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Not just skin deep: The beauty industry’s deep roots in livelihoods and empowerment 

Not just skin deep: The beauty industry’s deep roots in livelihoods and empowerment 

Nothing quite captures the entrepreneurial spirit of India like the booming beauty and wellness sector. From the outside, it is easy to be dismissive of the beauty industry — it is seen as exploiting people’s insecurities and catering to their vanity. In popular serials and cinema, it is the antagonist who’s associated with the salon, signifying conceit, narcissism and an unhealthy focus on the self. Outside the realm of fiction, however, the Indian beauty industry is firmly grounded in entrepreneurship and women empowerment.

The diversity of the beauty industry mirrors the immense diversity in the country. There are a wide range of beauty service providers — from home service providers on one end to big beauty brands on the other, with independent beauty salons in-between. There’s traditional medicine-based salon and wellness centres, women-only salons and unisex establishments. Most established beauty chains also have premium, general, and quick service options.

The result of this diversity is that the sector has a labour demand of more than 12.1 million people. And more than 50% of the workforce consists of women — rare for a blue-collar trade in India.

A booming industry 

The beauty industry itself is booming. Once seen as a luxury indulged in by the urban elite, the services have trickled down to small towns and villages. Many women from small towns and villages are enrolled in Sambhav’s beautician training courses, which are run in partnership with big beauty chains. Several of them have ultimately gone on to set up independent businesses in their homes in remote villages near Himachal Pradesh and rural West Bengal.

Today, most beauty chains are aggressively expanding in Tier-II and Tier-III cities. This shift is prompted by a rising middle class, and an increase in disposable incomes. Our young population is in touch with the latest beauty trends through social media, and are also more conscious about how they present themselves.

So the sector is booming and services are in demand. Is that the only reason for the popularity of beautician training courses in government and private institutes? That’s part of the answer. 

The most important reason is that the beautician and wellness trade presents a low barrier of entry for most women. A recent Class 12 graduate or a 35-year-old mother of two can get trained as a beautician and start working.

Flexibility, career growth 

And most importantly, there’s the flexibility of the job. As mentioned, there are the big, established beauty salon chains that provide a clear path of growth for those who want to grow in the sector and pick up new skills. Some of the more enterprising women that Sambhav has trained in the past have set up their own shop. Others have been content with need-based services, using their skills to supplement the family income.

Jobs in the beauty industry have also proved to be remarkably versatile, adapting and thriving in the gig economy. For ‘at home’ service aggregators, beauty services remained the highly demanded service on their platforms, and the corner-stone of their business for years now.

Model vocational course

As a trade, the beauty industry also captures the essence of most vocational education programmes. The industry has very little scope for theoretical education. Most beauticians have to learn by doing — something rarely seen in our education system. There are also multiple paths of learning, from formal diplomas, BVoc courses to short-term training and upskilling programmes.

All of this aside, there is another less spoken about aspect of the trade. There is now a widespread awareness of certification, both in the industry and among the public. One reason is that private beauty brands / chains have played a crucial role in establishing and upholding certain standards of training and skilling. By changing their own hiring processes, they have also pushed for the recognition of formal skill training. In the process, they have set the standard for a model Public-Private partnership-run skill training programme.

For young women engaged in beautician training, the course has a transformational effect. There’s the physical transformation they are able to bring out. Since it’s a genuine earn and learn programme, there the new found financial independence which boosts their confidence. There’s also the camaraderie they build with other women enrolled in the course.

Introducing beauty and wellness in the school also serves as an introduction to many lessons: The importance of self-care, interpersonal communication, building up strong bonds with their own mothers or female guardians.

There’s one final ingredient, a secret spice to the beauty industry’s popularity. Passion. There are scores of young women and men, who are passionate about beauty, wellness and fashion. These are young talented professionals who are eager to pick up new skills and make a name for themselves in the world. The beauty industry gives them space to unleash their creativity, while earning a decent livelihood.

That’s something worth celebrating!

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