DIVA SPEAK...

Adorn - - PUBLISHER’S NOTE - By Shanoo Bi­jlani

Shah­naz Hu­sain: Ahead Of Her Times

Padma Shri re­cip­i­ent SHAH­NAZ HU­SAIN needs no in­tro­duc­tion. The woman who broke the glass ceil­ing is one of the most recog­nised en­trepreneurs who rev­o­lu­tionised the cos­metic in­dus­try by ad­vo­cat­ing the use of nat­u­ral, herbal Ayurvedic prod­ucts in In­dia and abroad. The founder, chair­per­son and manag­ing di­rec­tor of the Shah­naz Hu­sain Group of Com­pa­nies for­ayed into this field four decades ago, long be­fore ‘or­ganic’ and ‘herbal’ be­came house­hold words. Re­cently, Har­vard Univer­sity added her busi­ness model as a case study to its cur­ricu­lum.

A style icon, Shah­naz be­longs to a fam­ily of em­i­nent le­gal lu­mi­nar­ies. Her Ox­ford­e­d­u­cated fa­ther, for­mer chief jus­tice N.U. Beg, in­stilled in her a love of po­etry and English lit­er­a­ture, and forced her to think be­yond just busi­ness. Thus, Shah­naz pi­o­neered vo­ca­tional train­ing in beauty in In­dia in keep­ing with in­ter­na­tional stan­dards.

Women’s em­pow­er­ment and hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­tiv­i­ties have al­ways been close to her heart.

In an email in­ter­view, Shah­naz speaks about her dis­tinc­tive style, her love for jew­ellery and watches, her quest to pro­mote Ayurveda beauty care and her fu­ture plans.

You re-in­tro­duced Ayurveda in In­dia and pop­u­larised the ‘back to na­ture’ con­cept. What was it that drove you to­wards this sub­ject?

The an­cient In­dian sys­tem of Ayurveda is the old­est and most or­gan­ised sys­tem of herbal heal­ing in the world. I em­braced this science be­cause I was con­vinced that it could of­fer ideal an­swers to mod­ern cos­metic care. I com­bined the an­cient sys­tem of Ayurveda with mod­ern tech­niques to pi­o­neer herbal beauty care, to an­swer the de­mands of mod­ern skin and hair care. My con­cept of holis­tic beauty care was unique and caught on world­wide.

You are one of the first suc­cess­ful women en­trepreneurs of the coun­try. Was your jour­ney easy?

I never planned it this way. My life was on a very dif­fer­ent course. I was mar­ried at the age of 15 and by 16, I had be­come a mother. Life seemed per­fect, but I was bored with the drudgery of end­less rou­tine.

I was al­ways in­ter­ested in beauty, so I was de­ter­mined to get the best train­ing pos­si­ble and de­cided to work my way to the prized in­sti­tu­tions of the West, to learn cos­me­tol­ogy and cos­metic ther­apy.

My hus­band was posted in Tehran at the time, as head of for­eign trade with the State Trad­ing Cor­po­ra­tion of In­dia. I schooled in La Mar­tiniere in Lucknow and Queen Mary’s in Al­la­habad, but was not a grad­u­ate. How­ever, my love for writ­ing pushed me to work for the Iran Tri­bune. I would con­trib­ute 1,000 words per week. The re­sponse was so good, that soon I was run­ning the en­tire English mag­a­zine – cover to cover.

There were only man­ual type­writ­ers those days and I would be typ­ing fu­ri­ously to meet dead­lines. My fin­gers would be­come sore and would bleed, but I was obliv­i­ous to the pain. Fi­nally, I had to seek med­i­cal treat­ment and the Rus­sian doc­tor told me, ‘If you don’t stop typ­ing, I will have to chop off your fin­gers.’

I will never for­get the emo­tional up­heaval. I knew I could not stop writ­ing. I needed the money for study­ing cos­me­tol­ogy. I looked at my fin­gers and qui­etly mur­mured, ‘Doc­tor, how much?’ He was amazed that my first thought was not about the fin­gers I may lose!

This in­ci­dent made me be­lieve that in life it is not what you want that is im­por­tant, but how badly you want it. I was con­vinced that if I was highly qual­i­fied in my field, I could have the world at my feet. So grad­u­ally, I worked my way to lead­ing in­sti­tu­tions like He­lena Ru­bin­stein, Chris­tine Valmy, Swarzkopf, Lan­come and Lean of Copen­hagen.

How help­ful was the train­ing in these in­sti­tutes?

While train­ing in Lon­don, I came across in­stances of dam­age caused by chem­i­cal treat­ments. This changed the course of my life and ca­reer. I wanted to find a nat­u­ral al­ter­na­tive that was safe and without risks. I was con­vinced that the an­cient In­dian sys­tem of Ayurveda could of­fer the ideal an­swers to mod­ern cos­metic care.

When did you start your own out­fit?

I came back to In­dia and started my first herbal sa­lon in the ve­ran­dah of my home in New Delhi, in 1971. I es­tab­lished cus­tomised beauty care, with a per­son­alised style, based on in­di­vid­ual needs and prob­lems. I adopted the con­cept of “herbal care and cure”. It was a path-break­ing con­cept.

I also be­gan to for­mu­late my own prod­ucts us­ing plant in­gre­di­ents and nat­u­ral sub­stances, based on the Ayurvedic sys­tem. To­day, we are known for our treat­ments for gen­eral beauty care, and for our ther­a­peu­tic prod­ucts and sa­lon treat­ments for prob­lems like acne, hy­per-pig­men­ta­tion, scars, pre­ma­ture age­ing, dan­druff, hair dam­age, hair loss, etc.

Shah­naz re­ceiv­ing the Padma Shri Award from Pres­i­dent Ab­dul Kalam Azad.

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