Business of beauty: how the Indian cosmetic industry spurred the rise of startups like Nykaa

From beauty practices rooted in Ayurveda to those championing the ‘organic is the way forward’ rhetoric, the Indian cosmetics and cosmeceutical market is continuously evolving. And at the helm of this evolution is a bunch of startups, creating new verticals and making the most of the changes.

Business of beauty: how the Indian cosmetic industry spurred the rise of startups like Nykaa

Thursday February 13, 2020,

7 min Read

SUGAR is the new Lakme, Nykaa has become a better alternative to your brick-and-mortar neighbourhood store with limited stocks, and men’s grooming is no longer frowned upon. If there’s one industry that has truly been transformed by the waves of tech-induced changes brought about by newer generations and time, it is the cosmetics and cosmeceutical market in India.

Growing at a CAGR of 25 percent, India is set to become one of the top five global markets by revenue by 2025, according to a Redseer report. And to think of it, it all started with homegrown practices, origins of which could be traced back to the ancient science of Ayurveda.
Cosmetics industry india

Self-beautification dates back to the Indus Valley civilisation. There is evidence of both men and women, during this time, indulging in a slew of cosmetic concoctions for embellishing surface personality and also to accomplish merit (punya in Sanskrit) and happiness (anandam).

Essentially, long before the millennials and Gen Z figured out that cosmetics could cure those mean Monday blues, the practice was already in motion.

As ancient practices made way for modern usage, though, homegrown trends took over. Kajal or kohl pencils as we know it today, could be formulated at home with a simple aperture comprising a lamp and a metallic spoon (to collect the carbon particles). In fact, for most cosmetic and beauty-related ailment—from hairfall to pimples and acne—a simple combination of readily available kitchen ingredients could do the trick.

No surprise then that cosmetics, in a country where its practice is rooted in science, have found a favourable market presence today.

What was a trickle of women buying essential cosmetic products has now snowballed into a flood, with diverse consumers presenting an opportunity like never before; $20 billion is the projected market size by 2025, given that India’s cosmetics and cosmeceutical market continues to grow at 25 percent every year.

Ecommerce boom and the Nykaa effect…

Ariana Grande, in her popular song 7 Rings, croons Think retail therapy my new addiction… Whoever said money can't solve your problems’. The singer can clearly read the digital-first woman consumer’s mind. This demographic, aided with rising disposable income and economic empowerment, have opened up their wallets to create an all new lucrative vertical for business – beauty and cosmetics.

When the digital boom was peaking in India around the early 2010s, the country’s ecommerce players set out to woo the women, not for their decision-making role for the home’s needs or children’s welfare, but to provide options for their self-care. From Amazon and the now Walmart-acquired Flipkart to the up-and-coming LimeRoad (founded in 2012), the focus shifted to this digital-savvy demographic.

The rise of cosmetics as a category was hence a natural progression, one that saw the birth of online beauty retailer Nykaa in 2012.


Falguni Nayar, Founder & CEO, Nykaa with Nihir Parikh, Chief Business Officer (2nd row, 3rd from L-R)

“When Falguni Nayar founded Nykaa in 2012, she saw a gap in multi-brand beauty retail in India and saw the potential of bridging the same with ecommerce, which could cater to the length and breadth of India at an efficient cost,” says Nihir Parikh, Chief Business Officer,

Falguni, a former investment banker, launched Nykaa with a focus on creating an inventory- and content-led platform. Almost eight years on, her company has not only established an unmistakable market presence with 61 physical stores, following an omni-channel model, but also recovered from the losses to report a profit of Rs 2.31 crore in FY19.

Nykaa’s valuation now reportedly stands at $743 million, making it a strong contender for the revered unicorn club with its next round of funding.

…Bigbasket and other startups follow suit

Following in the footsteps of Nykaa, many ecommerce players have branched out over the years to include cosmetics and beauty products as an essential part of their offering.

Fashion e-tailer Myntra jumped on this bandwagon in 2018, after it announced plans to foray into the brick-and-mortar retailing under the Myntra Beauty brand. Amazon India, on the other hand, expressed interest in this sector, with plans of its own beauty and personal care label in the pipeline.

And the latest to the game, Alibaba-backed online groceries startup Bigbasket took the plunge in 2018, entering the segment with a private label for beauty products.

“It was a logical extension,” says Bigbasket CEO and Co-founder Hari Menon, citing the example of Nykaa, which he says has done great by “just focusing on that vertical”. “Eventually, we see this category on an annual basis delivering Rs 1,200 crore revenue, and this includes personal care and beauty,” he adds. 

Beauty is only skin-deep?

Recently, the Indian government, in what marks a monumental move, finalised the Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) (Amendment) Bill, 2020. If passed, the legislation could implement a ban on advertisements promoting fairness creams, anti-ageing remedies, and so on.

While this marks a huge progress on the legislative front, it is also indicative of an ongoing change in the beauty and cosmetics sector. In keeping with the political correctness of the times, this industry has also evolved to become more inclusive, representative of all body types, diverse races, and ethnicities.

Today, beauty is directly linked to self-care.

“Things I steer clear from are impossible claims, communication that is in any form hurtful or biased, any “fairness” claims, or simply if the ingredients are shady. The health of our bodies and our skin is my utmost priority,” says Shraddha Gurung, a beauty vlogger and influencer who goes by the name of Lil Miss Gurung on Instagram.

Cosmetics industry india

Shraddha Gurung, beauty vlogger and influencer

On the picture-sharing platform, where she enjoys a 105,000-strong following, Shraddha frequently uploads posts and videos addressing a range of cosmetic concerns, starting from winter skincare to the latest in nail art. These posts, in turn, engage the audience, impacting their purchasing decision and the reach of the mentioned brands.

This is essentially an example of influencer marketing, a tool that has found a special place in the world of beauty and fashion. With the rise of social media as a more trustworthy and direct source of communication and consumers leaning towards an at-your-fingertips type experience, influencers are the new holy grail in marketing.

And brands are well aware of this tectonic shift. Increasingly, they are more eager to get a social media influencer on board than a movie star, whose personal brand, though influential, is not compelling enough to sell an anti-frizz solution or a sheet mask.

It’s organic or nothing

What used to be a brands-driven market is slowly but surely turning into a consumer-driven community today. With influencers taking over, and beauty care tracing its way back to old remedies, there has been a surge in the demand for natural, chemical-free products.

“Organic is the future,” says Vaibhav Jain, CEO and Founder of Tynimo, a home-grown lifestyle brand that was launched as an answer to the growing popularity of Japanese-style lifestyle stores.

At Tynimo, amidst its assortment of knick-knacks and pretty little somethings, you would find a range of cosmetics and beauty products markedly different from the ones available in the market. With an unmistakable Asian influence, these products’ claim to fame is that they are 93-94 percent organic, paraben- and sulfate-free, and some of them are even made in India.

“These products are priced affordably, which has made the market quite competitive,” Vaibhav explains, adding, “In the next six months, we will be introducing a unique line of organic and skincare products in this category.”

In fact, there are many others like Tynimo. Home-grown brands like Vilvah, Teal & Terra, Sacred Salts, Skinella, and the Secret Ingredient cater to a niche but growing audience, comprising mostly the skin-conscious, organic-loving, environmentally aware consumers.

Looking at the trends that have captured the consumer’s imagination over the years, the only thing certain about the beauty and cosmetics industry is its uncertainly. Its dynamics are fluid and bound to change with time and generations, impacting directly the businesses that place themselves around it.

Even as new players crop up, older, more established brands will have to adjust their perspective and policy to better serve this ever-growing market – case in point being Nykaa’s fluid portfolio, which recently expanded to include men’s grooming, an oft ignored vertical, as part of its offering.

After all, obsolete practices, be it in beauty or business, have limited shelf life and don’t always age well.

(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)