Vanita Parti decided to launch a business while on maternity leave with her second child.
The break away from her job at British Airways gave her time to think of a new business venture – an Asian dating website. “My sister and I thought there would be great potential in something that could bring young Asians together, and there wasn’t anything else like it in the market.
They worked on business plans for ‘Bombay Mix’ throughout 2003, but it never took off. “We realised that while we knew a lot about Asians and dating we didn’t have all the technical know-how for an internet company.” Undaunted, Parti began looking for other ventures. “The experience made me realise I wanted to have my own business.” She was also eager to stay with the Asian theme. “It was something I understood and it was really in fashion. Indian culture was being promoted by the success of Bollywood.”
Her moment of inspiration came shortly after moving into central London. Parti wanted to get her eyebrows threaded – a popular Indian technique for plucking eyebrow hair – but couldn’t find anywhere that provided this service. “I had to go back to the suburbs to a local Indian place.” The lengthy commute convinced her that there must be demand for eyebrow threading in central London. However, “it wasn’t just a case of bringing Southall to central London. I wanted to make threading a premium beauty treatment and introduce it to non-Asians.” Determined to take threading upmarket, she approached London’s leading department stores. In 2004 Fenwick agreed to give her a trial. “They weren’t sure how it worked so they just gave me enough space to accommodate a chair and some staff.” Low overheads meant she was able to start the firm, Blink, with a £10,000 loan from her husband. Business got off to a slow start. “People were curious but they didn’t want to be the first ones to try it.” Parti decided to offer free threading to Fenwick’s staff. “When people saw how good it could make them look, they were interested.” In its first year, Blink made £150,000.
Eager to cast the net wider, Parti also invited journalists from the nearby magazine publishing house Conde Nast. The good reviews helped to drum up more business and Parti was able to open up Blink eyebrow bars in other leading department stores, such as Harvey Nichols and Selfridges. “The great thing about working with department stores was that it didn’t cost too much to expand. The most difficult thing was training the staff.”
However, Blink’s success hadn’t gone unnoticed and by 2006 competitors were opening up in central London. “They were undercutting me on price.” Unwilling to get dragged into a price war, Parti decided to focus on “delivering a premium service”. She diversified into extras, such as treatment oils, eyebrow pencils and eyelash care. When the recession hit, an anxious Parti was relieved to discover that people didn’t cut back on threading. “Once people become used to taking care of their eyebrows they find it hard to go back to how they were before.” Last year sales reached £3.5m and with business booming, Parti, now 42, has opened a store in New York. It won’t be the last – she has no doubts that threading will catch on in America.