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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

In Muzaffarnagar, a beauty salon struggle to make up lost ground

Kavya Beauty Salon has an ultra-sonic facial bed, fish pedicure tank, and the latest in beauty care. What it waits for are customers

Written by Ankita Dwivedi Johri |
Updated: June 27, 2021 9:19:12 am
Owner Kavya Sharma (left) says her parlours see about five-seven people now on “the good days”. She is already late on her electricity bills. (Express photo)

On March 17 last year, the ‘Doctor Fish’ pedicure set arrived at Kavya Beauty Salon, among the popular beauty parlours in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar City. The owner, Kavya Sharma, was confident that the neon blue-lit tank teeming with hundreds of Red Garra fish — to nibble dead skin off people’s feet — would be a success. The Rs 65,000 set which she bought from Ghaziabad was for her latest venture, a plush unisex salon next to her two existing beauty parlours (for men and women). An ‘ultra-sonic facial bed’ and an array of ‘chemical treatment’ products also lined the racks of the swanky 13X54 ft space that she had rented for Rs 25,000 a month.

Five days later, the Prime Minister announced the Janata Curfew, and within hours Kavya’s salons shut down.

Through the year, as the Covid-19 cases went up and down, Kavya spent anxious hours over her mounting losses, the expiry dates on her facials and peels, and her fish.

But by February, despite her best efforts, all fish died. She hasn’t ordered a new batch yet.

So earlier this month, when Kavya learnt that the UP government was easing curbs, allowing salons to open, she was cautious.

“Unlike the un-lockdown last June, when we announced discounts and offers, this time I have stuck to the old rates. These are anyway two years old, even as representatives of major brands have doubled their prices. I also didn’t put out any ads, just messages on WhatsApp,” says the 36-year-old mother of two, who set up her salons 13 years ago.

“To ensure hygiene”, Kavya has invested in a new washing machine for the aprons and linen used in the salon. “Over the past year, disposable towels, sheets and gloves stretched our budget thin,” she says. “The washing machine is a one-time investment.”

The 10 ‘beauty experts’ and a hairdresser at her women’s salon have all received the first dose of Covishield vaccine, a point she has been highlighting in her WhatsApp messages. “But the second wave has left people shaken. Hamara saara munh ka kaam hai (We have to be in close contact for most of our work) — facial, threading — masks have to be removed at some point,” she says, adding that neither she nor any of her staff have got Covid so far.

The business has also been hit by online platforms offering ‘salon at home’ services. Kavya says many of her regular customers “who spent Rs 1,500-2,000” monthly have disappeared. Her parlours see about five-seven people now “on good days”.

Additionally, since the lifting of the latest lockdown, some local outfits have been demanding that men be barred from working in women’s salons. “Because of Covid, most clients only come for haircuts and work like hair colouring, smoothening and rebonding — all mostly done by men. My hairdresser has stopped coming!” says Kavya.

Earlier her clientele also included young professionals working in Delhi and Noida who would visit families in Muzaffarnagar on weekends. But most have now stopped coming due to weekend curfew.

In December-January, Kavya held training classes at her unisex salon to earn some money. “Since many girls are providing home services, they would need training. I had about seven students,” she says.

On May 8, Muzaffarnagar recorded its highest daily caseload (1,518) and active case count (5,917). Two days earlier, the region had 21 deaths, the highest so far. However, in the past month there has been a dip in cases, prompting the UP government to lift the lockdown in the state. On June 25, the district registered five cases and no deaths. The active case count stood at 130.

One of the ‘beauty experts’ at the women’s salon says there are five of them who come in shifts. She earns Rs 15,000 per month, and is grateful to Kavya for restoring the salary after a cut last year.

Kavya says she pays about Rs 1.5 lakh in salary, ranging between Rs 8,000 and Rs 25,000 per staff, at the women’s salon.

Calling her talent “God’s gift”, Kavya talks about how she started out small. “I got married right after Class 12. My husband is a journalist with a local newspaper. His salary wasn’t much so I started by doing make-up for friends… Now, my business supports my two sons and my big joint family.”

However, Kavya is worried about how long she can go on. “I am already late on my electricity bill payment of Rs 9,000 each for April and May… The parlours were shut. The electricity department insist the bills are genuine.”

With only the last stretch of the wedding season remaining now, Kavya has her hopes pinned on the coming Rakhi and Teej festivals. “The bridal packages of Rs 15,000-25,000 have a better profit margin,” she says.

Worse comes to worst, she plans to shut the unisex salon, shift the ultrasonic bed to the women’s parlour, and give up on the fishtank.

Plus, she has another ace up her sleeve. The Kavya Beauty Salon now has an ‘O3 trolley’ — a three-tier set up with facials, wax, peels and whitening treatments — for Rs 1 lakh. Kayva is counting on brides to go for it. And, as she says, everybody wants to look good even behind a mask, starting with the eyebrows.

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