The Pakistani stylist who sold her diamonds to learn haircut… – MENAFN.COM

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(MENAFN– Khaleej Times) For many people around the world, the Covid lockdown can best be described as a period of anxiety, reflection and resignation. While it was impossible to ignore the havoc the pandemic wreaked, you tended to reconcile yourself to the situation at hand, count your blessings, and do the best you can under the circumstances.
For award-winning Pakistani stylist Nabila, a jet-setting entrepreneur and self-confessed workaholic, the lockdown and travel ban was a time when — like many others — she reconnected with her family and spent quality time with them. But that’s not all she did. The owner of a chain of salons across Pakistan and beauty brand Zero Makeup, Nabila decided to put in some work during the pandemic even though the new normal was a daunting prospect.
In Dubai en route to Europe for a long overdue business trip, Nabila met us at the Khaleej Times office and shared how despite Covid drastically altering all her plans two years ago, the entire experience was eye-opening both personally and professionally.
A FRUITFUL SABBATICAL
Nabila was in the process of setting up distribution of her beauty brand Zero Makeup in Europe after launching in Dubai, when the pandemic struck, causing her to take a“forced sabbatical” from work.
“After setting up the distribution for the Middle East, I moved to London to start the same for Europe. I had gone to Pakistan for my granddaughter’s birth in December 2019 and I thought I would take two months off, then resume in March.”
However she was unable to fly out to her intended destination of Barcelona (the brand’s design hub) after the pandemic was declared and airports shut down.
“So, fortunately or unfortunately, I was stuck in Pakistan, and saw my grandchild grow. She was teething and crawling in front of me; it was the first time that I spent so much time with family. And my friends couldn’t believe it because I have been such a workaholic and professional. I really loved that side of me, but I just decided to go with the flow — I am a grandmother now and I am enjoying the children and I am enjoying doing nothing.”
But what’s ‘nothing’ for other people is clearly not the same for Nabila who came up with innovations in business even while being home-bound.
“During that time there was a silver lining; because I was stuck there for so long, I came up with Covid SOPs which the Pakistan Government used when they reopened the salons — we invested in PPE, changed all the trolleys, changed all the instruments to stainless steel, put an autoclave so everything was sterilised.”
She also expanded her chain of salons, coming up with another brand called Factory Barbers.“It’s a five storey salon for under Rs1000 haircuts, so it’s very affordable — and there are no appointments required.”
She also revamped her existing salon in Lahore and opened two more branches in Karachi.“I am hiring, rehiring, doing the HR, and structuring. So while I was stuck, I would say I haven’t wasted time; Nabila (Pvt) Limited has grown exponentially. I am feeling tired just listening to what I did; it was a lot of work (laughs).”
STARTING OUT
Nabila in her Instagram profile describes herself as a“self-made businesswoman”, so of course we were curious to know about her professional journey which began in 1986 with the establishment of her first salon in Karachi.

“There were a lot of challenges. I was 18 when I was married, 21 when I had two boys. My younger son was six months old when I sold my wedding diamonds and went to London’s Vidal Sassoon to learn how to do haircuts. And I learned because I needed to do my own hair! I would always cut my hair since I was 11 and make a mess of it.”
She started her first salon out of her first apartment.“It was a maid’s room, in which I put a mirror, a Rs350 chair and a little slab where I would put my scissors. I had a mini cabinet on top of which my clients would wait! The shampoos and perm solutions were under them. That’s how small the place was.”
She shared how she“grew with the business and the kids” because the salon was conveniently close and she could keep an eye on them.
“Eventually, fast forward, we are one of the biggest chains in Pakistan,” she said, adding that she’s been asked often how she built her brand but all she did, in hindsight, was“the right thing”.
Because for Nabila, her clients always came first. Even if it was one client, it had to be a happy one.“Take people in on time, don’t make them wait, don’t do it just because you need the money. 30 years later my clients swear by me and if I say something they will buy it or they will do it because they believe in my sincerity and my loyalty to my brand, and to my profession and passion.”
LEARNING AND GROWING
Nabila, who started out as a hair stylist, kept working on her skills over the years and eventually branched out into beauty and personal styling as well. She went back to college in 2001 to study image consulting.“I wanted to be able to guide people as to what their individual ‘clothes personality’ is and how to put the whole thing together; how to keep on reinventing yourself with different decades of life and stages of life.”

This knowledge served her well during the pandemic as she began doing makeovers that were broadcast on her refurbished YouTube channel, in a programme called ‘The Image Makers’.
“My brand Zero Makeup is all about not masking yourself but just enhancing yourself, just feeling like a better version of yourself. I realised that if we say Zero Makeup is for real people then (apart from stars and celebrities), I should do makeovers for real people. So we pulled in a couple of women (who felt like celebrities for that period of time) and I can’t tell you at the end of the day how much I enjoyed it. It was so rewarding for me to see how happy they can feel and how I can guide them. So many women started to write in. Among them was a girl with vitiligo who she said she wanted to be an ambassador, some health workers who had completely given up on themselves, and a girl suffering from post-natal depression. The work is very rewarding and my heart is in it. It’s like a good deed that continues to spread, like social work. Teach them how to fish so they can do it forever!”
BEWARE OF ‘PERFECTION’
While image makeovers are esteem-boosting, Nabila also believes one should approach the endless bombardment of seemingly perfect social media images with caution.
“Who are you even following? Who is your hero or ‘shero’? Unfortunately, people like the Kardashians… it’s not cool. While they became billionaires and have among the highest following ever, I think they need to use this to channelise what young girls can do positively.”
She added that while she won’t speak of such public personalities in an outright negative tone, she doesn’t endorse them either, adding, that her“makeup for real people tag is a little bit of anti all of what’s going on”.
In fact, what she’s learned during the pandemic is that people are accepting the concept of“less is more” even more now.“I think people realised that you needed very little! You needed less clothes… and hardly any makeup. They also felt the need to focus on their skin and nails, and good hair and health more than covering it up with something.”
She concluded our engaging chat by telling us about her goals for Zero Makeup in the UAE.“We’re launching a unisex click pen called the blurring pen. Everyone needs good skin. After the whole metrosexual thing, men are going in for expensive styling and not shying away from grooming. The pen conceals, it corrects and also fills your pores — it’s HD and transfer-free. We will release it hopefully before Christmas.”

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