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How did Lakmé introduce cosmetics to Indian woman, capture the country’s market

Lakmé was India’s first cosmetic brand to introduce make up to the country’s women. Here’s the fascinating story of how Lakmé captured the Indian market.

Lakmé was India’s first cosmetic brand to introduce make up to the country’s women. Here’s the fascinating story of how Lakmé captured the Indian market.

The Hindustan Unilever (HUL)-owned cosmetic brand, Lakmé, has an international air about it, especially due to it’s name. Lakmé is the French rendition of Lakshmi, whom the Hindus worship as the Goddess of Wealth and Beauty. But, it is a fully made-in-India brand that found its genesis in the aftermath of India’s Independence from the British Raj to improve our unstable economy.

So how did Lakmé bring cosmestics to India and capture the country’s market?.

India’s economy was shaky after it gained independence. In addition, the Indian cosmetics business, like other industries, relied significantly on multinational names. The rising middle and upper classes were splurging on imported cosmetics, which had a direct impact on our foreign exchange reserves.

Concerned about this, India’s then-prime minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru, addressed businessman Jehangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata in 1950 about establishing an indigenous cosmetic brand.

The company began as a subsidiary of Tata Oil Mills, and after considerable thought, it was named ‘Lakmé,’ an English version of the goddess of prosperity and beauty, Laxmi.

According to legend, having an exotic name was chosen so that Laxmi would not be associated with the concept of beauty, which is primarily a Western phenomenon. This was at a time when beauty in desi households was defined by ‘dadi ke nuskhe,’ or simply talcum powder. Laxmi would have been relegated to yet another local product as a result. Lakmé, interestingly, is also a French opera.

Lakmé, the providers of beauty and skin goods, assembled a team of professionals and researchers to assess the needs of an Indian skin tone. To compete with foreign competitors, the packaging had to be elegant.

During a period when wearing make-up was considered taboo in India, with only women with a “tainted character” sporting kohl-rimmed eyes and ruby red lips, the developing brand required a strategy to help the goods gain traction in all types of households.

Simone Naval Tata stepped in at this point. In the 1960s, the Swiss-born wife of Naval H. Tata started on the Herculean task of redefining beauty. Her natural affinity for exquisite clothes and foreign make-up brands aided in the process’s scalability. Simone was a driving force behind the introduction of many Lakmé products, including mascara, face powder, lipstick, foundation creams, compacts, nail lacquer, toners, and more.

Aside from being economical, the corporation focused on developing a brand image through aggressive marketing methods. In fact, their initial campaign was a mash-up of modernity and Indianness. Shyamoli Verma, a heartthrob in the 1980s, was the brand’s first face. The brand wanted a well-known face to be a part of their educational campaign, which aimed to break the societal taboo surrounding cosmetics.

Following that, they capitalised on India’s adoration for Bollywood beauty by enlisting the services of actresses such as the ever-graceful Rekha and, later, the 1994 Miss World, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, as brand ambassadors.

In 1996, the Tatas sold Lakmé to Hindustan Unilever, a rapidly rising FMCG company. Today, the company sells over 300 different goods in over 70 countries around the world.

Their diverse pricing range, ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 1,000, appeals to a wide spectrum of customers.


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