Huddled in one of Delhi's most prestigious shopping enclaves, beauty boutique Urban Shore capitalises on the growing number of cosmopolitan Indians making up a beauty niche market. WGSN speaks to Sonita Dass, managing director of India's first multibrand international skincare store.
Urban Shore, in New Delhi's Greater Kailash shopping district, has become an oasis to locals who seek out alternative products in India's otherwise large but uniform skincare offer. Launched in October 2007, the boutique has a range of 25 brands with over a quarter catering to the men's market. Urban Shore stocks highly specialised, scientifically proven
and cult brands such as Skinn, Ren and new arrival Rodial and Gentlemen's Tonic, all of which were hand-picked by founder Sonita Dass via a stringent selection process.
Why did you start Urban Shore?
I wanted to create a store where the customer could walk in and find a range of products from all over the world; a store that would offer unrivalled variety and choice of good quality, results-oriented skincare products. Of course all the big fashion names are available in India but personally I feel they don't deliver when it comes to results and so I spent over two years looking at what skincare products I thought would be suited to the Indian climate and Indian skin types. The store was designed by a top UK store designer, who also designed Harvey Nichols Istanbul and UK, and the Burberry stores in the UK - for me the store is full of "calm excitement".
You have one of the most impressive beauty collections. Tell us about your selection process.
I am a stickler for meeting the "faces" behind the brand and not just their sales or marketing teams as I want to know why they created the range, what is unique about it, what's its USP, what is their passion for creating the brand and only then does it get shortlisted for me and my team to try and test.
As you see it's a long process and I source brands from across the world but the stringent conditions we have are never compromised. All the brands have a story to tell. I must admit I personally try each and every brand we have in our store. My first criterion is that it has to be without all the harmful ingredients that are found in mass-produced skincare ranges, such as parabens, mineral oils, sulfates, petrochemicals etc. I then look at what results they offer the customer, be it anti-ageing, acne, anti-cellulite or even if it's just a wonderful lifestyle experience and a feeling of indulgence when you use the product.I also believe that inner peace equals outer beauty and apply that to my selection process as well.
How would you describe the Indian market?
The Indian consumer is now so well travelled, well read, well educated and so they are also looking at the need of wellbeing and when you think that over 60% of what we apply on our skin ends up in our bloodstream it makes the need for good skincare even more important.
What's the biggest lesson you've learned so far about beauty in India?
We know that the whitening market in India is growing at a phenomenal rate because a huge section of the population believe fairness is associated with being from a more affluent background, or that it is more attractive to be fair rather than dark, in fact many of the Bollywood celebrities endorse such homegrown Indian brands.
I admit to being pleasantly surprised and proud of the fact that my customers do not come in looking for skin whitening products but instead want to brighten their skin, to have that youthful healthy glow that is diminished by pollution or old age. They are more concerned with things like skin cancer and to protect the skin with SPF rather than wanting bleaching products.
How have you specifically catered your services to your Indian customers?
I know how bad the traffic and roads are here so we offer home delivery all across India, even within Delhi. And if the customer doesn't want to place the order online they can do so on our Customer Services phone line. Or they can call the store, have the products packed and have them collected or delivered at a time that's convenient for them. We have highly trained staff in our store but there are some customers that would rather shop when I'm at hand to offer advice and suggestions but as I spend my time between London and Delhi I am not always at the store. As a result many customers will book a couple of hours of my time, no charge of course. And they will come and do their shopping with me, which I thoroughly enjoy. This has been the case for a number of customers from cities such as Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune. Discretion is always guaranteed, especially as we have products such as Rodial's Boob Job or Tummy Tuck and for those in the public eye, or even the more discerning customer, they may want to keep this under wraps and so all customer purchase histories are protected and never discussed with a third party.
How does your online strategy complement this?
Since opening our flagship store, we kept receiving orders for our products from across India, from cities such as Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bangalore, Chandigarh to places like Ludhiana and Pune. This has been a huge success,again I believe this is down to the fact that we are passionate and very particular about giving the right product for the customer's specific needs, so even if they can't feel the product they have faith in our team.
Brands available at Urban Shore
B Kamins, Butter London, Calmia, Circaroma, Dr Lipp, Euoko, Gentlemen's Tonic, Korres, Leaf & Rusher, Purelogical,Ren, Skin Therapie, This Works, Skinn, Rodial
Gentlemen's Tonic, Manceutical, Menscience, Polaar, Ren, Skinn, The Refinery
Menscience, Neom, Polaar, The Refinery
John Allan, Philip B