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Personality of the week : Janet Balasuriya

by Ilika Karunaratne  - Daily News Sat Mar 29 2003

Janet Balasuriya's mission in life has been to help women look their best. An eclectic approach has made her delve into the past, to seek ayurvedic and herbal recipes used by famed beauties of yesteryear in this region.

Her efforts have been duly rewarded both here and in India, where recently, she was one of two from Sri Lanka, to receive an award from The Consortium of Women Entrepreneurs in Asia. She was also awarded the much coveted Priyadharshini award for ayurvedic and herbal care in the year 2000. She is soon to receive two more prestigious awards, as one of 40 leading women entrepreneurs in the world organized by the Star group in the USA. This award will be presented by the Prime Minister of Bermuda on the 6th of April in Bermuda; the other is The Prodat Golden award for women in business, which she will get on the 5th of May in Geneva.

The warmth and fragrance of her salon, was a pleasant place for me to talk to Janet about her work and future plans. "I have been 41 years in this business, starting with hairdressing and began manufacturing cosmetics 10 years ago. I first worked with Vidya Kanagathunge, who considered me her best pupil and handed over both her business and her school to me when she retired. I have trained thousands of beauticians in the school.

Now we are three generations in the business as both my daughter and granddaughter work with me".

What made Janet venture into manufacture? "I wanted to bring cosmetics within the reach of everyone. International brands are exorbitantly expensive as are Shanaz herbals from India. I thought the time was right to manufacture herbal cosmetics to keep the price down. My most expensive product is Rs. 275. My son Shivantha was at Monash University in Australia and studied both Chemical Engineering and Cosmetic Chemistry.

So, mother and son put our heads together and we ventured into the manufacture of herbal cosmetics. I get the awards, but Shivantha is the brain behind the business. He has vision and plans 2 or 3 years ahead. We have been successful, but nothing would have been possible without the help of God, and I never fail to thank him every day".

Perhaps Shivantha is the brain and Janet is the guiding spirit that every successful company needs.

"Some western cosmetic brands do refine herbal extracts, which may make them more pleasant to use, but some essential properties are stripped away in the process. We only use fresh extracts straight from the plant. The percentage of herbal content is thus much higher than in western cosmetics.

Our products contain no synthetic colours, animal fats or alcohol and are designed with problem skins and problem hair in mind".

I was glad to hear that Janet cosmetics reach out into the nooks and corners of rural Sri Lanka too, as these communities are often deprived of such things. "We have workshops all over the country with "Tharuni". We had one in Anuradhapura with about 2000 participants, our next is in Ratnapura, then in Embilipitiya and we hope to go to Jaffna too in the near future. Our products are designed to be environment friendly; we have dealers in every district too and have workshops for them."

Janet has a team of qualified ayurvedic physicians working with her to give advice to her clients. "With their help today we have blood purifying tonics, and for almost every other ailment. We have an ointment for mosquito bites and its prevention too, We have looked at every aspect of health besides beauty in our production processes".

"Our products are sold in Australia, Canada, Dubai, The Maldives, Pakistan, India, China and France. Actually, I have sold more in India than anywhere else. "This is a great achievement for both Janet and our country, as India is famed far and wide as the root of all Ayurvedha. "Well, I think our success in India, is because our products are reasonably priced".

Although at the peak of her career, not only as a beautician, but as one who has crashed through many barriers to put Sri Lankan herbal cosmetics into international markets, Janet does not sit back in complacency. She has proved that she feels an innate sense of responsibility to the country too.

She has been a past President of Zonta, is actively involved in The Womens Chamber, but also on her own steam helps the less fortunate. "I conduct three courses a year, and in the middle one, from July to November, I teach needy students between 16 and 24 free of charge. I have taught ten girls who are deaf and dumb too and some of them work for me.

They are thrilled to have been given a chance in life and I am so glad that I was able to give them a training in something worthwhile which will help them to earn their living". I spoke to one of them who works for Janet and she looked happy and brimming with self confidence. "To celebrate 40 years in the business in 2001, I gave all three courses free of charge".

Janet still looks the same as when I first met her, many, many, years ago. She is more astute than her easy going manner implies and has a distinct air of authority about her. She is a picture of enviable streamlined looks and youth. How does she manage to stay so youthful? "I walk every day, start my day with 'Kola kenda', pray and meditate a lot.

I get on very well with others in the same business and am not jealous of anyone. I would advise aspiring young beauticians to love people, give to people only what is good and necessary for them, for their different skin types. Money should never be the prime concern. You must develop your own personality and help others to do so too. Be truthful and honest with everyone and stick to the straight path".

It is obvious that Janet has got where she has by her inner strength and with the grace of God. I noticed that she uses the minimum of make up too. A pleasant change from some among us who wear so much make up that it would take a major excavation job to find out what they really look like! "Every woman has the right to look beautiful and can do so without too much make up". Beauty is her business, but Janet possesses beauty of soul too.

That, combined with her own perfectionism, her attention to detail, her visionary capacity for predicting the market has ensured her success and made her a legend in her own time.