Shahnaz Husain is today a household name for beauty products. Yet there is a wonderful reason why her success story is not merely inspirational but also thought provoking. At a time, when everyone runs after products that are cost effective and give you instantaneous results, Shahnaz refuses to live by market rules. She has defied not merely basic policies of marketing such as advertising or mass productions but also opting for a complete no chemical based products. She has only one message to anyone looking to stay beautiful and unpolluted- ‘go back to nature’. In an exclusive interview with The Indian Panorama team, Shahnaz Husain gives us a glimpse of the willful woman that she is.
The grit and determination that she lives by is testimony to her exemplary success in life. She shares an episode in her life when she chose educating and supporting her family over losing her own ten fingers. “I was married when I was 16 and I had my daughter within a year at Tehran. I had only finished my high school until then. To earn more money for my daughter I decided to go across the street to a school and teach English. But I was denied the job as they said I was under qualified. I needed college degree. Within no time, I had started a typing career and the money began pouring in. I used to type so much that the edges of my fingers began scraping off. One day, my doctor warned me that I could no longer type. But I couldn’t be stopped.
I decided to go against him and continued typing. It was one of those moments for me as an entrepreneur that I cannot forget. If I had stopped that day, I would have stopped at every stumbling bloc.” It was during her husband’s posting in Iran when Husain developed her keen interest in beauty and cosmetology. She pursued it with an aggressive passion in some of the leading beauty institutes such as Lancome, Arnould Taylor, Schwarzkopf and etc. “I was dedicated to obtaining the highest degrees in cosmetology. By the time I returned to India, I was the only woman to have achieved the highest standards of education in cosmetology, under 19. I was even placed as a record in the Guinness Book of World Records.” During her research and studies in cosmetology she realized the long lasting and impactful negative effects of chemicals used in cosmetics. She couldn’t help but wonder why the mindset of the world was in favor of chemicals even though they knew it was harmful for them. Husain says, “I just didn’t understand why the human race is in a race to kill themselves. Chemicals in cosmetics are so harmful that we have evidence that they even lead to deadly diseases such as cancer. This is when I began my focus of research on Ayurveda.
I realized that even before chemicals were made, India always had Ayurveda. Queens like Noor Jahan used different herbs for different parts of their body. Indian Ayurveda always had an answer to all problems.” Upon returning to India, Shahnaz set up her first beauty salon that only used Ayurvedic products that are safe on the human body. This ushered a new era of herbal cosmetics. Her products now are found on stores such as Bloomingdales, Harrods & Selfridge in London and Galleries Lafayette in Paris. “When we had our stock inauguration at places like New York and London, our products would be sold out before the inauguration day. We have had openings without display products.” Her idea was very simple. When there is such astounding evidence that chemicals slowly lead to annihilation of the human race, why not opt for an alternative that not only gives you better results but prolongs your beauty and keeps it intact. Ayurveda, she says is not a miracle science. She stresses on this no matter where she speaks. “Most Westerners think that Ayurveda is an Indian mumbo-jumbo magic herbs. There is no magic in Ayurveda. It is a science developed during ancient times and it survived till today because it works.” Shahnaz has seen the so-called ‘magic’ of Ayurveda work wonders for her own family. “When my father passed away, my mom turned blind with shock. Doctors in unanimous tones told me that she would die blind. I was devastated.
But I had studied cases like this while I did my research in Ayurveda. I found a few herbs that were known to improve the eyesight if taken in proper measures. I soon concocted the herbs and began giving my mother a dosage for a year. One day, her caretaker called me and informed me that while she took my mother to the garden for a walk, she could see the color of flowers. I knew instantly that Ayurveda worked.” Shahnaz insists that her motto is to sell Ayurvedic lifestyle, not glamour. Her company has been dedicated to designing not merely beauty products but a carefully selected concoction of both beauty and care. “We have a range of beauty products that are meant for the means of glamour and beauty but they are also equally equipped with ingredients that take care of your body.
For example, my eye Kajal products not just define your eyes and make them beautiful, but regular application will also improve your eyesight and reduce eye problems. That is what we promise to deliver. Beauty along with care.” Perhaps the most astounding factor about Shahnaz’s products is that it is never marketed conventionally. At a recent invite from Harvard Business School, she was asked to talk about her successful venture despite any elaborate advertising and marketing plans. Naturally, she was bombarded with questions. “When I received the invite from Harvard, I was shocked. I told the professor that I am not a big business woman. I am not a lecturer and I have no idea of what the students expect me to talk about. He said that at Harvard every student is taught that if you want to bring out a new product in the market, you must allot a certain million dollars for advertising. And Shahnaz, you defied all our teachings.” It is a wonder, how a product can receive such success without any advertising and elaborate marketing strategies. But Shahnaz does not believe that advertising is enough for her products. “I cannot appear in an ad and tell you all that my product is about. It is better I talk directly to the media who can relay this message. Neither can I appear in an ad and tell people ‘use this product, it is good for you’. I believe that people should first use my product then see how well it works and then go ahead and tell 100 more people. The power of word-of-mouth advertising is naturally stronger than other forms of advertising.”
Today Shahnaz has over 10,000 franchises across the world. World-renowned businessmen and politicians laud her prowess as a woman entrepreneur. She has had the rare honor to be invited by US President Barack Obama in 2010 for the World Summit on Entrepreneurship. Husain is extremely proud of her achievements too. She believes that educating a woman goes a long way. “I always believe that if the mother is educated, the child is automatically educated with better values and morality. I think Indian girls should never be ready to settle down and get married until they obtain some kind of a technical education. It doesn’t matter if you are married to a millionaire if you remain uneducated and illiterate.” Almost all researches point to the facts that Shahnaz has been quoting about harmful effects of chemicals.
But there are very few people like Shahnaz who have delved into the almost-sacred history of Ayurveda. On suggesting to her about setting up a school of Ayurvedic beauty, Husain is not entirely warm to the idea. “I admit that it is a wonderful idea. And to be very honest, it seems like the right thing to do. Someone should carry my legacy after me. But my biggest issue is that in the hands of someone else, all my learning about Ayurveda could be misused. They may turn my legacy into a profit-churning venture. I never want that. On learning about the increasing number of women undergoing cancer treatments, I decided to launch a new panel of beauty products especially for chemo patients. After chemotherapy, our hair and skin tend to lose their sheen. My Ayurvedic products replenish this sheen. I have had several letters of gratitude from patients world over who used my product. I do not charge anything for this product. It is a service I believe that those women do need for free.” She has been in the US to promote the usage of plan stem cells for beauty products and to speak at various universities about her unchallenged empire built without advertisement costs.