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  • Writer's pictureTharindu Ameresekere

Salon Nayana: It makes brand sense to perceive that self-care isn’t an expense, but an investment.

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

Today on BusinessLoungeLK’s journey to bring you the voices of business professionals in Sri Lanka, we are immensely honored to have Mrs. Nayana Karunaratne on our Liyo Leaders segment. Mrs. Nayana Karunaratne is the founder and creative director of Salon Nayana, which enjoys a presence right across the island’s capital city. She is a renowned entrepreneur who is also a leading hair and beauty expert with international renown. She created a salon empire through passion and commitment that has now spread throughout South Asia, driven by a great love for the hairdressing industry and a desire to support Sri Lanka and its people. She makes us realize that self-care isn’t an expense but an investment.

This is a tough time for the people. How do you experience the impact on the Beauty Care sector?

When we talk about the tough times for people and the beauty industry, it obviously affects us. When people have issues with cooking, food, looking after children and schools, the beauty care industry gets affected. But it’s funny to note that, like food, beauty care is also a necessity for people. Hence, the industry will never close down and will continue to respond to the needs of the people. I believe when the tough times come, people try to cope with the situations. When tired, they need a little bit of simple comforts and pampering such as a haircut, head massage, a facial or a new hair color to get out of the tough and stressful times. It’s true that we are affected, especially with the petrol crisis, but we are able to manage.

What is your Mantra for adapting to the tough times?

My mantra is to adapt to life. I believe a few things. First, we have to be strong enough to accept the situation, and for that we should have physical and mental stability and strength. When we have mental stability, our brain naturally gives us positive vibes no matter how hard the situation gets.

I think, a good example was COVID-19. We were locked down for two and a half months at a stretch, and then after that, on and off, we were locked down. I found it easier than many others to get through the tough times because I think I followed the general mantra of living life to the fullest, one day at a time. We have to be realistic and understand the ground situation. Prior to the economic crisis, the salons and other businesses faced a tougher time with COVID-19. We actually had to consolidate, close down certain salons to minimize our losses and look after our staff. The experience of COVID-19 prepared us, I would say, to face the tough times. I believe the smartest thing to do in tough times is to take it one day at a time. Please don’t ever listen to other people’s negative thoughts. On social media, we see how people just imagine and predict things. We do need to be so negative.

Life gives us daily issues to worry about. Take one day at a time and in the evening, when you recall and feel, "I got out of it, I survived," it really is an achievement. We have managed without gas by using alternate methods. We are managing with power cuts. I use that time in the evening to go for a walk. We do not have a single box of matches or a candle in the house. Still, we are managing and not getting depressed. Don’t think too far ahead. This crisis will also ease soon. Before predicting doom, it is best to plan your day and gradually work your way out of crisis. This is my mantra.

We can see mass migrations to overseas markets these days. How does this affect the labor market for the hair & beauty care sector?

Yes, mass migration is taking place because the quality and education standards of our professionals are quite good. People are going abroad, not necessarily for migration but for employment. We have approximately 250 to 300 openings per year for barbers, but only 10 to 15 vacancies are filled because people are not aware of the opportunities available.

Migration is not the solution to all problems. I can very proudly say that because I migrated to Australia when I was younger and lived there for 2 years. I was miserable, and I came back running because here in my country, I found my sense of belonging. Australia has all the material comforts, but it’s not my country. Also, considering the amount of hard work our people put in when they go to other countries, if they were to do the same here, they could live equally well. I think migration is not the solution to every problem. The hair and beauty sectors should have international exposure and opportunities to support their foreign exchange earnings too. Everyone should get a better education in health and safety, personality, work ethics, new creations and techniques. We should go for employment instead of migration.

Imports have been blocked and restricted. A lot of salon chains are struggling to get the requirements. How are you managing this ?

This is a very good question. I’m very proud to say that the blocking of imports is not a major problem for us because, I would say, almost 80% of our products are bought locally. And we have two main requirements: skin care products and hair care products. A few years ago, I supported and worked with two local companies. 'Nature’s Beauty Creations' and 'Bellose' are both companies with high quality standards, research and development and work ethics in this region. Both these companies export their goods to other countries, so why on earth should we import products when they are locally available? We have supported the research work of both these companies for many years now. They are doing well now. In fact, just yesterday I got a call from someone in India looking for skin and hair care products for export to Russia, and I recommended both these companies.

We do have issues with color cosmetics, nail polish, hair spray, etc., as they need to be imported. Yet, 70% to 80% of our needs, such as shampoos, hair color, skin care products, hair removal wax, tissue boxes, etc. are locally manufactured. We don’t face many product issues, and we do not need to lower our service standards either.

How did your journey in this sector begin and have you seen similarly challenging times in the past?

When I was 15, immediately after my O/Ls exam, I left school and joined a hairdressing class. I was employed within six months, immediately after the program. In 1971, we faced the insurgency, but the salon business continued. We dressed brides with minimum and poor-quality products. I remember we had no hairspray, used Brylcream instead of hair spray or gel, beer instead of setting lotion, and only rusty hair pins. Yet we were very successful and happy.

At the age of 17 or 18, in the midst of the insurgency, I remember going home in the evenings with my mother and my siblings. We used to stop near the Kelani river and watch the floating dead bodies of our youth. Then came 1983. I was nine months pregnant and, to make a long story short, my second baby was born on Black Friday, July 29th, 1983. So, again, very tough times. I had planned my maternity leave as I was a salon owner, but everything went haywire. We had a large Tamil clientele and most of them had quick weddings, planned in homes with small gatherings, and left the country immediately. I had no choice but to start dressing brides, only a week after the baby was born. The work continued and we survived.

I remember one wedding that happened at the Bambalapitiya Flats. First, I went alone. Then a person like a priest came in. We never went in groups. And they kept a photograph of the God and performed the marriage with only about five or six people. I remember dressing that bride with flowers plucked by me and tied with thin thread. She said that when the mob came, she ran out of the back door, dug a hole with her hands, buried the jewelry, and kept the garbage bin on top of that. She was in the refugee camp for 9 days, without brushing her teeth or changing her dress. When she came back, the house was completely robbed and burned, but the jewelry was still there. There were so many brides like her in 1983.

Then, in '89, things got tough again, and my children were small. There were bomb blasts, curfews, and constant fear.

I still remember the explosion when I thought my ceiling had come down. We ran up the stairs. Nothing has happened to the ceiling. That was Ranjan Wijeratne’s bomb blast, half a mile away. When the Dehiwala train was bombed, that was frightening!! We had no mobile phones then. My son was little and in school at St. Thomas’s College. My husband and I ran everywhere looking for him, helpless and scared. Yet, through all that, the business has survived.

I think if there was no war, and the country was successful, we would have been in a better position. Actually, to me, this current situation is not a very tough. I’ll say it this way: we’ve never been this poor financially, but this is not a frightening time. I know that somehow food, oil, and other problems can be sorted out quickly if we have intelligent people to run this country, but bombs and terrorists cannot be sorted out that easily. Hence when compared to 71, 83, and 89, we are in a better situation. Look on the bright side and try to manage.

I have reduced my kitchen expenses, remembering that many are going hungry today. We still have food on the table. Is it not a blessing? I think living sensibly to overcome tough times is the way to go.

My mother was a strong woman, but she was not fashionable, whereas my teacher, Janet, was very fashionable. She was another very strong influence in my life. A mother of five children, with limited imports and fashion accessories, she always looked very fashionable, always positive and smiling in spite of problems.

Lots of people thrive on negativity. That is our biggest karma. We thrive on negativity and predict more negativity.

I believe the Sri Lankan economy revolves around the Yala and Maha seasons. We are a blessed country with water and rich soil. Most people don’t understand how lucky we are. It is paramount that we educate our people and explain the value of what they have. We are a nation used to getting everything for free, and people have become very lazy.

What is your message to the stylists and the beauty care entrepreneurs out there ?

My message to the beauty therapists is: firstly, you have to remember that we are handling human beings, not computers or textiles. We are handling human beings and we have a huge responsibility. Secondly, we only sell satisfaction and glamour, and not food or furniture. So, work with the correct attitude.

Give importance to hygiene, health, and safety. It’s our duty. The industry came out with flying colors during COVID-19. The World Health Organization (WHO) was very pleased with our curriculum.

Gain a thorough knowledge of and be well educated in your subjects. I can assure you, after 52 years in the industry, that you will always be successful if you follow these points, even in any other country, may it be Canada, Australia, or the Middle East.

Make sure that your foundation education is very solid and, because fashions change every six months, you need to update your knowledge regularly.

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