In the 1980s, Shahnaz Husain became the poster girl of Ayurvedic beauty products, or, as she likes to call it, ‘selling India’s ancient civilisation in a jar’. Today, one can’t imagine her selling anything but beauty products, but there was a time when Husain had a tough time finding her calling.
Husain did her schooling in Lucknow. But as was the norm in her family of Hyderabadi government royalty, she couldn’t attend college. “I was married at 15 and became a mother by 16. Life seemed perfect, but I was bored with the drudgery of endless routine.” Luckily, her husband was supportive, and when he took a posting in Tehran for four years, it worked in her favour, as every major international beauty school was represented there. Husain signed up for the best courses, and even started writing for a weekly magazine Tehran Tribune, to finance her expensive education.
She got the idea to begin an enterprise while she was in London. “During my training, I came across instances of damage caused by chemical substances. It prompted me to conceptualise a totally new concept of herbal beauty: care and cure. At that time, such a concept did not exist. I knew that the only way I could implement my ideas was by starting my own herbal salon,” says Husain.
Her first salon was launched in 1971, with a loan of ₹35,000 from her father, and started small by formulating products and devising treatments for skin and hair problems. Soon, she became known for “herbal care and cures.”
She entered the international market when India was hardly on the map, by attending international beauty conferences independently, to popularise Ayurvedic beauty care. She was also encouraged by Indira Gandhi to showcase her Ayurvedic products at the Festival of India in London in 1980, after which, there was no looking back. She moved on to Harrods in London, Galeries Lafayette in Paris, the Seibu chain in Japan, La Rinascente in Milan and El Corte Inglés in Spain.
Husain did not have capital and did not want to take bank loans to extend her salons either. So, she adopted a unique franchise system. “I trained women and encouraged them to start salons in a small way in their own homes. I gave them the franchise rights to start Shahnaz Herbal salons and carry out my specialised treatments. They could also earn on the sale of Shahnaz products. Thus, I had outlets for my products and treatments without investing in them,” she explains. Today, the company has 7,000 franchises, and this model is at the core of the success of the Shahnaz Husain brand. And between then and now, Husain has continued doing what she is good at — spreading beauty all around.