When Vandana Luthra started VLCC in 1989, India had almost no home-grown enterprises focusing on beauty and health simultaneously. But Vandana, a mother of two at the time, wanted to build a techno-commercial brand for women. ‘Vandana Luthra Curls and Curves’ began as her dream to earn for herself, through a business that would make an impact.
Three decades later, Vandana’s dream is a global business empire, employing thousands across continents, and staying ahead of time and competition.
As a woman, wife, and mother, staying in a joint family in Delhi at a time when women entrepreneurship was rare, Vandana’s life is a lesson in the balancing act - between home and work.
In a recent chat with MAKERS India, Vandana opened up about her journey, and how the world is changing for women’s entrepreneurship.
Facing the odds and looking past naysayers
Vandana’s second daughter was just three years old when she decided to start up. At the time, Vandana had been a homemaker for eight years, living with her husband and his family, in a household of 20 members.
“I was born in a modern family, but married into a conservative one where I was expected to cook and take care of the household. So I learnt a lot…patience, sacrifice. I think women learn to manage our budgets at home, and that’s why we are great HR managers,” she says.
Although her mother was supportive of her decision to start up, most were not. But Vandana recounts that she never snapped.
In Vandana’s experience, ignoring naysayers is the best way to respond to them.
“I kept smiling because I believed in myself. I believed in my dreams and I never looked back. Even my husband had tried to stop me at first. But I put my foot down; you have to fight for yourself. At the end of the day, your self-esteem and dignity are at stake,” she says, adding that despite the difficult times, her husband went on to support her later.
Juggling work and family successfully
Very often, domestic duties turn out to be the biggest impediment to women’s entrepreneurship and career growth. But Vandana believes that women can have it all, if they believe in themselves.
“I manage my family, my children, and my grandchildren. Women can do 200 things at a time efficiently; they've just got to believe in themselves. I'm happy that women are coming up as entrepreneurs doing work. But for balancing work and home, we have to be superior to men.”
Vandana worries that with both parents working full-time jobs nowadays, kids are being neglected.
“They pick up wrong eating habits, and end up in obesity programmes. I feel that both men and women are not participating in the house.”
She believes that although women are expected to take care of home and workplace, they can do the balancing act beautifully while taking care of themselves.
“If you want to focus on your career and not have children, that’s fine. But if you have children, you owe something to your family. I believe that the mother is the role model of the house. You can’t be out of the house all the time. When my kids were little, I would take a day flight and come home on the same day. If I can do it, why not anyone else?”
Women supporting women
Vandana strongly believes that women can empower each other. (VLCC’s workforce is 70 percent women.)
“Women inspire each other, talk to each other, share with each other about small things too – like ‘how do you manage to cook in the house and come to work on time?’ They help each other in the balancing act.”
But Vandana adds that women must have the capacity to take in a lot.
“Patience is as important as love, caring, and sharing. Women (must) have the heart to take in a lot of nonsense. That's the reason why we are successful.”
“My father-in-law was initially upset with me starting up. But when he saw how it turned out, he was very proud. Similarly, my mother-in-law’s sister used to give me a hard time at first. But now she calls me every morning and gives me her blessings. That is turning negativity into positivity.”
Scientific, not glamorous
When Vandana decided to start up, she did not want VLCC to be a glamorous brand but an effective one, based on scientific methods.
“I knew that the most important part of making any change in one’s body is to understand where the problem is coming from. Only a blood test can detect ailments like thyroid, PCOD, high cholesterol, or high prolactin. As professionals, we could not help someone lose weight before understanding their medical problems,” she says.
Vandana claims that 40-50 percent of men and women who come to VLCC have medical issues; some of them even cancer and heart problems.
She elaborates, “Doctors are not nutritionists; so we provided a combination of doctors, nutritionists, fitness experts, cosmetologists, dermatologists, laser technicians, and physiotherapists at every centre, trained by VLCC. We identify what the problem is for a customer, rather than tell them that this is the weight allowed for your height!” she says.
Defining body positivity
With debates around body positivity going around on social media, one wonders: If women (and men) are comfortable with our bodies, what will happen to the industries counting on making them feel inadequate?
Vandana is cautious about this too. She says, “When customers come to us for say, weight loss, we support them psychologically rather than make them feel small about themselves. We tell them, ‘You look fantastic. Don't worry. You can look even better’.”
But Vandana looks at the larger picture here. She believes that body positivity only comes when you are healthy.
“It's all about internal well-being: how good you feel about yourself, and how well you are internally. When you start feeling good about yourself internally, you look at things very positively. So everything changes.”
In her perspective, once you are healthy and happy, it will reflect on your physique too.
She gives her own example: “I am turning 60. I manage to burn 500 calories in my gym every day. I can walk 10 km without stopping. I can lots of things normal women cannot do, and that makes me very confident. Your positive energy can also make others feel positive. This confidence can only come when you start doing things the right way.”
She adds that it’s never too early to start caring for your body. “My three-year-old grandson joins me on the treadmill every day,” says Vandana, with a smile.