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The Empress of Beauty
January 19, 2013 COMMENT comment
     
THE EMPRESS OF BEAUTY
Shahnaz Husain
 
 
At an age when most are clueless about what they want to do in life, Shahnaz Husain was mothering her first born. Married at 15 and a mother at 16, few know of the journey Husain covered before she could be crowned the undisputed queen of Ayurveda.

Born in a conservative royal family from Samarkhand that held prominent positions in the governments of Bhopal and Hyderabad during pre-Independence days, Husain says she had to comply with existing traditions and enter into an arranged marriage. "But, I was fortunate to have a broadminded, Oxfordeducated father, Chief Justice NU Beg, who put me through schooling in La Martiniere in Lucknow and an Irish convent, Queen Mary's in Allahabad. He instilled in me the love for poetry and English literature. He also imbued in me the right combination of traditional values and progressive ideas. I learnt to love and respect the rich heritage of India," she tells us.

Husain's love affair with Ayurveda started at a very early age and once she was sure that this was her chosen career path, there was no looking back. "Once I decided on pursuing beauty as a career, I was determined to get the best training possible and worked my way to leading institutions like Helena Rubinstein, Christine Valmy, Swarzkopf, Lancome and Lean of Copenhagen. While training in London, I came across instances of damage caused by chemical treatments. In a way, this changed the course of my life and career. I wanted to find a natural alternative that was safe and without risks. And my study in Ayurveda convinced me that it could offer ideal answers to modern cosmetic care," she avers. Convinced about doing something to offer Ayurvedic cures, Husain returned to India. And it all began in the veranda of her house in New Delhi in 1971 with just Rs 35,000 borrowed from her father. "My father was the wind beneath my wings. He taught me to have faith in my own abilities. He said there is no such thing as destiny and that we make our own destiny. I borrowed the money from my father and worked on my first herbal product," she says. "Also, my husband's encouragement and constant support made me what I am today. I always say that I would not have achieved what I have without the support and understanding of my family," says Husain, who today operates business in more than 100 countries.

Post 1979, she opened her first salon in Calcutta. "I used to attend the openings of all my salons. It was a very personal affair and people connected with me emotionally. I gave free consultations and addressed press conferences, speaking on the benefits of Ayurvedic care. Within a year, we had 80 franchise salons in India."

The turning point in her career, however, was in 1980 when she entered the international market by participating in the Festival of India. She rejected the existing salon treatments and devised her very own concepts. "I also began to formulate my own products using ingredients based on Ayurvedic prescriptions. Today, we operate in various countries with our Ayurvedic franchise salons, spas, beauty training academies and direct product distributors," she says. The company has a global network of over 400 franchise ventures. In 1996, Success magazine awarded her as the 'World's Greatest Woman Entrepreneur' and in 2006 she was awarded the Padma Shri. Husain derives her strength from her daughter, Nelofar Currimbhoy, who is the president of the company and who recently penned her mother's biography titled Flame: The Story of My Mother Shahnaz Husain.

Talking of their relationship, Husain says, "We complete each other. We have faced ups and downs in life together. She is with me all the time and she has been doing all of this ever since she was born. She stays here to run the business smoothly when I am not around. She is a very intelligent child and she is in fact better than me and expansion is always on her mind. She is a true businesswoman."

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