Indian Service Sector

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In today’s society, there is an increasing emphasis on looking and feeling good, leading to a growing desire to be attractive. As a result, both men and women are turning to beauticians, hairstylists, and dermatologists to enhance their appearance. With this rising demand, there is also a noticeable change occurring in the marketplace. The beauty services industry, which has been largely unorganised and estimated by some to be worth over Rs 12,000 crore (while others estimate it as low as Rs 2,000 crore), is gradually transitioning towards a more organised approach to conducting business.

Observers say that the rise of players like Marico’s Kaya Skin Clinic, Lakme Beauty Salon, VLCC, Shahnaz Husain Herbals, CavinCare’s Limelite and Green Trends, Keune, and Jawed Habib Hair & Beauty can be attributed to this trend. Industry estimates suggest that the organized and semi-organized beauty services industry in the country is approximately Rs 1,500-Rs 1,600 crore (some consider it to be as high as Rs 6,000 crore). This indicates a great potential for conversion from unorganized to organized services. Additionally, observers suggest that there are more advantages to this trend.

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The beauty segment is experiencing rapid growth, with an annual increase of approximately 25%-30%, according to analysts. Vineet Gupta, CEO of Jawed Habib Hair & Beauty, predicts a significant transition from the unorganised to organised sectors in the industry within the next five years. This shift suggests a positive change for the business. Currently, the pricing of services varies based on the treatment and service provider, but there is currently a focus on offering high-quality services at a reasonable price.

The average monthly consumer spending at Kaya Skin Clinic, Shahnaz Husain Herbal Salon, Lakme Beauty Salon, or Limelite is approximately Rs 1,000. In comparison, Green Trends is Cavincare’s budget parlour targeting families, with a monthly spend of around Rs 300 per person. However, Jawed Habib’s hair solutions are priced higher than their beauty services. While their haircuts and styles have a premium price tag, their beauty services are moderately priced.

Keune, a hair care brand from Holland, is marketed by Brushman India through their own salons and retail outlets. The brand offers modestly priced services, with men’s and women’s haircuts ranging from Rs 300-Rs 450. Additionally, they also provide hair coloring services. Three years ago, Deepa Apte used to visit a beauty salon once every two or three weeks. However, now as a 26-year-old sales executive, she regularly goes to maintain her appearance. Apte is not alone in her frequent salon visits; many others like her are contributing to the booming business.

Numerous major companies in the salon industry are actively expanding, which supports this notion. Hindustan Unilever Ltd, the largest consumer goods company in India, aims to increase the number of its Lakme Beauty Salons from the current 60 to 120 within a year. Baccarose, a company that distributes and promotes high-end lifestyle brands including Elizabeth Arden, Escade, Nina Ricci, and Siedo, has plans to establish Clarins beauty studios in Bangalore, Delhi, and Chennai over the next two years. Currently, it has a singular studio in Mumbai.

Meanwhile, several companies are establishing training institutes in the beauty salon industry. HLL is creating a Lakme Beauty Training academy in Mumbai, Chennai, and New Delhi. L’Oreal Professional, a division of L’Oreal, has invested in four technical centers. Schwarzkopf Professional, a division of Henkel Spic, has a training academy in Delhi. “Beauticians trained by the academy will be employed in both Lakme beauty salons and the overall industry,” explains a spokesperson from Lever. They further state, “The industry’s future growth will demand an increased number of trained beauticians.”

Shekhar Sethu, general manager at Schwarzkopf Professional, agrees that technical and service standards have been improving rapidly with companies investing in technical education. The big boys are expanding because business is growing at impressive rates. For example, Lakme’s beauty salons in Mumbai saw a 28% growth in revenue, 21% growth in Chennai, and a hefty 60% growth rate in Bangalore. Additionally, the Kaya Skin Clinic, promoted by Marico Industries as a skin treatment business, started in the third quarter of 2002-2003 but now has over 10 clinics in India and abroad.

Kaya’s turnover reached Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million) in the third quarter of 2003-2004, with the clinics now breaking even. Additionally, beauty salons are seeing an increase in the consumption of products from companies such as Henkel, L’Oreal, and Wella, the German hair care company. Industry sources indicate that these salons generate over Rs 200 crore (Rs 2 billion) in product sales. Detailed statistics from ValueNotes Database, a research firm based in Pune, reveal that there are more than 61,000 beauty salons in Indian towns with a population of over one million.

The beauty salon industry generates an estimated turnover of over Rs 2,000 crore (Rs 20 billion), with the metros making up approximately 60 per cent of this amount. In towns, large beauty salons contribute to over 27 per cent of the revenue. So why is the beauty salon business thriving? Dipali Prasad, brand manager of retail at House of Baccarose, explains that in today’s high stress urban environment, the desire to “feel good” has become crucial, leading to the incorporation of beauty treatments, gyms, massages, and spa experiences into people’s lifestyles.

The salon segment is experiencing rapid growth due to increasing demand. Salons are transitioning from their luxurious 5-star settings and are now appearing in standalone formats. The business itself is changing quickly. In the past, beauty salons provided regular services such as waxing, threading, bleaching, and facials. However, now they offer specialized services including visible radiance lightening facials, intense glow facials, skin toning facials, hair reviving, hair revitalizing, and scalp conditioning programs among others. Interestingly, men are also increasingly visiting beauty salons.

Says Vismay Sharma, director, L’Oreal Professional India: “Men are becoming increasingly interested in beauty services. The business in men’s salons is growing slightly faster than in women’s salons as men are becoming more conscious about their appearance.” Adds Prasad: “Men make up 25-30% of the customers at the Clarins beauty studios.” Sums up a consultant at Jacques Dessang, the Paris-based unisex beauty salon introduced into India by fashion house Ravissant and present at Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Hotel: “The perception of beauty salons has changed.

It is evident that HLL and Baccarose can attest to the fact that consumers are now willing to pay more for a better experience due to the improved infrastructure, ambience, and service. Ever since the economy opened up to foreign investment, there has been a significant influence from European and American ideas of beauty. This has greatly shaped people’s perception of what is considered beautiful. Susan Runkle highlights how international beauty standards have become firmly established in the past decade.

Since liberalization in 1991, urban India’s middle and upper class women have witnessed a significant transformation in the commercial beauty products and beauty culture. Before liberalization, they only had two options for lipstick and cold cream brands. However, in the past five years, Hindustan Lever, Ltd., a prominent conglomerate, has introduced 250 new beauty products. Additionally, international companies have played a major role in marketing beauty products in India. L’Oreal, the French cosmetics giant, has invested more than thirty million dollars in local manufacturing since 1994.

During an interview, S. Jayabalan, Managing Director of Kalinga Cosmetics, highlighted the significance of international trends in Indian consumption patterns: “Indians are highly conscious of brands and are well acquainted with popular international brands such as Issey Miyake and Lancome. What is popular abroad is equally popular here.” In response to the growing beauty culture, Femina magazine promptly seized the opportunity by publishing numerous books on fragrances and beauty.

Femina magazine includes informative inserts titled “Skin” and “Scent” every few months. These inserts consist of about twenty pages that are filled with vibrant graphics and colors. Editor Amy Fernandes utilizes this opportunity to educate readers. For instance, in a sample issue, the inserts highlighted the distinctions between various scents, such as the difference between a woody topnote and a fruity heartnote. Moreover, the issue provided detailed descriptions of numerous expensive fragrances. One of these fragrances, Issey Miyake’s L’eau D’issey, was described as “subtle and elegant,” and compared to an article of clothing that clings to the skin. The fragrance was praised as a contemporary classic that conveys purity and transparency (February 2001).

Simplifying the language used to describe fragrance was hindered by a detailed analysis of which Christian Dior lotions are suitable for different skin types. In the magazine’s back section, there was a list of prices, and I quickly noticed that a bottle of L’eau D’issey cost the same as what the subeditors at Femina earned in one month, where I had worked for a whole year. The very fact that the women who contribute to creating the language for these products cannot afford them highlights a significant inequality in terms of salary or gendered work, as well as the exorbitant price women are willing to pay to resemble the beauty portrayed in fashion magazines.

The beauty industry’s marketing tactics are highly competitive and carefully planned. By incorporating notions of femininity and national pride, statements like the one below, extracted from an Editor’s note to Skin, specifically target women: “Indian women cannot overlook the numerous stunning beauties our country is producing for international pageants.”

The world-renowned beauties Aishwarya Rai, Sushmita Sen, Diana Hayden, Lara Dutta, Priyanka Chopra, and Diya Mirza are successful global figures. They excel on an international platform, which is further reinforced by India’s rise as a superpower. Moreover, the ongoing growth of the liberal economy and the entry of foreign brands into our market add to the significance of being part of this phenomenon. Hence, it becomes crucial for modern women not to overlook the opportunities presented here. (February 2001). The overall message conveyed is that women are independent individuals who constantly navigate through intricate messages in their daily lives. However, the unsettling aspect lies in the direct association between beauty products and being excluded from these opportunities.

This sort of rhetoric has been closely paralleled by changes in images of beauty in Femina. When I interviewed Editor Sathya Saran about the transformation of these images, she promptly pointed out: “They have undergone remarkable changes in the past five or six years due to the entry of multinational companies. These companies brought along beauty standards that were distinct from what we were accustomed to, leading us to internationalize our perceptions of beauty. As a result, we now witness the impact of these changes in the appearance of young women.” The influence of advertising is evident.

She strongly believed that international advertising had greatly improved the magazine, leading to the creation of inserts such as “Skin” and “Scent.” This improvement was so significant that any woman in the world could pick up Femina and consider it similar in quality to American Vogue. It is worth noting that in 1994, an article about the upcoming year for Miss Universe and Miss World was featured next to an advertisement for Lactonic breast stimulant. It wasn’t until the following year that more appropriate and refined advertisements for commercial beauty products began to appear in the magazine.

Women’s lack of equal status in many parts of the world may explain why they are often objectified. It is noteworthy that these extensive advertisements for beauty products are not limited to high-end English language magazines. Even the Hindi language publication Meri Saheli (My Girlfriend) regularly promotes beauty tips that increasingly rely on store-bought products rather than homemade remedies.

The October 2002 issue advised readers to apply hair shine serum if they have split ends and cannot trim their hair. This will help hide the split ends. The recommendation for shine serum instead of the commonly available coconut oil surprised me, as shine serum is a more expensive product that the middle-class readers of Meri Saheli magazine may not be familiar with.

The presence of Fair and Lovely, a bleaching cream, highlights the infiltration of commercial beauty culture into middle-class life in urban India. This product, which is popular among people of all classes and ethnic groups, was patented by Hindustan Lever Limited in 1971 after the patenting of niacinamide, a skin-lightening chemical. Fair and Lovely was first test marketed in the South in 1975 and became widely available in India by 1978. Since then, it has become the best-selling skin cream in the country.

With approximately 80% of the fairness cream market share in India, Fair and Lovely has around 60 million consumers in the subcontinent and exports to 34 countries in Southeast and Central Asia, as well as the Middle East. In 2000, Fair and Lovely adopted a new marketing strategy, featuring enhanced packaging and fragrance (Hindustan Lever Prospectus, 2002). Even Fair and Lovely, it appeared, was influenced by the beauty product revolution that brought about the introduction of new skin care lotions.

The primary challenge encountered by marketing experts in promoting cosmetics to urban Indian women is the perception that makeup is questionable within traditional families. Hindustan Lever recognized this obstacle and addressed it directly through their description of the new Jellip brand of lip gloss. The product offers today’s young teenagers an exciting and trendy alternative to lipsticks, allowing them to give their lips a hint of color while also providing moisturization. The hip and cool Elle 18 Jellip is available in fashionable shades and can conveniently fit into a teenager’s bag, making it suitable for regular college wear.

No longer will teenagers need to be concerned about their parents’ disapproval when they choose to wear lip color. Instead of traditional lipstick, they can now wear Jellip and confidently sport a variety of vibrant lip shades every day. This exciting development was highlighted in the Hindustan Lever prospectus of 2002.

Recently, young women have gained enough purchasing power for marketing products exclusively targeted towards them. Both Fair and Lovely and Jellip are part of Lakme, a cosmetics giant that was established after India gained independence in 1947. Lakme has significantly expanded its offerings following liberalization, including the launch of Elle 18 products for the younger market and the establishment of Lakme beauty salons in eleven cities across India (Bombay, Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Pune, Indore, Vadodara, Ludhiana, and Chandigarh). There are plans to further expand to fifty salons by the end of 2003. The Lakme salons place strong emphasis on professionalism and maintain high standards in their business plan for franchisees. Ultimately, neighborhood beauty parlors now cater to the diverse beauty needs of Indian women.

Most salons have questionable hygiene, low customer satisfaction, and unprofessional service. However, Lakme beauty salon is different. With the support of trusted brands like Lakme and Hindustan Lever, Lakme beauty salon introduces professionalism to the salon business. They have carefully planned every detail, from the interior design to financial aspects and training, to prioritize customer comfort and franchisee convenience (Hindustan Lever, Ltd., brochure). In this invitation to potential franchisees, they emphasize the distinction between a parlor and a salon.

Women also differentiate in their beauty routines. I received criticism for spending money on a salon manicure instead of going to a local parlor as suggested by a friend. The local parlor is deemed trustworthy for basic services like manicures and pedicures but is not recommended for more intricate procedures like hair straightening. There is also an aesthetic discrepancy between a parlor and a salon. A parlor tends to have a practical and plain appearance, while a salon strives to give the impression of luxury.

The salon in Bombay has unique features. It not only employs female workers but also male workers. They offer more expensive products, often imported ones like beauty products from L’Oreal or Toni and Guy. This salon has its own appeal due to its association with a sense of acceptability around a man touching a woman. I remember feeling uneasy during my first pedicure by a male worker at The Mane Event, a fashionable salon in Bandra, Bombay.

During the massage, I purposely avoided making eye contact with him to avoid any misunderstandings. Salons like Kaaya in Bombay offer more than just beauty services; they also provide a space for people to maintain and strengthen their social connections. I recall one afternoon at Kaaya, a renowned salon that sends its stylists for training in cities like New York and London. As I sat there, I overheard various conversations ranging from discussions about the frequency of Botox touch-ups to a woman sharing details about her recent weekend trip to Paris. The conversation then shifted to a director’s frantic search for a lead actress for his upcoming film.

While I had grown accustomed to this type of banter, I was impressed by how individuals in the salon, even if they were not acquainted, engaged in the conversation. It appeared that within social class boundaries, strangers felt comfortable interacting with each other. Women strive to emulate global beauty trends on their own bodies, as larger cultural movements further enforce recently introduced ideals of beauty. In a specific social setting, it is completely feasible and socially acceptable to spend an entire day at the salon.

Regarding beauty as a female pursuit, it becomes a popular hobby for affluent women who plan their schedules around various beauty services. However, beauty standards differ based on social class. For instance, highlights are considered a desirable status symbol. Hair color is a relatively new trend in urban India’s beauty industry. During a L’Oreal hair show in Bombay, French stylists emphasized the need for stylists to act as “fashion translators” rather than “fashion victims”.

According to the press release, the event aimed to showcase both international styling trends and techniques and local preferences, allowing hairdressers to maintain their individuality by blending these elements. This concept of “translation” refers to the differentiation between one’s personal identity, which encompasses personal experiences and relationships influenced by cultural norms, and the public portrayal of that identity, which involves negotiating those experiences.

The concept of beauty provides a rich field for exploration, both on a corporate level and in individual, private lives. It is through the physical self that the interaction between these two realms becomes tangible. Women strive to emulate beauty trends from around the world, while wider cultural influences strengthen the introduction of new beauty ideals. In this competitive arena, my own beauty becomes my biggest adversary.

According to Miss World 1994 Aishwarya Rai (as quoted in Meri Saheli magazine), her statement about the challenges faced by beautiful women resonated with readers across India. In Indian society, beauty is often portrayed as being potentially dangerous due to the constant objectification of beautiful women. It is common for women to freely comment on the physical appearance of others, including weight, overall appearance, and beauty.

I went to see a film with a friend where we watched a recent Aishwarya Rai film. My friend commented that the actress looked “old and haggard,” which may seem mean-spirited. However, this comment actually stems from a cultural system that heavily emphasizes standardized beauty ideals. Beauty in this context is typically defined as fair, tall, and slim, as can be seen in the matrimonial ads seeking brides for sons.

In South Asia, the act of assessing women’s appearance is deeply rooted. This can be seen in practices such as “seeing girls,” where young women are brought forward for evaluation by a family considering a marriage proposal. Additionally, female bodies in Hindi films are often reduced to mere “item numbers,” engaged solely in performing undulating dance sequences. Given this context, it has always struck me as odd that critics of beauty pageants in India label them as “Western.” Having spent my entire life in a place where the idea of “the West” is constructed through discourse, I struggle to recall if I have ever actually witnessed a beauty pageant there.

Initially originating in the West, the status and influence that beauty holds today in the West is not comparable to its significance in South Asia. The concept of impartially assessing beauty is prevalent in South Asia, but not so much in the Western culture. Women harbor animosity towards each other, particularly toward those who possess beauty. I advise my sister that it is acceptable to lack friends because being beautiful becomes an obstacle. Personally, I deliberately dress more casually to avoid threatening other women. However, when accompanying other beautiful women, I also dress up to match their appearance.

The statement I obtained during an interview with a young woman in the beauty industry reveals deep-rooted experiences. According to her, women are seen as adversaries due to their pursuit of beauty. Additionally, she establishes a hierarchical order of beauty, wherein she places her sister and myself. This hierarchy is seen as unalterable. She associates her sister’s isolation with her beauty while simultaneously positioning herself as separate from this hierarchy in relation to me, as she perceives me to be more beautiful than her.

Common statements in Bombay often revolve around the non-negotiable aspect of beauty, which is considered a self-evident fact. Women use the term “beautiful” to describe each other, treating it as casually as any other adjective used in conversations about one’s height, weight, or even personal experiences. For instance, it is not unusual to hear women attribute the outcome of an event to their own beauty by stating, “it was because I am beautiful.” This cultural trend has been condensed and presented concisely.

Regarding the commoditization and packaging of female beauty, certain cultural systems are more inclined towards it. Beauty pageants, while being driven by capitalism and utilizing women’s bodies for product marketing, also serve as cultural performances that reinforce ideas of femininity and beauty. During the Miss India 2002 semi-finals, Malaika Arora, presenter and former model, casually stated that contrary to the widely held belief of women being their own worst enemies, this group had shown support for one another. What troubled me was the nonchalant manner in which this remark was made, treating it as an established fact rather than a subject for discussion.

As I conducted cultural fieldwork, I consistently felt uncomfortable with a system that fosters competition among women. The idea of beauty being treated like a sport is particularly prominent within the Hindi film and media industry, which many women mistakenly intertwine with reality. It is common and even anticipated for women to pass judgment on the looks of other women they encounter in movies, on TV, and in their daily lives.

Women are frequently seen as constantly being observed. Female friends from cosmopolitan elites often comment on each other’s weight, clothing, and physical appearance when they haven’t seen each other for a short period of time. It took me several months in the field to get used to being regularly evaluated on my appearance by women I considered to be my friends, even though I have always been conscious of how I present myself.

It could be because of the unequal status of women in most parts of the world that they are treated as objects for display. In India, even in urban areas, public space is mostly seen as a male territory. Consequently, it is quite common, although socially unacceptable, for men on the streets to make comments about women’s appearance or serenade them with love songs from Hindi films. These habits greatly annoy the majority of women. Despite the dominance of men in public spaces, women in Bombay and other parts of South Asia find ways to navigate through this gendered space in various ways.

The powerful distinction between inside/outside and female/male serves as a crucial criterion for women to determine the appropriateness of different areas and styles of clothing. Affluent women who wear more revealing attire navigate public spaces by remaining in cars during their journey to venues where such outfits are acceptable, such as clubs. They also adopt the practice of wearing loose shirts over tight or revealing clothing. I experienced an embarrassing incident that exemplifies this phenomenon when I alighted from a taxi and accidentally broke the heel of my shoe, as well as tore the loose shirt I was wearing while heading to meet a friend for dinner in Breach Candy, an upscale neighborhood in South Bombay.

Realizing the heel on my shoe needed fixing, I went to a cobbler across the street. I decided to put the torn shirt I was carrying, my protection against judgmental looks, in my bag. I distinctly remember feeling extremely uncomfortable standing on the street for those few minutes while my shoe was being repaired. The discomfort stemmed from the fact that it was a public space. Then, I walked into the Breach Candy restaurant, where every other woman was wearing the same type of clothing as me. The only distinction was that they were wearing it exclusively indoors, while circumstance forced me to wear it outside. This made me acutely aware of the difference between myself and the people on the street.

The discourse surrounding women going out at night often portrays it as dangerous, particularly because certain behaviors that are considered normal in nightclubs, such as discussions about sexuality from a male-centered perspective, are not considered normal in other spaces. In fact, the Miss India contestants were taken to a nightclub exclusively for themselves to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

This was done in an attempt to ensure that women would not receive excessive male attention, as I was often advised by well-meaning men to avoid going out at night during my fieldwork. The following example from a film producer demonstrates this: “You’re a nice girl, Susan. You’re not like the women in Bombay. You see, as soon as a man sees you smoke, he automatically assumes that you drink and do all sorts of other negative things”. The postliberalization actress can easily be identified by her long, straight hair, tall stature (over 5’6″), small waist (with her belly button exposed), and tight-fitting clothes; she is post-liberalization and post-modern India’s most prevalent symbol. A custom-made movie star, she represents a great deal but stands for very little.

Women in South Asia who engage in behaviors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and overt sexuality are often perceived as part of a certain group. However, the idea of what is considered “normal” within the cosmopolitan space is complex. Those who are actively involved in the cosmopolitan project have little in common with the rest of the city and feel disconnected from Bombay as a whole.

And because the participants in the cosmopolitan project are a small minority in comparison to the rest of Bombay, their behavior standards are very subjective and flexible regarding what is considered acceptable. For instance, going out at night, where women may perceive the sexual attention from men who are depicted as attractive in the media as thrilling and unavoidable, given that all moral standards are relative. Nevertheless, it is vital for these women to present themselves as respectable publicly to increase their chances of marriage.

The city of Bombay is sharply divided between conservative individuals and those who participate in the cosmopolitan project. This division creates conflicting desires regarding personal identity and the extent to which the cosmopolitan project is embraced. Although Bombay is not inherently cosmopolitan, its residents who engage in the cosmopolitan project influence the city’s character. Many argue that women have opportunities in Bombay that are not available elsewhere in India.

CEO of the nightclub Mikanos, Devesh Sharma, stated that people have become more civilized, which is why Bombay is a great city. He emphasized that women can confidently have a fantastic and secure time at the club without any concerns. Devesh’s observation about people becoming more civilized reflects the change in behavioral norms within the cosmopolitan project. However, his mention of women having a safe experience in Bombay suggests that predominantly male environments can be potentially hazardous.

Defending oneself against the perceived and real danger of male public space is frequently discussed among women in different forms. Arvind Khaire offers a self defense course specifically designed for women, aiming to equip them with skills to handle potential attacks in male-dominated settings. Khaire argues that women should confidently occupy public spaces without fear, highlighting that societal conditioning often encourages women to be submissive and overly apologetic, even within his own class.

Women need to change their mindset and assert themselves in order to be able to defend themselves. It is important for women to regularly practice my techniques, as they will be effective in various situations. Notably, Khaire’s mention of “the road” suggests that women primarily face danger in public spaces. Additionally, the introduction of European and American beauty standards into the economy has greatly influenced the perception of a beautiful actress.

Many avid consumers of popular culture in India have observed that all actresses look alike. The postliberalization actress can be easily identified by her appearance: long straight hair, tall height over 5’6″, slim waist with belly button exposed, and wearing tight-fitting clothes. She represents post-liberalization and post-modern India’s most prominent image.

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