hair problems. In my regular columns, I provided home remedies as solutions for beauty problems,” asserted the dynamic owner of the beauty and wellness empire.

This exercise made an impact on her readers, and reinforced her beauty philosophy that “nature is the best cosmetologist.” “My philosophy and faith in nature have not only influenced markets and minds, but have become an integral part of our brand image,” she observed.

Challenges Conquered 

She had, of course, to overcome social and economic hurdles to establish her business in a country at a time when ‘independent empowered woman’ was a nascent, or even an alien concept, in a majority of social pockets in India. 

“It was my family’s support and understanding that helped me to overcome barriers and realize my dreams,” she maintained.

According to her, entering the international market was the biggest challenge for her. 

“I participated in the Festival of India in London in 1982 and was given a counter in the Perfumery Section at Selfridges. With international cosmetic empires pumping billions of dollars into the cosmetic industry, selling youth and dreams in bottled jars, … I stood up and sold India’s ancient civilization in a jar,” she said. To everyone’s surprise, her consignment sold out in three days, breaking the store’s then existing cosmetic sales records. The world of beauty and wellness sat up and took notice of the arrival of the herbal empress.

The Success Story 

The Shahnaz Husain Group is renowned across the beauty business for its product innovation and also clinical treatments for specific skin and hair problems, in which her state-of-the-art manufacturing and R&D units have played a crucial role.

“We started with a few products and started formulating more and more products according to the needs of clients. As our treatments became known, the demand for our products also grew,” she said. Her enterprise has made more than 380 formulations over the last 50 years. Her comprehensive range also includes spa treatments and anti-aging products. 

“We have extended our salons at a fast pace through a franchise system, and now we have a global network of salons, retail outlets and beauty training academies. We were also the first to start a salon for men and formulate beauty products for men too. Another unique feature that has become a part of the brand image is that we did not rely on commercial advertising, but on word of mouth,” she said, discussing the astonishing growth story of her idea-driven and as well as personality-driven empire.

She started her group’s first beauty training academy way back in 1975. Her vision of providing quality education on beauty and wellness across the globe has seen her beauty academy expand to over 75 institutes in India and abroad. 

“The courses comprise professional diploma course and advanced diploma courses. These are most popular. It is necessary to complete these two courses to apply for franchise of Shahnaz Herbal salons. We have also advanced courses in skin, hair design and make-up and certificate courses too in personal grooming, Ayurvedic treatments, yoga, etc.,” disclosed Shahnaz. 

I probed her a bit on the attributes of some of her many popular products and treatments.

“Our therapeutic products and specialized clinical treatments for problems like acne, pigmentation, premature ageing, scars, dandruff, hair loss, hair damage, etc., have been unique and are among the prime reasons for our success. The group has recently launched some revolutionary products in modern skin-care, which include the 24 Carat Gold Range, Pearl and Oxygen Range, Diamond Collection, Plant Stem Cells and Platinum range. An advanced therapeutic range called Chemoline has also been introduced to alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation on the skin and hair,” she elaborated.

Evolving Trends

The Shahnaz Husain Group also launched Germ Fight Series of herbal products, which is very much timely in these times of pandemic. She acknowledged that the beauty and wellness business in India was severely hit by the pandemic, but on the positive side there was a surge in e-commerce and online shopping. 

When queried about the present and near future trends in India’s beauty and wellness business, the visionary entrepreneur observed that “going organic and eco-friendly are the trends that will continue to make their presence felt in India’s beauty and wellness business. E-commerce and the internet have changed the way we do business. We are definitely going to see further growth in that direction in the coming years.”

Moreover, according to her, getting custom-made products designed for specific requirements, is a trend that will be catching on in India’s beauty and wellness business.

Accolades

Shahnaz Husain is the recipient of Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian award of the Republic of India, and became the first woman in the world to receive the World’s Greatest Woman Entrepreneur Award from the New York- based Success magazine. She was also honored with two awards in the British Parliament for ‘Pioneering Ayurveda Worldwide’ and ‘Ayurveda Excellence.’

President of India APJ Abdul Kalam confers Ms Husain with the Padma Shree in recognition of her work
President of India APJ Abdul Kalam confers Shahnaz Husain with the Padma Shree in recognition of her work
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