Shameelah Ismail had a plan that was a thing of beauty. A cosmetologist with a business degree, she saw how poorly beauticians in her country are treated. Though skilled, they are often illiterate and from low-income backgrounds, and they report being frequently mistreated by salon owners. Shameelah wanted to help stem that exploitation. The now-43-year-old joined her sister and brother and a female friend to start an in-home beauty business based in Lahore (the country’s second-largest city), but she was faced with skepticism. “Everybody discouraged us!” she recalls. “This motivated us even more.”
In the fall of 2016, the team launched GharPar (Urdu for “at home”), an on-demand booking platform to deliver in-home beauty services. The founders put up the initial seed funding before getting an angel investor. GharPar then partnered with a micro-finance institution to give beauticians loans to buy the tool kits they need to provide remote services (one costs about $162 U.S. dollars), including manicures, pedicures, haircuts and color, massages, and waxing (the most popular offering).
It may seem like Pakistan’s version of Glamsquad—the high-end on-call beauty provider—but it’s more than that. GharPar’s services are aimed at middle- and upper-middle-class women and priced about 20 percent lower than mid-tier salons. “Beauty is very much ingrained in our culture,” says Arooj Ismail, Shameelah’s sister, who was a cofounder and is now the chief marketing officer. “Even if you look at the lowest socioeconomic class, they may get a face polisher done.” The company also creates away for workers, who take home a 70 percent cut of the cost of every appointment, to become economically independent. Workers take courses on everything from navigating Google Maps to financial and digital literacy.
GharPar now has 150 beauty professionals on its roster, with 30,000 women registered to use the service in Lahore, Rawalpindi, and Islamabad (with launches planned in three more cities), and it has developed a mobile app. The beauticians, who previously earned minimum wage (around $114 a month), can now make more than three times that. They also use mobile wallets to maintain control of their money. Female empowerment was GharPar’s initial pitch, but due to “a lot of pushback” from the men in the company’s workers’ lives, Arooj says, it has pivoted to more of a household microenterprise. “We’re bringing an entire family out of poverty; that’s our impact,” Shameelah says.
GharPar’s legacy really hit home the day a woman in an abusive marriage relayed how working with the company had transformed her family. “That’s the moment we decided that we cannot stop doing what we’re doing,” Shameelah says. “We wanted to give these women skills so that no matter where they are, they always have something to fall back on.”
This story appears in the May 2020 issue of Marie Claire.