Cosmetics manufacturer Shahnaz Husain's start-up story

  • Published

Shahnaz Husain is an Indian manufacturer of herbal cosmetics. She is the founder of her self-titled brand which exports its ayurvedic, or traditional Indian, treatments to more than 400 beauty centres worldwide.

Ms Husain says her life had "a very fast beginning".

"It was tough because at 14, I was engaged. At 15, I was married and had a baby," she recalls. "At that stage you don't realise what life is all about and what you're faced with."

But the entrepreneur says she soon knew she wanted to do more with her life. "I thought that I can't go on with this sort of indefinite drudgery. I can't go on doing nothing."

With the help of her father, Ms Husain registered at the Helena Rubinstein School of Beauty in London.

From there she went on to complete further training in beauty techniques in Germany, the US and Denmark, eventually returning home to India, where she established a small cosmetics firm.

'Dying because of beauty'

Shahnaz Husain says her company started modestly, selling products from "the veranda of the house".

"I had no idea of becoming as big as I finally became," she says.

She attributes her success partly on the decision to build her business around purely organic products, after hearing a tragic story of a model for an artificial eyelash company who ended up losing her sight after apparently over-using make-up.

Image caption,
Shahnaz Husain tried to take her picture off product packaging, but customers insisted she put it back

"That moment decided my future," she says. "I would study all these chemical formulas, go back to India and create them from plants."

Ms Husain says she based her cosmetics on ayurvedic ingredients, incorporating a centuries-old tradition in India that uses 'the power of the plant' in health and beauty treatments.

Initial sales were very good. Ms Husain says she wasn't surprised by this, because her products were so different to the chemical lotions offered in shops at the time.

"There I stood and sold civilisation in a jar," she remembers, and compares it to the "hysterically mad cosmetic industry selling youth and dreams in jars."

The beauty entrepreneur believes that one reason she has been successful is because of a fanatical commitment to her work.

"Nobody can do for my company what I can do for my company… because nobody has that kind of mania, that type of obsession that I have, a fever that I have," she says. "They never will."

Can-do attitude

According to Shahnaz Husain, "Entrepreneurs are not born; they're created".

She believes it takes a certain type of mindset to succeed. "If you accept the word 'fail', you stop trying. If you never accept the word 'fail', you never stop trying, so you go on until you achieve success."

A vital part of this mentality is the refusal to see problems as setbacks. "Sometimes very great misfortunes are actually beginnings of a very great fortunate situation," she says.

"I've never considered an obstacle an obstacle. Every obstacle is there but to get over."

But Ms Husain believes this 'can-do' attitude often comes more naturally to male company founders than their female counterparts, and can explain why women are sometimes less likely to succeed than men in entrepreneurship.

"What women really lack in the ultimate analysis is not the desire to do something," she says, "but the resilience to keep up that grit and determination."

Now at the height of her career, she says she has realised it is the only thing that marks entrepreneurs who will succeed from those who will fail.

"A good seasoned entrepreneur will never give up. That's the only secret I can tell them about my own life," she offers.

"Never give up. Believe in yourself, in your own dreams."