Shahnaz Husain has been writing “prescriptions” and treating skin and hair issues for more than four decades. She always replied personally to queries seeking solutions for, say, irritable skin or itchy scalps. The grand dame of herbal beauty still maintains this personal touch. But now she has a little help from Artificial Intelligence (AI). Globally, AI is disrupting the marketing industry by allowing brands to create more immersive customized customer experiences. The likes of Estee Lauder and Sephora are using AI to enable users get customized beauty help with the click of a button, disrupting the industries used to person-to-person contact and “feeling and touching the product” before actually buying it.
Husain tells us, “It is now possible to manufacture a unique beauty product specifically meant for an individual, rather than conforming to a broad specification such as ‘skin type’. AI has made it possible to find a custom-made product for each individual. Location barriers are broken as well as I can have a look at someone sitting in Alaska and prescribe remedies. With technology I can better understand my global customer’s needs sitting far away and give them personalized treatment.” She adds, “From Ayurvedic Inheritance to Artificial Intelligence, we have come a long way.” The Shahnaz Husain Group operates in more than 175 countries, with franchise salons, retail outlets and training academies. Although a pioneer in the herbal beauty segment, Husain’s brand, however, needed a facelift.
Earlier this year, the brand underwent a revamp to depict a new “less is more” aesthetic; a radical departure from the brand’s and her personal aesthetic, which is epitomized by her long, flaming red hair and, at the time of our meeting, a blue and leopard-print tunic. There’s a new logo, and missing on the new packaging is Husain’s iconic picture. Instead the new lotions and potions carry just her name and her signature. It’s a big risk, dropping her photograph from the packs that aided brand recall for many decades. But Husain believes “the brand must sell owing to their essential qualities. Look at Estee Lauder, Christian Dior or Chanel. They were all great people but never made their faces the logo. They are all international brands. I thought ‘why can’t we be like other global brands’.” Husain also sought professional help to create the new logo. The original was designed by her to dress the hand-made labels and bottles when she began selling product from her home-salon and a few local outlets in Delhi. Today, the number of points of sale run into 75,000 around the world. Her homes – over 50.
The challenge, however, with a brand so tightly entwined with her image is that the first point of resistance comes from the customer.
For 24-year-old Namita Sharma, who is training to be a beautician, Husain’s face is the brand. Says Sharma while buying a Henna pack from the company’s Greater Kailash store in New Delhi, “I would assume the product to be genuine if I see her photograph.”
Husain’s brand of Ayurvedic beauty solutions started with a moisturizing cream ‘Shalife’, and it has grown to over 275 formulations for skin, hair and body care. With the aim of making beauty, and brand, ageless and in order to appeal to a younger clientele, the brand has introduced products for teenage girls. “We are not limited to age. Nor are we limited to specific ailments,” says Husain. The company has also expanded its range to include products for men and kids. Curiously, Husain also launched a Pet Collection that has anti-tick shampoos for cats and dogs. “Our chemist developed a routine shampoo and then I thought ticks is the most common problem among these animals so I got the formulations changed and got neem oil added to develop an anti-tick variant. We already have big orders from Japan for the product.”
Ayurveda is witnessing a mainstream resurgence of sorts, thanks in part to mass brands like Patanjali. In a previous interview with ET, Husain told us, “When I returned to and opened my first herbal clinic in 1971, devising treatments and formulating my own herbal products, herbal beauty care did not exist. There were no herbal products and no salon treatments, based on herbal remedies. But faith in ayurveda always existed. That is why our products caught on.”
Now the question is, can Shahnaz Husain keep her title or will the baroness of herbal beauty be displaced by a new crop of babas?