Lakmé is India’s most trusted name in beauty products. It has been the secret of exotic Indian beauty since 1952. Since then the brand has come a long way, reinventing itself over decades to include cosmetics, beauty products, and salon services. It ranked 36th among India’s most trusted brands in 2014 (Brand Trust Report). The name is also now synonymous with Lakmé Fashion Week (LFW) a bi-annual fashion event that has been taking place in Mumbai since the year 2000. The brand Lakmé continues to enjoy a 25% market share in India’s INR 97,000 crore beauty and personal care market. With Kareena Kapoor and Ananya Pandey as the brand ambassadors, Lakmé is still the preferred choice for many women in India. Interestingly the Lakmé brand now owned by Hindustan Unilever was the brainchild of two most prominent personalities of India – Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and JRD Tata. This is the story of Lakme India, from a Tata Group enterprise to HUL.
To be beautiful is the birthright of every woman
Way back in the year 1950, an independent India still relied hugely on imported cosmetics. An economic survey of spending in India then revealed that the Indian women were splurging on imported cosmetics which was affecting the forex reserves of the country. So, the Prime Minister of India, Nehru decided to create an ingenuously made beauty brand to cater to the cosmetic needs of Indian women. Of course, he needed an entrepreneur to give his idea wings. JRD Tata was invited for a meeting with Nehru in 1950, to appreciate a business opportunity here. Thus, the two men took upon this challenge to produce cosmetics for “Indian skin”. So, on one hand, Nehru saved the country’s foreign exchange on cosmetics and JRD entered a virgin market in 1952 to become a market leader in the cosmetics industry of India. India was changing, from dadi ma ke nuske to improved beauty products. After all, to be beautiful is the birthright of every woman.
The need for an exotic name
Lakmé started as a 100% subsidiary of Tata Oil Mills (Tomco). JRD Tata himself chose the name. He was inspired by a particular French opera name “Lakmé” which also derives its name from Sanskrit for “Lakshmi”, the goddess of wealth and epitome of beauty. Thus, representing a company that would bring wealth to the nation (by saving precious forex), and at the same time symbolizes the beauty of a Goddess. The ‘videshi’ name caught on quickly and became the product’s brand identity.
Nurturing a Brand
The growth in Lakme’s retail sector came with the entry of Simone Tata, the wife of Naval H Tata who joined Lakmé as managing director in 1961 and rose to become its chairman in 1982. In the mid 60’s she introduced moisturizers and sun care products. She was instrumental in nurturing the brand and taking it to greater heights to become a trusted household name all over India. Being a French woman she related closely to cosmetics and understood what was vital for Indian skincare and beauty regime. From office wear to bridal make-up, from beauty products to skincare, Lakmé provided a wide range of products in lips, face, eyes, and nail care.
She also helped establish Lakme’s first salon in 1980, which has now grown to more than 240 salons spread across over 60 towns and cities. Of these 170 are franchise outlets giving a boost to 100+ entrepreneurs. The entire salon team comprises of over 2200 experts attending to 1,000,000 customers. While the Lakme Pro-Stylists are behind some of the most iconic looks to grace the runway, Lakmé Salons continue to bring this artistry to modern Indian women.
Beauty never fades
In 1995, Lakme Lever Limited formed as a joint venture between HUL (erstwhile HLL) and Lakme Limited. In 1996, Tata sold off their stakes in Lakme Lever to HUL (erstwhile HLL), an FMCG company, for INR 200 Crore (USD 45 million).
Today, Lakmé is a well-known global brand in the cosmetics industry. The products are exported to more than 70 countries worldwide under the entity Lakme Exports Pvt. Ltd. It has a product line of 300 diverse products.
In 2017-18, Lakmé crossed the ₹1,000-crore mark in sales. The brand continues to survive in a highly competitive cosmetics market alongside international brands like Maybelline, Colorbar, MAC, Revlon, mainly due to HUL’s pace of innovations. While earlier the Lakmé product range had 5-10 innovations a year, today it has 30-50 innovations or renovations. The wide range of beauty and skincare products and services cater to millennials following latest beauty trends, and consumers who spend on grooming products and services. In December 2018, Lakmé introduced its e-commerce portal to cater to the demand for beauty products online.
Till such time that the goal of preserving one’s beauty remains, the beauty industry will thrive.