Beauty is becoming more holistic

Interview/ Frederic Widell, VP and head (South Asia), and MD, Oriflame India


The dominant philosophy of Oriflame is that beauty is not just skin-deep and that “when you look and feel good you have the opportunity to reach your full potential”. The 54-year-old Swedish beauty brand currently sells over 1,000 products in 60 countries. A direct selling company, Oriflame has partnered with over three million independent entrepreneurs. In an interview with THE WEEK, Frederic Widell, MD of Oriflame India, talks about the cultural impact of beauty in the country, staying relevant for over 25 years here and how the pandemic impacted the company.

Q/What are the current global trends in beauty, and how do they compare with trends in India?

A/The beauty industry is becoming more holistic, rather than just skin-deep. It is about how you look, act and feel. That is what we believe at Oriflame. In India, beauty has a cultural impact. Indians, when it comes to colour and cosmetics, use different shades in different parts of the country. People have more natural preferences in India than in other places. But also, with the rise of social media and digitalisation, global trends are catching on here.

I used to work in India from 2007 to 2010. It was much different then than it is now. When it comes to skincare, for instance, very few people followed specific skincare routines 10 years ago, with cleanser, toner, day cream, night cream and eye cream. Over the last decade, more people have adopted daily routines, a trend very predominant in the western countries.

Q/How has the pandemic impacted Oriflame?

A/The pandemic impacted the whole world. It impacted us severely in quarter two. And that is primarily because of the lockdown in India, when we were not able to ship our products. Before the pandemic, we were very strong when it came to digitalisation. So, when the pandemic happened, we were able to quickly switch over. We even saw a growth in quarters three and four. In general, though it was a tough year, Oriflame came out stronger than before.

Q/Can you give us an idea about your revenues and percentage growth over the years?

A/I am not at liberty to discuss India sales figures. What I can tell you is that, except in 2016 and 2017 when our growth was more or less flat, every year since 2003, Oriflame has seen double-digit growth. We are big, but I cannot divulge how big.

Q/Which is the product category that is most popular and what are your fastest selling products?

A/Skincare is Oriflame’s heritage. We also have a very good contribution from wellness. Our wellness range is not very extensive at the moment. We are looking into expanding, but we have extremely high quality products. That is why, even with a small range, we are selling a high number of wellness products. We also build loyalty and exclusivity with new colours, fragrances and innovations.

We sell nearly 500 products [in India]. One of our most popular products, a Tender Care, is manufactured here. We call it magic in a pot. This has been with us since 1997.

Q/How do you ensure quality and efficacy of your products?

A/We have extremely stringent quality standards. In addition to the over 1,300 ingredients that are banned by the EU, we have added another 60. We do eco-ethical screening of all our ingredients. We allow no GMOs (genetically modified organisms). We follow exactly the same standards in all our factories in Europe, China, India and Russia and have a quality assurance team that travels all over the world to ensure the safety of our products. It is very important for us that Oriflame is seen as an ethical and sustainable company that offers quality products and also provides a business opportunity for people who want to become entrepreneurs.

Q/How have you stayed relevant for over 50 years? How have you evolved and adapted to the needs of the people over the years?

A/The first thing is that we ensure quality. Otherwise, customers will buy from somebody else. We also focus on innovation. Apart from this, we have a clear focus on our business opportunity. People all over the world are in need of some additional income or a full-time earning opportunity and that is exactly what Oriflame provides. Direct selling has evolved from parties  to people ,and now it is more of social selling. It does not matter whether this is happening offline or online. It is the social engagement that is important. Over the past decade, Oriflame has managed to keep up to date with trends in digitalisation. We have tools, webinars and platforms for the high-tech and savvy Gen Z.

Q/Can you elaborate on the popular term, ‘The Oriflame Way’?

A/This is a term pertaining to the internal training of our staff, mostly regarding the cultural aspect. Where do we come from? What do we believe in? Why should you be an entrepreneur with Oriflame? There are clear advantages [to being a brand partner with the company]. There is no investment. You join Oriflame free of charge. No purchase is required. In fact, Oriflame dissuades people from stocking products unless they have customers already willing to buy. ‘The Oriflame Way’ for our brand partners is a way to become your own boss and make a very good amount of money. We have people in India making in excess of Rs20 to 25 lakh a month. It is a fantastic business opportunity.

Q/Can you describe some of your most innovative initiatives?

A/We have the Makeup Wizard, where you can digitally try our products, find out which shade of lipstick or eye shadow suits you. We have tools for checking your skin elasticity and what kind of skincare products to use. We have many business applications. We are looking at a collaboration with a popular messenger app for customer service. When it comes to digital innovations, we are at the forefront. Things are moving very fast at the moment digitally.

Q/With the Indian government increasingly focusing on ‘Make in India’, is the regulatory framework in the country tough to navigate for a foreign company like Oriflame?

A/It is far easier now than it was 10 years ago. But if you compare India with a European country, it is more difficult. Our factory in India opened in 1997. We have been here for 24 years, so we feel very comfortable working with the Indian government.

Q/How have the needs of Gen-Z changed compared with previous generations?

A/It changes rapidly. The younger generation cares more about social issues. Like, where is the company from? Are they eco-friendly? Do they give money back to the community in terms of CSR? They look at factors like climate, environment and water. This has been our focus for many years. In the 1960s we were one of the first companies in the world to prohibit animal testing. The private sector must take responsibility in these social issues.

Q/What is your vision for the future?

A/To be the number one social-selling company in the world. That is our clear vision. We have a lot of projects to ensure that this happens over the next decade. In India, our vision for the next five years is to continue with a very strong double-digit growth, and to have more individuals [partake of a] meaningful entrepreneurial opportunity with us. And, of course, that people continue to enjoy and use our products.