L'Oréal India's Amit Jain

Amit Jain, the managing director of L’Oréal India, breaks the mold.

He is the first Indian to lead the company since it started its India operations in 1994, and heads the region including Bangladesh and Nepal. L’Oréal India Private Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary, is the third largest beauty player in India, (after Hindustan Unilever Ltd, a subsidiary of Dutch company Unilever Plc, and Procter & Gamble India).

Jain, who took up the mantle in June 2018, has been setting the pace as beauty markets in India try to play catch-up. Those markets had notched nearly a decade of double-digit growth, but the coronavirus pandemic hit hard, and India’s overall market beauty sales dropped an estimated 60 percent for several months in 2020.

According to Jain, the time for resurgence is back. Here, he talks about one of the fastest growing beauty markets in the world, and his vision to accelerate it further.

Is it a challenge being the first Indian managing director at L’Oréal India?

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Amit Jain: It is a very collaborative culture at L’Oréal, and it works like a global matrix, which makes it rather easy. It turned out well on the business side of it, too, and picked up until strange things happened last year.

This morning I was up at 5:30, and I woke up dreaming about one of our new initiatives. Quite simply I am blatantly excited about it.

India is really a play in the mass market for L’Oréal. Is there still scope for growth as the market gets more crowded?

A.J.: We are in three big segments in India — consumer, professional and luxury. In two of these we are pretty much inventing the market, so being ahead of the market doesn’t really matter. Our job is to build the beauty habit in India and to build a completely different idiom of beauty.

India already has a long and traditional culture of beauty. But the Indian focus on investing in your own looks and grooming is often seen as an indulgence, and sometimes there is guilt associated with buying expensive products, even though they are not.

I’m not looking at the multinational way of per capita and all that — that’s a very old way of looking at things — but rather what is very important from a perspective is what the French call valorization, which means we are creating value for stakeholders and adding richness to the beauty categories we work in.

When do you see India emerging among the top global beauty markets?

A.J.: Trends suggest that by 2030 India will be the sixth largest beauty market. We have to position ourselves to be one of the pillars of growth for what is likely to be one of the fastest growing global markets. That is the real job — it is less about market share and more about growing ahead of the market. We have been consistently doing so for the last few years.

How did you weather the impact of COVID-19?  

A.J.: Just anecdotally, one of our luxury products is Kiehl’s (14 freestanding stores in India). While retail was shut for half of last year, we were positioning ourselves clearly in the beauty tech space. Our Kiehl’s representatives got trained, and suddenly we had an electronic way of reaching consumers, running skin diagnostics online. So even though the stores were shut, we were acquiring customers through the pandemic.

The interesting bit is that more than 40 percent of these were from outside the big metros. It opened a completely different way of reaching consumers. Similarly, other beauty advisers and hairdressers retrained to keep their relationship with their clients in the unusual circumstances.

Maybelline New York has been one of the big growth stories in terms of beauty brands in India.

A.J.: Yes, Maybelline is the fastest growing among the significant brands, because of valorization, bringing in more value-added products for the Indian consumer.

For example, Fit me (18 ml, 299 rupees/ $4.10), a range of 18 foundations, was made after doing a mapping of the Indian skin tones. These were launched in 2019, and just took off. We introduced 5 ml minis in six top-selling shades in January 2021, priced at 99 rupees ($1.35). We didn’t anticipate the kind of uptick that happened on these.

Makeup is largely imported by global brands into India, but as of this week, these will be manufactured here as well.

When Lancôme left the country in 2017, analysts read it as a sign that luxury beauty retail was failing in India.

A.J: You know, Victor Hugo said, ‘Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.’ Luxury often requires an ecosystem and luxury retail in India was just not there 10 years back — it was conspicuous by its absence. It is just beginning to pick up.

Now, let me give you the really good news as far as we are concerned. The big pivot for us now is that we are deciding not to wait for luxury retail to go up. The single biggest change we have witnessed in the last two to three years is the advent of the digital consumer. In my mind, beauty tech is going to be the biggest evolution for the Indian beauty consumer in India, and we at L’Oréal are here to lead that evolution.

What are your three biggest agenda items for the coming year?

A.J.: The most premium categories in India are massively under-penetrated and so Beauty Tech with a purpose, to empower consumers to find their own expression in terms of beauty.

Sustainability is a very big priority, and we have a number of initiatives, with pledges on plastic, carbon neutrality and reduction of greenhouse gases. E-commerce, along with livestreaming and building digital relationships with the consumers. We’re doing this in many ways, including Virtual Try-On on our sites, (maybelline.in, or lorealparis.co.in), which is also on our partner sites, like e-commerce companies Nykaa, Amazon, Flipkart, and plenty of others. You know wherever there is beauty, L’Oréal is there, and hopefully we try to lead the way there.

For more from WWD.com, see:

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