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Lakme's new muse: The working woman

HUL is finally increasing its range of cosmetics for an office-going audience with its 9 to 5 brand

Viveat Susan Pinto  |  Mumbai 

In uncharacteristic style, the Rs 25,810-crore Hindustan Unilever (HUL), the country's largest fast-moving consumer goods company, has silently gone about revamping its officewear portfolio in the cosmetics space in recent weeks. Called '9 to 5', it is taking on international brands such as L'Oreal, Revlon and Chambor that have traditionally targeted this segment in a big way.

Lakme remains the dominant player in the Rs 1,100-crore organised make-up market in India. With cosmetics use growing in India and more women moving into the urban workforce, experts say the pressure to come up with chic products is growing. Women are increasingly getting aspirational and also have the means to ensure they can buy what they want in their drive to enhance their beauty.

According to data released by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) last month, India's female workforce in urban areas stood at 27.3 million between July 2011 and June 2012 - the period for which the analysis was done - versus 22.8 million between July 2009 and June 2010.

There is a growth of 16.48 per cent, which is reasonable, given the high dropout rate of women from the labour force on account of marriage, starting a family and other pressures.

But the growing bunch of women trooping to work is still substantial enough for cosmetic majors to sit up and appraise their portfolios. Lakme appears to have done just that. Arun Srinivas, vice-president, skincare and make-up, HUL, says, "The number of contemporary professional women in Indian offices is increasing with societal changes. Lakme 9 to 5 offers women a unique range of long-wear make-up that allows them to look their best and go about their work with utmost style and without any touch-ups."

This will be the second time in two years that Lakme has come out with a long-wear range, that is, make-up lasting through the day. Last year, the company had launched Absolute, its range of premium baked make-up, at the upper end of the market, targeting women who wanted chic but effective products that lasted through the day. Actor Kareena Kapoor endorsed this line by Lakme.

In recent years, most international majors have focused on offering Indian women no-fuss but stylish products. For working women, this is an enticing proposition, given that they barely have the time for repeated touch-ups. Satyaki Ghosh, director, consumer products division, L'Oreal India, says innovation has been at the heart of this strategy of offering no-fuss but effective products. "We are clear that if we have to make a difference, it has to be through a range of stand-out products that are stylish and neat and do not take too much time when applying," he says.

This has taken different shapes, from interesting colours in segments such as lips and nails, two big categories in make-up, to innovative products such as a kajal that can be twisted open like a lipstick or a compact that doubles as a foundation. L'Oreal Paris, along with Maybelline (at the lower end) and Lancome (at the upper end), has attempted to make make-up utilitarian as well as look good through such products, to draw the attention of the consumer.

Innovation, say experts, has also become imperative in the cosmetics space because women today are not hesitant to experiment with their products. This is increasingly becoming evident in nail colour, for instance, where even working women can be found trying out newer and bolder shades without worrying about how their colleagues would perceive them.

As Anand Ramanathan, associate director, KPMG (consulting practice), says, the cosmetics industry is seeing a shift with consumers wanting to try out newer and better products, with women going after brands that offer them a little more than what others would. Ghosh puts it succintly, "Women today do not want to try out their mother's brands."

Lakme has responded to these mutiple challenges with a range of products from eyeliners, compacts, blushers, nail polish to lipsticks under 9 to 5. "Lip and nail colour, in particular, are new additions to the range," Srinivas says. "The packaging has also been revamped to make it exciting for the working woman," he adds.

Experts say that as disposable income among women go up, the pressure to adopt new styles will increase. "The pressure to innovate will certainly go up as consumers become demanding," says Ghosh of L'Oreal.

What is partly fuelling this pressure is the awareness among consumers of global trends. "Women know what is happening abroad and in a globalised world, they want to be part of an international trend or phenomenon," Ghosh adds. The homegrown universe of beauty and fashion bloggers has fanned such trend-spotting.

Lakme has also played on pricing for its revamped range for the working woman. It is priced between Rs 200 and Rs 600, bringing it within the reach of most. International brands such as Revlon, Chambor and even L'Oreal Paris are all priced over Rs 500, and Maybelline is the only mass-market brand among the global players.

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First Published: Sun, July 07 2013. 21:15 IST