The Image Business Booms

Averil Nunes

Is the sudden spurt in the enrollment at image consulting institutes and the number of people seeking image management services an admission that appearances are lucrative after all?

Image Management — two words appear to have grabbed hold of people`s minds, mannerisms, and yes, their wardrobes too. Rakesh Agarwal, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of the Image Consulting Business Institute (ICBI) in India defines image consulting as “a form of visual communication. This is the art and science of optimally using clothing, grooming and body language (including etiquette) to your advantage, creating an image that is appropriate, authentic, attractive and affordable.” So why is everyone suddenly concerned about making an impression?

Contemporary Markets

Studies documenting how looking good pays more have been floating around for over a decade and ICBI has been churning out image consultants in India for more than three years. However, in the four months starting March 2013, it has already recorded 50% of the cumulative enrollment in the previous three years. “Enrollments have increased majorly because the youth market segment suddenly opened up,” says Rakesh Agarwal. “A few years ago, most ICBI students were high-ranking women professionals, looking for a lucrative second career that would let them balance work and home life; but now we have youngsters signing up, as they see this as a good profession.” Interestingly, 99% of ICBI`s students are women, signalling the rise of Indian women entrepreneurs as well as reinforcing the stereotype that women (and the world) are more concerned about a woman`s appearance than a man`s.

Customized Solutions

“First impressions matter. If you dress for excellence, success will follow,” states Savieta Batra, ICBI graduate and former hospitality industry professional, who set up August Image, just two years ago. Most of her clients are working professionals, who want to step up in life. Samta Gala, formerly a fashion and textile designer, who set up Prima Facie about a year and a half ago has diverse clients—from a housewife, who just wanted to get her husband`s attention to a career woman who wanted to climb the corporate ladder. “Just changing peoples lives and helping them get to where they want to be is satisfying,” says Samta. “CEOs of top corporate houses and banks as well as people living in the slums come to me,” says Rashida Kapadia, who runs Image Makeover. Vandita Singh, founder of TIA (The Image Academy), a company registered in Southeast Asia, set up shop in India two years ago. She "customizes courses for everyone from corporates to young students, who need a crash course in international protocol."

Changing Perspectives

The typical curriculum teaches you everything from what colours and silhouettes suit you to how to use make-up, read body language, shop appropriately and speak effectively to everyone from office boys to prime ministers. It may seem like you`re working from the outside in, but Savieta`s clients were unanimous in their declaration that it works. In just three sessions, Gaurav Save, a young chartered accountant, discovered the power of body language. “Even senior businessmen take me more seriously and I can read body language and manage situations accordingly,” he divulges. Sushma Samant, an NRI on vacation, has witnessed rising confidence levels as she “learns to project positive body language and command respect”. A senior HR professional says, “It changes others` perceptions about you, as well as your perceptions about yourself.”

Image consulting may make great business sense, but does it make us shallower human beings? “We may consciously deny it, but subconsciously we all know that image matters,” says Rakesh. And that perhaps is a truth that has more than face value.