That’s the beauty of it

April 28, 2019

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A mother of four who lives in Baghbanpura, Rabia Shahid recalls a time when she faced crippling pressure to take loans to repay her debts. Her husband’s salary of Rs20,000 at a local Urdu newspaper was not enough to feed, clothe and educate their children -- a story similar to many families in her area who struggle to make ends meet.

It is at this point in her life that Shahid decided to work as a freelance beautician for a company called GharPar which provides at-home beauty services predominantly to women in Lahore, Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Two years on, she says she makes more than enough to maintain her household expenses, and even has surplus to help friends or relatives who are in need.

But the most significant thing for Shahid is that she now also gives her husband compensation for driving her on a motorbike to and from appointments, which is more than what he used to make at his previous job.

The GharPar platform is billed as a social enterprise providing convenient and professional at-home beauty services which connects beauticians to clients through a web and mobile-based solution. The brainchild of three siblings and a friend, CEO Shameelah Ismail, CMO Arooj Ismail, CFO Fareed Qureshi, along with co-founder and COO Mehvish Arifeen, decided to create an ‘Uber for beauty services’ at the end of 2016. Their services run the gamut from blowout, waxing, manicure and pedicure, facials, massage and makeup application, in addition to other beauty packages.

GharPar’s ordering process is straightforward: requiring one to download the app, enter personal details for registration, receive a confirmation call from their operator, and then proceed to book each of the desired services on the app. An available beautician will then be assigned to you, who will have to be paid in full after the completion of her services.

But what originally started as a way to provide vocational training and employment opportunities to an untapped informal market of women beauticians, turned to be more than a regular beauty app as it provides lucrative economic opportunities to women skilled in beauty services and enables them to be self-sufficient.

Shahid says she can earn up to Rs80,000 in a regular month, but that the number easily hits Rs120,000 when demand is high. She pays the platform 30pc of her monthly earnings, with an additional 10pc which accumulates as a bonus for the beautician at the end of each year. The company currently has more than 100 beauticians on their platform.

But the journey has not been an easy one; co-founder Arooj Ismail says, “The initial reception from the demand side was excellent because women were already used to at-home services like waxing and massages. But the supply side was a bit baffling. We had this existing perception that beauticians who work in salons would readily join us because that industry can be exploitative, but none of them showed up. So in the beginning we had to train these beauticians ourselves.”

Arooj says the first batch of beauticians was found through personal contacts and word of mouth. Moreover, the beauticians came with their own set of apprehensions and questions.

Ismail says, “Beauticians had apprehensions and the men in their families were reluctant to send the women into homes of strangers. But now the supply side has more traction because there’s more trust in the company. Our business model is viable and beauticians can earn up to Rs60,000 or more a month as a freelancer -- something unheard of before in this field.”

According to the founder, not only have the dynamics of their employees’ households shifted since they’ve started working for GharPar, but the self-worth and confidence of their women employees has increased tenfold.

Forty-year-old beautician Saira Shahzad, too, says she has experienced financial stability after she started working with the company.

“We were given lessons on how to deal with our clients in addition to the training we received,” says Shahzad. “I have financial stability but I am also now more confident when I step out of the house because I know how to speak, act and behave. Not only that, we’re also regularly informed of new trends in the beauty industry so we can incorporate those in our work.”

Her husband Shahzad Rasheed, who works as a wedding photographer, says he encourages his wife’s work. “I have been in the photography business for the last ten years so I am aware of the kind of people and houses my wife would go in. People have been nice to her,” he says, adding that he accompanies her to appointments.

Since GharPar is a tech company, the owners have had to evolve and innovate to keep up with the changing flow of work while also teaching the team new ways to operate and work. Beauticians working with this platform have access to financial literacy, as technical knowledge is provided to them during their training.

Despite the personal and professional opportunities and growth, there still exists a wide gap between the worldview of the owners and management and that of the beauticians that they employ. One of the major obstacles is effective communication.

Ismail continues, “We might belong to the same country, province, or even city, but how we think is different from how our employees in the field think. These women question how much we really know about the issues they face every day because, sitting in the comfort of our air conditioned rooms, we have different realities. We’ve had to work hard to overcome this trust deficit.”

Published in Dawn, April 28th, 2019