Entrepreneur Nilufer Sheriff talks about the popular Hair Fair cosmetology clinics that she runs in Thrissur, Kochi and Kozhikode. She also recounts the story of her life
Pics: Nilufer Sheriff; Nilufer with her husband Rohit Vijayan. Photos by Unique Times
By Shevlin Sebastian
Whenever a leading Mollywood star Kalpana (name changed) enters the Hair Fair Clinic at Thrissur, owner Nilufer Sheriff has a look of anticipation. “She’s the easiest and most intelligent client that I have,” said Nilufer. “When you talk to clients about certain treatments, they tend to double-check with others. I can understand why. But with Kalpana, she has this ability to trust you completely. She makes you feel that what we are going to do is right. So she says, ‘Do it’.”
Before she comes to the clinic, Kalpana is clear in her mind about the treatment she is seeking. For actors, Nilufer says the doctors can change the jawline, lift the cheeks, pull up the eyebrows, and sharpen the nose. “In a way, we sculpt the face,” said Nilufer. “So, when Kalpana comes, she clearly states what she is looking for.”
Once, Kalpana said she was about to embark on the role of a village woman. So, she did not want sharp features. All these changes are temporary. “A change in jawline lasts a year,” said Nilufer.
Since actors rely on their expressions so much, Nilufer does not use Botox in the central part of their faces. However, in the other sections, she uses a technology which reduces the strength of the Botox. When it is administered into the skin, the pores are removed, but not the wrinkles. “It will not freeze the expressions,” says Nilufer. “If needed, we can also dilute it in a particular proportion for the wrinkles to be removed.” One other positive is that the face gives off a radiance.
When asked whether Botox is safe, Nilufer said, “Of course, it is. I have been using Botox for years. It is not just a corrective, it can be a preventive too. My lifestyle is very stressful, so wrinkles can come up, so I have used Botox and that is why my face has remained unlined.”
Nilufer is the best advertisement for the work done in her clinic. She has done three nose jobs or rhinoplasty, liposuctions, and chin extensions. When lines appear on her face, she inserts a thread and lifts the skin. She has healed her hair.
“I had very little hair because of genes,” she says. “My paternal grandmother had very little hair. Till three years ago, I used wigs and extensions. But throughout that time, I was learning the process of growing the hair.”
Now Nilufer has lush and long hair. Incidentally, her Hair Fair clinics -- in Thrissur, Kochi and Kozhikode -- are well-known for its hair treatments.
Nilufer says the one reason she tries out these things on herself is because if it does not work for her, it means it will not work for her clients. In a way, she is a guinea pig.
Asked whether people have an inferiority complex regarding their looks, Nilufer says, “Of course, they do. Even the most beautiful people have insecurities. Some clients have told me that when they don’t look their best, it affects their confidence and ability to perform. It can also affect their marriage and career.”
As for the clients, the men are at 51 percent while the women are at 49 percent. Most of the men come for a solution for their hair fall. “They are very conscious about their looks,” says Nilufer.
For a 45-year-old male actor who has crow’s feet around the eyes, Nilufer does not remove all the wrinkles, because the audience will notice it immediately. Instead, she softens the wrinkles. “I will just remove the harshest lines,” she said.
One popular actor requested that he should not be made fair because the Malayali audience does not like fair actors. Apart from many top Mollywood stars, Nilufer has Tamil and Telugu actors who are clients, too, apart from leading politicians, corporates and businessmen.
As for the most-asked treatment, she said, different clients have different needs. An NRI woman will ask for laser hair removal or facial contouring. A teenager will ask for a product to get rid of her acne.
When a client comes in, a team of experts looks into the quality of the skin, diet, lifestyle, and hormonal balance before suggesting the treatment.
One of her oldest clients is 79-year-old Susan Chacko, who lives in Thrissur. Her husband is a doctor while she is a homemaker. Her children live abroad. “Susan aunty does yoga and exercise, and eats right,” says Nilufer. “She has ensured she received the right treatments, so she looks pretty even now.”
As to whether Malayali women look after their faces and skin, Nilufer said, “Not really, even though we have great skin. Malayalis have a high degree of immunity, unlike Westerners, whose skin ages fast -- they develop wrinkles, freckles, and splotches. Malayalis don’t have those problems.”
The problem is the diet. Most people eat fried or junk food. “Malayalis rarely have broccoli or organic foods,” she said. “And too many foods have pesticides in them. That can affect the skin.” There are lifestyle issues: high stress and lack of exercise. This can make you age fast.
At Hair Fair, there is a range of treatments and products, which are offered. The prices start at Rs 550 and can go up to Rs 2 lakh.
In person, at her mother’s spacious apartment on Marine Drive, Kochi, Nilufer comes across as strong, forceful, articulate and focused. She is the only child of Muhammad Sheriff and Nimmi.
Sheriff, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, is the Executive Director of the Dubai-based Tecton Construction, a desalination, oil and pipeline company. They have executed projects in Qatar, Bahrain, India, Europe and the United Arab Emirates. He also owns an export-trading firm in Africa and Prime Inspections in Italy.
Nilufer grew up in Thrissur with her mother, Nimmi. With the encouragement of her husband, Nimmi began a beauty salon called La Femme in Thrissur in 1988. This remains successful. On an average, they do the make-up for 100 plus brides every month, especially during the wedding season.
When she was in Class six, Sheriff told Nilufer about a toxin, which helps to remove wrinkles and makes people look younger. Later, when she grew up, Nilufer realised it was Botox. “That was the time there was no Google and the Internet but my father was already aware of all the new technological advancements,” says Nilufer.
One day, when Nilufer was in Class 9, Sheriff showed her a magazine in which there was a write-up of the Vandana Luthra Curls and Curves company. “There will come a time when doctors will be handling these salons,” he said.
Her father had sketched out the career plan for Nilufer from the beginning. “The beauty industry will never suffer from recession,” he told her. “Everyone wants to look their best all the time.”
Nilufer did her MBBS from Rajiv Gandhi University in Mangalore. In 2005, she got married to a surgeon named Shazeer Majeed. In 2007, she became a mother to a boy named Rayn (which means, ‘Gateway to Heaven’ in Arabic). However, her marriage did not work out. Thereafter, after her graduation, she worked in Jubilee Mission Hospital and the Trivandrum Medical College.
In 2014, Nilufer went to do a one-and-a-half-year course in dermatology from St. John’s Campus of King’s University in London, and internships in cosmetology clinics in New York and Los Angeles. This was followed by a course in cosmetology from the American Academy of Dermatology. She also worked in Singapore under Dr Dylan Chau.
It was while working in a Beverly Hills salon that one day, Hollywood star Jennifer Aniston walked in. Jennifer was wearing huge sunglasses, with a grey top and a black cardigan, topped up by a huge sun hat. “She slipped in quickly so that people would not recognise her,” said Nilufer. “Jennifer had natural beauty.”
Start of Hair Fair
After her studies, Nilufer returned to Thrissur and began working in her mom’s salon in the reception to get an idea of the beauty enquiries of an average Malayali. Thus far, her knowledge had been only of Western clients. Thereafter, she took some space there. She started with peeling and facials.
Nilufer’s first client was a senior Thrissur Corporation official. Thereafter, many clients followed. So, she decided to start her clinic in 2016. And it has laser technicians, dentists, Ayurvedic experts, plastic surgeons, dermatologists, medi-facial experts and cosmetologists. They have their production line of creams and medicines and an export division.
Two years ago, Nilufer married the 6’2” Rohit Vijayan. They met through a mutual friend. And love blossomed. They got married at the Shangri-La Golf Resort & Spa, Hambantota, Sri Lanka on November 16, 2018, in the presence of 120 friends and relatives. Among the guests were Mollywood stars Indrajith, his wife Poornima, Bhavana, and director Geetu Mohandas.
Asked about the qualities of her husband, Nilufer says, “Rohit is well-behaved and expresses his opinions in a forthright manner. He dresses very well. And he is a gentleman. We have similar perspectives on life. In short, he is a great package.”
A year ago, Rohit hit the headlines when he gifted a Lamborghini sports car, valued at over Rs 4 crore, to Nilufer.
She loves to drive. “There is such an adrenaline rush to drive at high speed,” says Nilufer. “It is similar to playing a video game.”
Kochi-based Rohit is a second-generation seafood exporter. Thanks to Rohit, Hair Fair has expanded to different cities. “Hair Fair could not have grown without Rohit’s administrative expertise,” says Nilufer.
But it is not all work and no play. To destress, once a year, Nilufer goes underwater diving. “It is a beautiful experience when you go down and see the beauty of the ocean,” she says “The experience is meditative. When I come up, I feel lighter and experience a clarity of mind. There is a peace within me.” She has gone diving in the Maldives, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and Mauritius.
Every year, she travels to London and Singapore for work and recreational purposes. She goes once a month to Dubai where her son is studying in a school. And she enjoys spending time with her father.
For Nilufer, her father is a superhuman. “He has great vision and knowledge,” she said. “Anyone who talks to him comes away enlightened. My father is a man of unconventional thinking, even though he comes from a conservative Muslim family in Kodungaloor.”
She recalls that, as a child, when she went to a shop, she would ask her father to buy her a gift. But he would tell her to earn it. So, she would have to wash the car for a month to earn her pocket money. Sheriff would give her memory tests. He would make her stare at the garden for a minute. Then he would turn her around and ask her to tell the number of flowers and plants. “I learnt how to look at life with a wide vision,” she says.
As for Nilufer, her dermatology job is a passion,” she said. “I am doing it not just to earn money but for the joy of it. My husband and father have made enough money for me to live comfortably.”
When asked whether she is happy to be living and working in Kerala, Nilufer shakes her head and says, “No. The lifestyle is poor. We deserve good roads. All of us are paying road taxes. There is no support from the government or the society for an entrepreneur like me. If I go to the health department or a medical association and suggest some ideas, they are not receptive. They fear change. And we have an out-dated education system. We rely too much on by-rote learning. We should have a research-oriented system.”
One day, she plans to open an educational institute which will follow world-class systems of teaching. “That is my dream,” she says.
As for the status of women in Kerala today, Nilufer said, “The position has improved a lot. There are a lot of strong women around, whose voices are being heard.”
Finally, on whether the children of successful parents will do well in life, Nilufer said, “Not necessarily. The young generation is into the ‘quick money’ culture. They are very social media-driven. They feel the life they see on social media is the actual reality. They find it difficult to build something from scratch. Our parents, on the other hand, really worked hard. As for my generation, we work smartly, because we have technological access. But in terms of sheer physical effort, our parents were far ahead. God bless them.”
(Published in Unique Times)