This enterprising Pakistani start-up leaves you beautiful and helps empower women from marginalized societies without any frills or gimmicks
This enterprising Pakistani start-up leaves you beautiful and helps empower women from marginalized societies without any frills or gimmicks.
Life, as a South-East Asian woman, isn’t exactly easy. We’re not only locked in a constant battle with patriarchy and restrictive cultural norms but we’re also constantly at war with our bodies, given the western beauty ideals that prevail in this part of the region. But this isn’t a story about the trials and tribulations women face, rather it is an account of one woman’s revolutionary idea that provided financial emancipation to women who needed it the most and brought salon services to the comfort of homes.
Meet Shameela Ismail, a Lahore based entrepreneur with a background in cosmetology, who pioneered the GharPar app. Based on the core principles of social enterprise, GharPar is a business venture that provides timely, convenient and professional at-home beauty services to its female clientele through a web and mobile based application. GharPar’s services run the gamut from blow-dries, waxing, manicure, pedicure, facial, and massage. And that’s not all; the app also provides package deals that meet the demands of its clients without breaking their bank.
GharPar is designed as more than just a regular beauty app; it provides lucrative economic opportunities to women skilled in beauty services. At its essence, GharPar enables these women to be self-sufficient and run their own independent at-home beauty services. It takes a traditional service that countless women have provided in the sub-continent since ages and formalizes it with standardized training, a strong business model and financial structure.
Speaking to Shameela reveals some incredible statistics. As a salon owner who was looking to expand her base, Shameela realized that there was a serious dearth of trained technicians who craved financial stability. The regular salon model is somewhat (we’re being polite here) exploitative. “Salons will generally hire unskilled workers on the stipulation that they will be trained first and later begin getting wages. This was a long process that could last up-to two years in training, after which the women would begin at a base salary of about Rs. 10,000 per month,” she explains.
While researching, Shameela also discovered that about 70% of women are unable to gain access to salons and/or prefer treatments at home. Given that supply and demand were both present, Shameela and her team set out to conquer what was initially a niche market and turn it into a lucrative business with the interest of its workers at heart.
Their idea was validated when in 2016 Shameela and her team won the local start-up competition. It was time to execute what they had envisioned.
“It wasn’t easy trying to get women, as we had initially thought. There is a societal stigma against salon service providers that link them to prostitution and massage girl culture. When we approached women from marginalized communities they were extremely hesitant to come board and gaining their trust took time. We started out with six women initially and have over a hundred trained technicians in the field now,” she elaborates.
The induction process obviously became easier when the women were able to increase their monthly income six-fold and others, seeing their success, signed up for the training programme once the legitimacy of the start-up was no longer under question. “Women working with GharPar were able to take home Rs. 60,000 to Rs. 70,000 a month as opposed to Rs. 10,000 or Rs. 15,000 from a traditional salon job. This financial incentive really drove other women to join in,” says Shameela.
Choosing women who were going to be inducted into the programme was also a grueling process that involved complete background checks involving not only the women themselves but also their families and extended circles for any criminal records or brushes with the law. The same intensity of vetting process is also applied to the women who sign on to the app for services. They make an account, share the national ID details and only after NADRA verification can they book an appointment with the GharPar technicians.
“It was our responsibility on both ends to ensure the security of our technicians and our customers. We wouldn’t want to send someone we couldn’t vouch for to a customer’s home and similarly we would never want to endanger our technicians by sending them to unauthenticated or unsafe locations for work,” Shameela adds.
What really sets this venture apart is the success it has translated to the women who come onboard the platform. “We have been able to pull one hundred households out of poverty by training and empowering women and ensuring proper payment for their services. We also formulated a model where the women would accumulate their monthly earnings in an e-wallet, which gave them power over their own finances. No one in the family would be able to take their earnings or squander them,” Shameela elucidates, referring to the common local practice where husbands often take their wives wages to fulfill a drug addiction or other nefarious habits.
From the customer’s perspective as well, the service is a welcome relief. As we had mentioned earlier, beauty standards here demand hours of upkeep which cost in terms of time and money. Not all women have the luxury of heading to a salon bi-monthly or monthly for varied reasons, ranging from inability to carve time out of busy schedules to economic restraints. GharPar takes away the stress of stepping out and provides services at reasonable rates with qualified technicians who are punctual and hygienic.
The success of the enterprise can easily be attributed to its meticulous planning and adherence to strict standards, whether in terms of the services provided or the clientele cultivated. It is extremely heartening to see a commercial venture with its heart in the right place and the beneficiaries are those who put in the hard work.
Asking Shameela what her plans for the future of GharPar are, she states that she hopes to grow the network to other major cities in Pakistan. “We’re currently running in Lahore and Rawalpindi/Islamabad but we’d like to be able to expand to other cities within the country. And then eventually we’re looking at the global north and the global south,” she says. So world domination basically, no big deal!