Made in India yet global in outlook, named after the French opera the popular cosmetic brand Lakmé has much lesser known to you and us. With the specialty of being the first cosmetic company of Independent India its story takes the huge turn around the independence days of India when the women went crazy for the imported cosmetic materials, which led to the overspending leading to the rise in foreign exchange.
It all started in 1950’s
India had just won her freedom and the economy was shaky. Upper middle class women were spending valuable foreign exchange on western cosmetics while the more middle class women had no access to quality makeup because of non-availability in the Indian market.
What came as everybody’s savior was Lakmé. And the brilliant brain behind the iconic cosmetic brand was none other than the country’s first PM, Jawaharlal Nehru.
Nehru realised that there were no Indian cosmetic products in the market to compete with the foreign ones. So, he decided to find a solution.
To help change matters, Nehru asked industrialist JRD Tata to step in. He was the only one with the necessary entrepreneurship to make a difference. Never one to back off from a challenge -Tata began to study the situation carefully.
The biggest difficulty was coming up with a brand identity that appealed to both classes of women. To appeal to Indian ladies, the brand had to have an aspirational touch-be affordable to all classes and yet find resonance across the board. He settled on ‘Lakmé‘, taking the name from the French opera of the same name.
Interestingly, the name is a western derivative of the Indian Goddess of Wealth–Lakshmi. But there’s no way Indian ladies would be buying anything called Lakshmi kajal or lipstick- and so Lakmé it was.
Finally, in 1952, Lakmé started its operations as a subsidiary of Tata Oil Mills. Simone Tata, Naval H. Tata’s wife, joined as its managing director in 1961 and went on to become its chairperson in 1982.
In 1996, Tata sold Lakmé to Hindustan Unilever for Rs 200 crore.
Today, with over 35 percent of the Rs1,100 crore Indian cosmetics market share, Lakmé is still the brand that packs a punch.