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HomeWOMEN INTERVIEWSDare to Dream Shahnaz Husain

Dare to Dream Shahnaz Husain

“Shahnaz Husain is a name to reckon with. To her exclusively goes the credit of bringing the therapeutic values of herbs out of the mists of antiquity and legend, and combining them with scientific research and practice. Shahnaz Husain has done so much for India’s image abroad that she truly deserves the sobriquet of India’s Beauty Ambassador.”                                                             

Washington Post

“With international cosmetic empires pumping billions of dollars into a hysterically mad cosmetic industry, selling youth & dreams in bottled jars…….there I stood up and sold India’s 5000-years old ancient civilization in a jar to the world,” says world renowned beauty entrepreneur Shahnaz Husain. Hers was the first Indian herbal cosmetic brand that sold in the international market and it is she who singlehandedly put India on the world beauty map.

It has now been five decades that Shahnaz has been promoting Ayurveda, highlighting India’s ancient plant power. Her relentless efforts have popularized Ayurveda worldwide and increased awareness of the dangerous side-effects of chemicals in the beauty and wellness industry. Pioneering the concept of “herbal care and cure,” she established a global network of franchise salons and other ventures. Dedicated to innovation, Shahnaz has created over 380 organic formulations for beauty and health care, using 1500 different plant ingredients, essential oils, even precious minerals and gems. The ingredients comprise of herb, flower and fruit extracts, essential oils and other natural substances. She has always been the first to launch revolutionary products, like her Gold Range, Pearl products, Diamond Collection, Plant Stem Cells and Flower Botanics.  She recently launched her Germ Free Series and Just Me range at affordable prices.

 “My dream was to be somebody who makes a difference. It is important to have a dream, because that is the starting point.  It is also important to believe in that dream. Much more than I ever dreamed has come true,” says Shahnaz.  But, she had never planned it this way. As is well known, she was married at the age of 15 and was a mother by the time she was 16 years old. Life seemed perfect, but she was bored with the drudgery of endless routine. Then the mental upheaval began. She was always interested in beauty and in making others beautiful, so she decided on beauty as a career. She worked her way to the prized institutions of the West, to learn cosmetology and cosmetic therapy, by writing articles for the Iran Tribune. Her husband was posted in Tehran at the time. She was asked to contribute 1000 words per week, but the response was so good that they asked her to handle all the features in English. Soon, she was running the entire English magazine – cover to cover. She trained in leading beauty schools of the West, like Helena Rubinstein, Christine Valmy, Swarzkopf, Lancome and Lean of Copenhagen.  

While training in London, she came across instances of damage caused by chemical treatments. This changed the course of her life and career. She began to search for a natural alternative. Her study of Ayurveda convinced her that it could offer the ideal answers to modern cosmetic-care. She returned to India and started her first herbal salon in 1971, on the verandah of her home in New Delhi, in a very small way, after borrowing 35,000 from her father. She also began to formulate her own products using plant ingredients and natural substances, based on Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of herbal healing. She used to fill the bottles herself and write the labels by hand.

According to Shahnaz, “I may have started small, but I always think big. I believe that nothing is impossible. I also believed that India has a great deal to offer the rest of the world. So, I decided to take India’s herbal heritage to every corner of the globe, by blending our ancient system of Ayurveda with advanced techniques, so that it is relevant to modern beauty care. I also followed unique business strategies. Even at a time, when the demand for the product is sustained through commercial advertising, I have not relied on it. Instead, I relied on “word of mouth” and the fact that a satisfied client is the best advertisement. My products grew out of clinical usage, based on massive client feedback.”  

She was invited by Harvard Business School to speak on how she established an international brand without commercial advertising, becoming a Harvard Case Study. Today she is a Harvard Subject for “Emerging Markets” in Business History. She has also lectured at Oxford University, London School of Economics and MIT.

Shahnaz Husain entered the international market in the U.K. in 1982, during the Festival of India. In the face of fierce competition, her products sold out in three days in the Perfumery section of Selfridges, breaking the store’s existing cosmetic sales records. Her products started acquiring a global presence, selling at leading stores like Harrods and Selfridges in London, Galeries Lafayette in Paris, Seibu chain in Japan, La Rinascente in Milan and El Corte Inglis in Madrid, and so on. Shahnaz Herbal was the only Indian herbal cosmetic brand to be selling at Selfridges. The products sold out even before the inauguration. The brand again achieved record breaking sales when a single customer bought products worth ₤4,334 in a single transaction.

Her unique franchise system is at the core of the success of the Shahnaz Husain brand. Early in her career, she encouraged ordinary housewives to start salons in their own homes. She trained them herself and gave them the Shahnaz Herbal franchise. The salons have extended on the franchise system. From one herbal salon it became a worldwide chain. Today, the Shahnaz Husain Group has extended its signature franchise salons and retail outlets worldwide. Post the pandemic, the Group’s exports are picking up again to countries around the world, like the UK, USA, Middle East, Malaysia, Singapore and EU countries like Austria, Netherlands, Italy, France, as well as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Group has set up a Liaison Office in London, to promote the business in Europe. She promoted Ayurveda globally, holding Press Conferences in Embassies and High Commissions worldwide.

Social causes are close to her heart and include free beauty training courses for the speech, hearing and visually impaired, as well as acid attack survivors. She has also contributed significantly to Government Skill Development projects, training 40,000 under-privileged women in Beauty & Wellness.

Shahnaz Husain Awards and Milestons

Apart from international Awards for Quality Excellence in London, Paris, New York, Geneva and Cannes, Shahnaz Husain has received several prestigious awards, including the World’s Greatest Woman Entrepreneur Award from Success the U.S. based Business Magazine, becoming the first woman in 104 years to receive it. She was honoured with the Padma Shri Award and recently received the “Pioneering Ayurveda Worldwide” Award and the Ayurveda Excellence Award in the British Parliament.

“I am always asked about the main reason for my success,” says Shahnaz Husain. “I would say that I dared to dream and made my dreams come true with relentless determination, an iron will, steel grit and sheer hard work. I never stop trying. If you never stop trying, you cannot fail. You can be what you will yourself to be. I don’t believe in destiny. I believe you can make your own destiny!” 

Indeed, Shahnaz Husain opened the windows of the world to Ayurveda, taking it to every corner of the globe. Today, she is an internationally renowned beauty icon. Her life and achievements inspire women to realize their dreams with faith and courage.


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