asarrat Misbah, or MM as she’s referred to, is a powerhouse. While all you need to know to qualify that statement as true is that Depilex Salon, which she had set up in 1980, is now a franchise with 80 branches across Pakistan, you can add the other brands MM has established to the list if you really need more convincing.
There’s Masarrat Misbah Makeup, which was born out of MM’s extensive experience in the beauty industry.
“After so many years of making women, models, brides, beautiful, and so many of them asking what we’re using and where they can find it, I realized one of the things needed most was the right product. A high-quality product which is internationally approved and can hold its own among global brands.
“Our products are not just FDA-approved and Halal Certified, they are Shariah-compliant in every way. All ingredients used are pure and in compliance with [Islamic] religious standards.”
But working with so many faces, for so many occasions, had exposed MM to more than just one aspect of the market. There is a very open desire amongst most Pakistanis to appear lighter of skin than they actually are.
“I’d have families of brides ask me to make their skin lighter,” MM says. “I would tell them, your daughter is already so beautiful, you don’t need to do that. But that’s just one of the things that exists in our society.”
Brown-skinned Pakistanis are no strangers to everyone from close family to random people commenting on their physical appearance. It is little wonder then, that some of us will do some positively foolhardy things to reach that perceived standard of beauty. MM points out that there is an intense need for education and awareness so younger women don’t turn to damaging products that promise ‘fairness’. “These products often contain harmful quantities of mercury, which can end up destroying your skin rather than making it look better,” MM says.
As time has gone on and technology evolved, MM notes that, “makeup is no longer just for special occasions. Girls will see things they are made to covet on social media, and will make their lives miserable to get them, regardless of price or availability.”
This was one of the factors kept in mind while creating the Masarrat Misbah Makeup range. The prices aren’t astronomical, the quality is quite good, and the products can be purchased with ease locally.
“Makeup is actually something you should use to enhance your natural looks, rather than alter them,” says MM, and that, within her philosophy, is where the fragrance line comes in.
As you speak to MM, you can’t help but become a fan. She speaks lightly of 43 years of what could only have been very hard work; on this day, she is dressed in a powder-blue kameez and dupatta which make her appear cloud-like and cool on a muggy Karachi evening, and she conveys her beliefs and plans gently but assertively. As she goes on to speak on why she felt Masarrat Misbah Fragrances were important to develop, her strategic approach to her business becomes a little clearer too.
To her, makeup, clothing, hygiene, and scent all contribute to the impression one creates on the world. “When you’re going out,” she says, “you’re wearing your best outfit, and great makeup, wouldn’t you always run back in and spritz on your perfume to complete the ‘look’?” she asks.
“I think a fragrance is such an essential part of who a person is. Whenever I leave Karachi for Lahore, I hug my mother tightly and take in her scent. When I return to Karachi, the first thing I do is hug her and I can always tell what she has been doing by the perfume she is wearing.
“When you smell a scent you associate with a particular person, you will think of them automatically. That is the power of fragrance; it is the essence of someone you love, it is what completes them in your mind, it can transport you to a place and time in your life that you miss.”
“Earning their own money for women usually means that where they once may not have had a voice within their family, they will now with the contribution they make to the family’s finances,” MM says. That sense of responsibility she feels to give back to her community, to give some measure of the support she herself had when she decided to take charge of her own life to as many women as she can is possibly what led her to establish the Depilex Smileagain Foundation.
Very methodical about the scents that were created for Masarrat Misbah Fragrances, MM tells Instep that the line consists of three daytime and nighttime perfumes each for women, and two for men. “Because you want to wear a perfume that’s appropriate for the time of day,” she says.
The fragrance line also consists of body mists for younger girls, and ‘discovery sets’, which pack roll-on versions of the fragrances you may want to try, and are buildable and economical.
As Masarrat Misbah speaks about the perfume line, which she says is aptly taglined ‘Lasting Impressions’, she also speaks about the technical aspects of it. “We’ve worked hard on everything from using the best ingredients and combining the best notes, to creating beautiful, user-friendly packaging. There’s always room for improvement,” she says, “but I am happy with where we have started from.”
With her own life streamlined, MM had the privilege to look outside of herself, and plan her next steps.
“In 1980, when I became a single parent, I told my parents that I will be supporting my two children myself,” she recalls. In the ‘80s, MM says, there weren’t a lot of avenues for women to explore in terms of career, and since she wasn’t keen on pursuing medicine further, she went to the UK to study at the Shaw College of Beauty Therapy. Her father, whom she says was the backbone of the family, had her weigh her options and supported her through this time. By the time she returned, her parents had set up shop for her, and Depilex was born.
But each experience, says MM, prepared her for the next. Once the women’s salons were established, she thought about expanding to a men’s salon. Once that was done, she took to training women all over Pakistan, from large cities to smaller towns, with trainings streamlined according to location and resources. “I feel like I have to share whatever I have learnt. The women who go on to set up their own salons aren’t competition, they are being empowered to be independent.
“Earning their own money for women usually means that where they once may not have had a voice within their family, they will now with the contribution they make to the family’s finances,” she says. That sense of responsibility she feels to give back to her community, to give some measure of the support she herself had when she decided to take charge of her own life to as many women as she can is possibly what led her to establish the Depilex Smileagain Foundation.
It was in 2003 when MM was thrust into awareness of acid burn survivors. A woman, covered in her burka, walked into Depilex, and asked MM to make her beautiful. When she removed her veil, MM saw the woman - an acid burn survivor - was missing an eye, her nose, and her chin and neck were fused together. MM sank into a chair, unable to stand, and asked the woman to stay over at the salon while she figured out how to help her. The next step was to take an ad out in two newspapers, asking burn survivors to come to the salon on a particular date, and figured four to five women would turn up, whom she could comfortably help. When more than those expected five women turned up seeking help, MM realized she will have to broaden the scope of her help. She may have been overwhelmed, but in her words, “God only gives you as much as you can bear.”
Depilex Smileagain Foundation offers acid/kerosene burn victims free operations, counseling, and trains survivors into vocations so they can find some economic freedom. It is mandatory for survivors to educate their children, if any, up to Matric, which the foundation pays for.
The Depilex Smileagain Foundation runs on donations, most of which come from Masarrat Misbah’s own family, friends, and clients, but of course, more support is always welcome.
On this day, as MM goes from one aspect of her life to the next, she speaks easily, eloquently, and without a trace of any kind of strain. Even though she deals with strikingly different sides of the world in her career and philanthropy, MM makes it sound easy. All, she says, it takes is setting goals and putting in no less than a 100% effort to achieve them. Then of course, you’re ready to make history.
– Photo credits: Coordination by Umer Mushtaq / Photography by Abdullah Shahid