The beauty business in India has come a long way. From being a very small part of the
But it’s not all good news here. Like several big businesses, the Indian beauty business is also run by people whose eyes are so transfixed at the bottom-line that they barely see the world is changing around them. Indian companies are yet to cotton on to global trends, many of which are hugely driven by a changing social and political scene.
The cosmetics industry in the USA has seen amassive overhaul in the last few years. Almost 40 per cent of the USA is coloured people, and yet makeup giants like L’Oreal, Dior and Estee Lauder have catered to a white and mostly blonde woman. With a shifting demographic, and smaller disruptive players coming on to retail shelves, consumer tastes leaned towards newer, more inclusive and ethically conscious brands.
Racism has been one of American liberalism’s greatest bugbears, and a constant topic to deal with in corporate offices.
Companies were quick to show support by presenting advertising campaigns that stood up for equal rights. Soon, consumers started demanding more than just lip service. A small LA-based beauty company, Uoma Beauty, started a social media campaign called @pullupforchange, asking companies to reveal the data of black employees on its staff. Beauty companies owned by coloured people began to demand equal shelf space at retail stores. British-Nigerian John Boyega quit as Estee Lauder’s brand ambassador when they removed his campaign for Jo Malone for their Chinese audience.
In India, some celebrities have questioned Hindustan Unilever’s Fair & Lovely product and campaigns, but have been ignored by the company that took solace in its profits instead. In June this year, the same time as Americans took to the streets demanding justice regardless of colour, Unilever and L’Oreal removed references to whitening and fairness from their creams in India and south-east Asia. Fair &Lovely changed to Glow & Lovely. Its campaign now features a brown-skinned woman singing a rap song and showing signs of belated, perhaps even clichéd, empowerment.
The fashion and beauty industries are grappling with a new moral reckoning. Issues of diversity, sustainability and toxic management are routinely brought up by avant-garde platforms like DietSabya, one of social media’s biggest influencers. DietSabya reviewed the fashion films presented by various designers in Mumbai and New Delhi via their digital fashion weeks using ‘curvy models’ as a box to be checked. Only two labels won its nod here: Gaurav Gupta and Shivan & Narresh.
The talented V Sunil (he worked on the Make in India campaign and is a founding trustee of the Kochi-Muziris biennale) has introduced a pop-culture and counter-culture merchandising company called Motherland, that has just launched a ‘Dark & Lovely’ tshirt to counter Unilever’s troublesome title.
Much of India’s growth is coming from its changing demographic, too. The cosmetics arena is now largely a younger user’s game, one who is entirely comfortable using a smartphone and ordering online. Nykaa and Sugar are both tech successes, thanks to their strengths in ecommerce. Falguni Nayar’s eight-year-old Nykaa has a valuation at $ 750 million, and is close to becoming a unicorn soon.
Unusually, India’s thriving beauty business scores on another issue. It is largely owned by women, and its offices usually have a majority of women employees. Forest Essentials, Goodearth’s Paro, Biotique,
But Indian corporates are still a conservative bunch. It would be interesting to see a true social disruptor script a success story. That would be just beautiful.
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