Way back in the early 1950s, an economic survey of spending in India revealed that Indian women were splurging on imported cosmetics. Nehru was not very happy because it was affecting the forex reserves. Maintaining the forex reserves was of utmost importance considering the fact that Indian economy was still in its nascent stage. Nehru hit upon the idea of a home grown beauty brand which would cater to cosmetic needs of Indian women.
(Although some sources claim that Nehru took up this issue because a certain women’s association approached him to put forward their concerns about non-availability of affordable beauty products. But having studied about Nehru’s visions and views, I am of the opinion that he had considered beauty products as luxury and would have never spent any time/effort to satisfy those women’s luxurious needs. Instead, he took up the issue because it was affecting forex and related to the economy. Banning such products was impossible in a democracy, so starting an Indian company was the only solution.)
It was a challenge of its kind because it had to fulfill the needs of “Indian skin” in which foreign brands fell short and at the same time, have a brand identity which would appeal to the upper middle class women who were really the ones splurging on expensive foreign branded cosmetics.
Nehru knew that only JRD Tata had the passion and entrepreneurship skills to tackle the above challenges and personally requested him to come up with a solution, which he readily accepted.
Doing market research to find out the needs of Indian women and hiring experts & chemical engineers from the beauty industry was not really a challenge for JRD but coming up with a brand identity certainly was. Finally, after giving it a lot of thought, he named it “Lakmé” after the French Opera.
The reason he chose this particular French opera name was because “Lakmé” derives its name from Sanskrit for “Lakshmi”, the goddess of wealth and epitome of beauty. It was the perfect name for the company as it was actually bringing wealth to the nation (by saving precious forex), could correlate itself very well with the beautiful Goddess and it appealed well to upper middle class women due to its videshi sounding name (“Lakshmi lipstick” or “Lakshmi eyeliner” would have sounded very desi).
That was the kind of thought process which went into any job which JRD Tata took up and the results were always exemplary. Lakme was started in 1952 as a 100% subsidiary of Tata oil mill. It was a hugely successful brand and the rest is history. In 1996, Tata sold its stake in Lakme to HLL since it felt that HLL being an FMCG company will do better justice to the company and HLL have continued to efficiently nurture the brainchild of JRD. A recent survey ranked Lakme to be one of the top 50 most trusted brands in India.