Youth Inc.

Oh, the vanity!

The young care more about their looks than ever before. And these hotspots’ cash registers bear testimony

Resham Kamde works hard at looking good. The 22-year-old event manager spends half a day every fortnight at an upscale beauty clinic in Bandra, Mumbai, getting ‘the works’ — manicure, pedicure, facial and hot oil treatment for her hair; every month, she gets a trim and her honey-blonde highlights touched up. She used to run for 40 minutes every day on the treadmill at the gym in her building, but Kamde has recently discovered Zumba. She has signed up for classes at a dance-fitness studio nearby where, twice a week, she burns up 1,000 calories in a session of the Latino routine that combines dance movements like salsa, merengue and aerobics. She has raved about it so often that her boyfriend and a couple of friends have also joined her class. 

Several hundred kilometres to the north, in South Delhi’s Saket, nearly 30 people are sweating it out at a Krav Maga session. The high-intensity Israeli martial art is gaining popularity among the urban youth as a way to stay fit and build endurance. Samixa Ghildial, a lawyer in her mid-20s, makes it a point to catch at least two classes a week. “I get a high after each session,” she says. Back in Mumbai, Satish Nair knows exactly how she feels. He’s been practising Krav Maga for over six years and says he’s seeing increasing interest among youngsters. “Teenagers, of course, but even 10-12 year olds want to learn this art form,” says his teacher Sensei Sadashiv Mogaveera. That’s understandable. Indian youth is increasingly becoming aware of the importance of grooming and fitness. Those between 15 and 25 years, especially, are itching to experiment — they sport the latest hair styles and colours, play around with their facial hair, sport tattoos and burn off their excess energy with a variety of the latest exercise routines available. The ultimate aim remains to impress everybody.  

What’s hot, why?

You don’t need to look too far for the manic obsession with looking good: the extensive media coverage given to the diets, beauty secrets and fitness regimes of Bollywood and Hollywood stars and other celebrities is enough. Sure, fads driven by movie stars aren’t new, but now, with dedicated coverage to a celeb’s every move, the average Indian gets a much closer look at the trends celebrities are following or indeed, setting. Six-pack abs, size zero bodies and tattoos of names of the current partner speak loudly to India’s youth — and they’re all ears. “With more varied, edgy looks constantly appearing on our screens and on our favourite actors, trend imitation has gone mainstream,” says Osh Bhabani, director of the b:blunt salon chain. 

By and large, though, the demands of younger customers are quite different from what ‘grown-ups’ want in terms of fitness and grooming. Rather than masking fine lines and covering greys, their requirements from beauty salons and skincare have more to do with solutions for acne and blackheads and laser hair removal. That doesn’t come cheap, but youngsters don’t mind. An anti-acne treatment plan of 3-4 sessions at a reputed salon can work out to ₹5,000-6,000. Facial hair removal can cost ₹10,000-15,000 for six sessions, while legs and arms cost, well, an arm and a leg. “Even young men, especially in modelling or body building, are interested in laser hair removal,” says Suvodeep Das, marketing head, Kaya Skin Clinic.  

In beauty products, too, there is a marked difference in preferences between age groups. It’s not just the price points; the colours and textures vary significantly. While those in their 30s and above are looking for the most natural-looking shades, young Indians want fashion colours for hair (deep purple, blood red or even blue), mulating international pop icons like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga. In makeup, young women don’t particularly want to look made up — bright eyeliners and nail paints are fine, but they don’t want dark lipsticks or thick foundation or compacts. What they do want, though, is sunscreen lotions, fairness creams and anti-acne solutions. Skin care companies too have realised this and that is why those like Ozone group launched Nomarks ‘teens’ comprising a face wash, skin cream and soap to address young skin problems. 

Young people are equally serious about fitness. “Today’s youth look upto movie stars and models and strive to get physiques like their idols,” says Althea Shah, VP, marketing, Gold’s Gym. Which is probably why a fitness chain like Gold’s has 20% members below the age of 25 who pay ₹25,000-30,000 a year to pump iron. Mumbai-based Zumba instructor Neeti Premkumar Maya has over 80 students who pay ₹1,500 a month for three classes a week; and enthusiasts like Samixa in Delhi willingly hand over ₹1,800 for four classes of Krav Maga. “When I started my classes, I expected very few people to actually turn up,” says Maya. “But the demand has been overwhelming. I now have classes twice a day just to accommodate everybody.” Indeed, with so many youngsters taking to activities like Zumba, established fitness chains have also introduced routines like crossfit, boot camp circuit training and, of course, Zumba and, the Israeli martial art, Krav Maga.  

Small but significant

With so much interest from the youth, you would presume this is big business. Think again. Across categories, young customers account for less than a quarter of all business. Whether it’s the ₹6,500-crore beauty and skincare products, the ₹7,000-crore salon market or the ₹2,500-crore gyms and fitness industry, those below 25 account for only around 20%. In some sub-categories, their share is even lower: just about 5% each, for instance, in hair colour (a ₹1,200 crore market) or face and eye makeup (a ₹200-crore segment). It’s easy to see why: those in the 15 to 25 age group may have great desires, but usually no great source of income; they’re either dependent on allowances from their parents or have just entered the workforce. 

But that doesn’t stop companies from not just remaining enthusiastic about this demographic, but also actively seeking out and wooing young customers. Brands and companies catering to this segment work extra hard to make themselves affordable. Special offers are common: Gold’s Gym offers a discount to those under 21; salons like Evolve and VLCC offer discounts to students; and many cosmetics brands offer combo packs and gifts on purchases so they’re perceived as offering greater value-for-money. Cosmetics brands like Lakmé and Revlon have launched sub-brands to cater to teenagers and young adults. Sure, Elle18 and Street Wear together account for just 12% of the ₹1,000-crore nail paint and lipstick market, but for these companies and others like them, this is an investment for the future. 

That’s because young customers help in setting trends. They’re usually early adopters of new products and styles, which help older customers, make up their minds to buy or at least try something novel. Take new hair and beauty styles for instance. CK Kumaravel, who runs the Naturals chain of beauty salons in South India, says that often it is students and youngsters who come in asking for a new hair cut or make-up style they have seen in a magazine or movie. Then, these customers aren’t going to grow up and go away. Their crazes and fads aside, fitness and grooming are already well-entrenched as part of daily life for most of this age profile. So these youngsters will not only continue spending on their appearance as they grow up, they’ll most likely end up spending a lot more, as they rush to fulfil their pent-up aspirations. Kumaravel recalls a young customer in Chennai who spent roughly ₹500 a month on beauty services until she was about 23. After completing her studies, she got a job in the same city with TCS. “She now spends ₹4,000 a month as she styles her hair more often, and opts for more expensive facials,” he adds.

It’s not just grooming. As more young people join the workforce, fitness companies, too, expect their clientele to only expand. “Once you make fitness a part of your lifestyle, you try to maintain it all your life,” explains Vikram Aditya Bhatia, MD of Fitness First health clubs. That’s also the reason why beauty salons and health centres are expanding into Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities. Fitness chain Talwalkars has 128 health clubs across 68 cities. It is now opening Hi-fi Clubs, a no-frills versions of its full-benefits centres, aimed especially at younger clients — while the smaller clubs will not offer premium services like massages and more urban youth  centric classes like indoor rock climbing, they are also priced 40% lower, making them more affordable for young adults. “Even in small towns, people in the 20-35 age group are witnessing higher disposable incomes, although they’re lower than in metros,” points out Prashant Talwalkar, CEO, Talwalkars.

And earning more and wanting to look better seem to go hand in hand. The Indian youth’s exposure to and awareness of different lifestyles around the globe has never been higher. To fit in with the peer group, fat is no longer fine and neglect of grooming an indication of social ineptness. As girls from even small towns in Rajasthan and Punjab audition for shows like Kingfisher model hunt that has them sashaying down the ramp and confidently posing in skin flashing bikinis, young men are pumping iron to get rippling bodies like that of John Abraham and Thor movie actor Chris Hemsworth. Young people all over India are trying to graduate to their own version 2.0.