Falguni is India's richest self-made woman

Indian cosmetics-to-fashion retailer Nykaa said it was seeing demand for make-up and office wear return to pre-pandemic levels, a day after reporting a 96 per cent slump in quarterly profit which drove its shares down as much as 7.4 per cent on Monday.

Sales of cosmetics, formal wear and accessories in India took a hit during Covid-19 as people mostly stayed indoors and worked from home.

However, with the easing of Covid-related curbs, the trend is being gradually reversed with companies rolling out return-to-office plans and events such as weddings being allowed with fewer restrictions on the number of guests.

"We are seeing consumption of lipsticks, office wear and wedding wear return to pre-Covid levels... the wedding season is just beginning and we expect the momentum to continue up to February, March 2022," said Nykaa's chief executive officer Falguni Nayar.

On Nov 10, Nykaa's parent company FSN E-Commerce Ventures debuted at a 79.4 per cent premium to its offer price, hitting a valuation of US$13.5 billion ($18.3 billion) in the first five minutes of trading, taking Ms Nayar's net worth to almost US$7 billion.

Not only did that catapult the 59-year-old, who owns a 52.56 per cent stake in Nykaa, onto the list of India's 20 wealthiest people, it also made her the country's richest self-made female, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

She also became the second richest businesswoman in India after Savitri Jindal of the O.P. Jindal Group who is worth US$18 billion according to the Forbes list.

"Women need to allow the spotlight of their lives to be on themselves," Ms Nayar said in an interview after the trading debut. "I hope more women like me dare to dream for themselves."

She founded her company, which runs the e-commerce site Nykaa, in 2012 after working in investment banking and guiding other entrepreneurs through the IPO process.

Back then, most Indian women bought make-up and haircare products at neighbourhood mom-and-pop stores where the selection was scanty and trials unheard of, reported The Indian Express.

She saw an opportunity in giving customers easy online access to high-end beauty items, complete with tutorials and testimonials.

"India is going to be a huge retail market," Ms Nayar said then. "Indians will aspire for more, their spending power will grow and they'll increasingly spend on lifestyle brands and services. Nykaa is in a good place."

The start-up has since grown into the country's leading beauty retailer, pushing online sales with demo videos by glamorous Bollywood actresses - such as Katrina Kaif and Alia Bhatt and social media influencers Dolly Singh (1.4 million followers on Instagram) and Debasree Banerjee (306,000) - and more than 70 brick-and-mortar stores.

Nykaa, derived from the Sanskrit word for heroine, sells items including exfoliation creams, bridal makeup essentials and hundreds of shades of lipstick, foundation and nail colour to suit Indian skin tones, skin types and local weather.

Ms Nayar said there is plenty more opportunity ahead, as in the country of 1.3 billion people, men too are beginning to spend on make-up and grooming products. "We have built the company for multi-year growth to address a very large beauty and fashion e-commerce market in India," she said.

Born into a Gujarati family that ran a ball bearing company, she has entrepreneurship in her blood. She recalled in a television interview once how conversations at home revolved around investments, stock options and trading.

After finishing her MBA, she spent 18 years at one of India's leading investment companies, Kotak Mahindra Capital, where she was managing director and head of its institutional equities business.

She left the company in 2012 to launch Nykaa, which now ranks among India's 52 unicorns or companies with a market valuation of US$1 billion.

Since 2015, Nykaa has diversified into selling garments and household products as well as manufacturing its in-house brand of beauty products.

This has helped it tap a rapidly expanding market that will be worth US$152 billion by 2025 (up from US$70 billion in 2020), according to projections by Bengaluru-based RedSeer Management Consulting.

"I hope the Nykaa journey - an Indian-born, Indian-owned and Indian-managed dream come true - can inspire each of you," Ms Nayar said at the listing ceremony, which was attended by her banker husband Sanjay and twin Ivy-league educated children Adwaita (girl) and Anchit (boy), both of whom are on Nykaa's management team.

Self-driven and ambitious, Ms Nayar told The Economic Times that she did not believe in patriarchy or glass ceilings.

"I don't think men are waiting to not allow women to do what they want. I think women have to want it for themselves. And if they want it for themselves, they will have it," she said.

While clearly pleased with the strong IPO debut, Ms Nayar is sanguine about the precise impact on her net worth.

"The size of the prize doesn't really matter," she said. "Being rewarded for doing what I love doing is the key. Share prices are the bonus."

Reuters, Indo-Asian News Service

"Women need to allow the spotlight of their lives to be on themselves. I hope more women like me dare to dream for themselves."

- Ms Falguni Nayar (above)


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