Aurora Magazine

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“Beauty is a personal choice”

Qawi Naseer, Country Managing Director, L’Oréal Pakistan, speaks to Mamun M. Adil about the evolution of the beauty category.
Updated 18 Oct, 2023 03:04pm

MAMUN M. ADIL: What prompted your decision to join L’Oréal in 2020?
QAWI NASEER: I moved to L’Oréal as GM during the early days of the pandemic, a time when hardly anyone was changing jobs; rather, they were holding on to the ones they had. I decided to enter the beauty category because I wanted to be part of an agile and entrepreneurial organisation where I could be more in control of the strategic direction of the business. 

MMA: What were some of the learnings you gained during this period?
QN: The fact that L’Oréal is developing Pakistan’s beauty category. The category has really not advanced in the last decade; it is fragmented and largely comprises basic haircare or skincare products. L’Oréal has introduced new products into the market, be they serums or tissue masks, and they have really taken off. Serums have become a huge category, a fact no one could have predicted five years ago and we are now launching more products. As market leaders, our overall vision is to develop and set the pace for the market.

MMA: Who are your competitors?
QN: Our competition comes from established players and they include the multinational companies (many have been here for decades) when it comes to soap and shampoos. This said, there is no single national player that is working on category development in terms of makeup, although there are a lot of imported products coming in, including through the grey channels. We wish that there was more competition because it helps the category grow. Unlike some organisations that are importing and selling products, we are investing in educating consumers about our products and about beauty care in general. We do this through influencers and other avenues.

MMA: Who is L’Oréal’s target audience and how do price points affect them?
QN: Our range of products spans several price points. For example, our mascaras range from Rs 600 to Rs 2,500 in order to ensure accessibility to different SECs. This said, I met a woman from SEC D in Lahore who was using Sky High, one of our most expensive mascaras that retails at Rs 2,500 (unbranded ones cost Rs 100 or 200). She said she uses Sky High for special occasions such as weddings and intends to make it last for a couple of years (she uses unbranded mascara on other days). We do not compromise on product quality to manage our pricing and although our primary TGs are SECs A and B, the more we localise, the more we will be able to penetrate across all SECs.

MMA: What consumer trends have you noticed over the years?
QN: Consumers have become more demanding. The number of products in the skincare category that cater to specific needs has grown considerably, and this also goes for our lipsticks and nail polish shades. Five to 10 years ago, our lipstick shades were mostly reds; we now have nudes, blues and other colours which are more popular among younger audiences. Men’s grooming has also evolved and a lot more men are looking for products that address their skincare, hair colouration and haircare needs and this was not the case 10 years ago. However, there are not many skincare products solely targeted at men and it is a category that we plan to develop. For the moment, men mostly use women’s products for their skincare.

MMA: How has the perception of beauty changed over time?
QN: Beauty does not adhere to standards set by any organisation or brand. Beauty is a personal choice of self-expression, especially among younger audiences (for example, colouring their hair) and aligns with their personality, values, comfort level and the way they want to express themselves. As a result, we have evolved not only our product offerings, we have evolved the way we market them by providing personalised solutions, as the definition of beauty is no longer uniform. Society is accepting this change, especially SECs A and B, and the conversation is starting in SECs C and D. 

MMA: What would you attribute this to?  
QN: Ten to 20 years ago, people were more conformist. Gen Z are changing this by questioning everything around them. They ask themselves questions such as: “Do I need to conform to a particular standard of beauty?” or “Should I be more comfortable with who I am?”. In contrast, Millennials were less vocal about such things. Gen Z have a lot more information, which leads them to question belief systems. They also raise concerns about sustainability and environmental impacts.

MMA: Are Pakistani Gen Zers really very concerned about sustainability?  QN: Sustainability in Pakistan is picking up. Is it a trending topic among Gen Z? Probably not as much as it globally is, but it is beginning to matter. For L’Oréal as a group, sustainability is an important issue and we take it very seriously. It comes under our overarching purpose which is to ‘Create the Beauty That Moves the World’ and consists of five pillars that include Sustainability, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and Women Empowerment.

MMA: What issues do you address through ‘Create the Beauty That Moves the World’?
QN: We tackle environmental concerns by reducing carbon emissions and water wastage, using sustainable packaging material, supporting communities and hiring people from diverse backgrounds, be they differently-abled or from less privileged backgrounds. It is about equity, not equality. From the women’s empowerment perspective, we upskill 10,000 to 15,000 women every year in terms of running salons. Some of these women began as junior staff in a salon and now own it – and this has changed their lives. The objective is to empower women to open salons and in turn hire more women. We also address issues such as street harassment. In 2022 we trained more than 40,000 people on this issue via our website and chatbot. Another programme involves financial support to Circle, a women-led NGO which provides digital literacy and training to over 5,000 women in 2022 and a further 5,000 in 2023.

MMA: How did L’Oréal deal with challenges such as Covid-19, and more recently the current economic downturn?
QN: Every challenge brings an opportunity. It was during Covid when everything was shut down that consumers began to take an interest in beauty, and as e-commerce grew, so did the accessibility of products widen to include smaller towns and rural centres. From the perspective of the current economic downturn, we intend to invest heavily in localisation to ensure better prices, especially given that imported products have become so expensive. So, it is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity, even if managing the economic volatility remains a significant business challenge. Furthermore, in inflationary times most people tend to spend less on big-ticket items like cars, houses or vacations, and this leaves them with extra money for smaller luxuries like beauty products.

MMA: What are your main retail avenues? 
QN: Supermarkets play a significant role; e-commerce is growing exponentially and has a lot of potential considering that approximately 80% of online orders originate from five to seven cities.

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