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That Mama: Anaitha Nair, Actor, Singer And Hairdresser

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In a few years of setting up shop in Hong Kong, Hair by Anaitha has become a popular hair salon in the city. We meet Anaitha Nair, the mama behind it all.

Anyone who’s visited Anaitha Nair’s beautiful home in Hong Kong is struck by its warmth and vibrancy. The home reflects the personality of the mama who lives there with her lovely family. Running a business that’s gained popularity purely by word of mouth, Anaitha’s enthusiasm and genuine interest towards friends, family and clients have won her a lot of acclaim (including best Beauty Salon at the Sassy Awards 2023). We ask her how she manages it all while being a caring and committed mother to her 10-year-old daughter, Aaliya.

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Anaitha Nair family with Milo

When did you move to Hong Kong and why? Do you now consider it home?

My husband, Akhil, and I moved to Hong Kong in 2011 when he got a job here. It is home for now. However when we retire, if we have no community here (Hong Kong being such a transient place for expats) or family, it defeats the purpose of making it our forever home without the people we love in it.

You’ve been an actor and singer in the past, so when and why did you choose hairdressing?

Hair has always been an integral part of how I felt about myself. I was blessed with great hair from my mum’s side of the family and growing up I knew at six the role my hair played in giving me confidence. I had a natural love and talent for it – I experimented all through childhood and adolescence, looking for Guinea pigs who were willing to let me cut and colour their hair. Later, being an actor gave me access to some of the best hair and makeup artists in the business who were also very kind to share their skills with me and allow me to apprentice with them. When we moved here, I wanted to put that passion to use and take it up full-time. That’s when I launched my hair business.

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Do you miss your earlier careers and are there any regrets about moving to Hong Kong?

My earlier careers were all great while they lasted. If given an opportunity I’d love to act, sing and emcee again. Having said that I love what I do so much now as well, so it doesn’t feel like I’m missing much. I cannot express enough the gratitude I feel for being able to be a full time mother and have a full time job. I work the hours Aaliya is at school and am with her every evening as soon as she’s back home.

Very few countries would allow me this luxury – Hong Kong is special because of that. If it weren’t as safe as it is, I couldn’t have strangers walking into my home. If I didn’t have full time help, if the city weren’t as efficient allowing me to get so much done in a day, I know I would never be able to balance both career and motherhood the way I have.

Is Hong Kong a good place to bring up a child?

Hong Kong has been a blessing but it is a bit of a bubble that we live in. My daughter will have to figure out the big bad world, but she has a lifetime ahead for that!

Does she share your passion for any of the arts?

100%! She loves music, art, dance and I must confess she’s far more creative than I could ever be.

Where did you meet your husband? How does he support your business?

I met Akhil when we were in school.

He is THE reason for my business. In fact, he thinks I don’t do enough with it and has visions far greater than I even want to consider! I work out of our living room and there hasn’t been a single day when this sweet man has even as much as mentioned or requested if he could have our living room not infringed upon. He helps me with my accounts, ideas, strategy, etc. He constantly pushes me to embrace newer technology, invest more in education and equipment.

How easy is it to start a business in Hong Kong?

One day, one location, minimal documents – Boom! You’re registered. I will eternally remain grateful to the city and its women for helping me set this up, I don’t take it for granted for a second.

What has surprised you about other mum-entrepreneurs in Hong Kong?

It has a vibrant mumtrepreneur culture, though it is a very small market. I’ve always been so inspired and impressed with how these women constantly reinvent themselves and their work to keep being relevant despite catering to such a small local market. It’s truly inspiring.

In what ways do you support women-run businesses in Hong Kong?

I’m not a big shopper at all as I’m getting increasingly mindful about what I buy and consume. Having said that I’m always championing people’s causes and businesses I believe in by sharing it with clients and people I meet.

Any tips for anyone starting a business here?

  • Don’t procrastinate, start today. You will never learn anything about business until you start and it will teach you through the process.
  • Don’t rely on your network solely to gain business. It’s not sustainable. Eventually your product has to speak for itself, so work hard on creating/sourcing a product or service that is needed, price it competitively and the rest will sort itself out.
  • Know when something isn’t working. Be able to cut your losses and move on. Your time is valuable and if it isn’t adding value in one place, there will always be other avenues where it can add value. Look for those instead.

You recently got a new addition to your family – the adorable Milo! What made you get a dog when you weren’t always a dog person?

I could write two hundred pages answering this one question, but I will try to keep it short. I didn’t grow up with a pet. I was indifferent to having one. Aaliya and Akhil insisted and I agreed to the plan provided I didn’t have to be burdened with the additional responsibility a dog brings. What I didn’t realise though is that the responsibility is a very small price to pay for what this four legged, non-verbal creature teaches you. Five months since adopting him have taught me life lessons that no parent, school or book could have taught me – what it means to be loyal, joyful, non-complaining, loving, respectful of boundaries, disciplined, in tune with your body clock… I could go on! Animals view the world in a raw unfiltered way without ego. To be able to treat people the way they treat us is a gift. We truly aren’t worthy of animals, they are far superior beings.

What has been your proudest moment as a mum, so far?

Oooh… tough one! Aaliya comes across as a very reserved child , but she’s got the grit and self assurance most grown adults still don’t have. There are moments in which she gives me, Akhil or the grandparents life advice that is so sound that makes me believe she she will sail through life emotionally intact. I’m so proud that she has that kind of fortitude.

Read More: Raising Resilient Hong Kong Kids By Teaching Them Happiness

What has been your proudest moment in your career, so far?

My pride doesn’t come from success. It comes from the assurance in my ability to constantly pivot, learn and start afresh. I’ve switched four careers in 20 years of working, and have never once doubted my ability to make it work for me.

You went through a period when you were away from your family during COVID. What was that like?

I had NEVER left Aaliya alone for even a day prior to having to leave for India for ten months during COVID. My parents were both very unwell and I was very clear that if anything were to happen to them, I would never forgive myself for not having made it back to India. So despite the quarantine and not knowing how long I’d have to be away from my child, I left. The universe was kind and allowed Aaliya to be with me in India for four months out of those 10. But it was still a very long period of time for her to be away from me who had been her primary caregiver up until then.

What was the biggest takeaway from that trying period?

Would I do it again if I had to? Absolutely! Aaliya, I’m sure, learnt a great deal through the experience herself. Akhil and Aaliya developed a very strong bond independent of me through those six months. She learnt to rely on him for a lot what she would otherwise rely on me for. I hope she saw the importance of caring for a loved one when times get tough and putting aside all commitments to show up for those who matter. Also to fight through illness, never give up so you can get to the other side of it.

I, too, learnt from it. I realised:

  • Life can change in a second. Don’t hold onto any idea of permanence or believe that we have control over anything.
  • ⁠Acceptance of situations. No matter how unbelievable and dire, the only way forward is to go through them.
  • There are no shortcuts to facing difficulty.
  • Life is short, make it count. Every single day is truly a gift.

I know in the last year, I certainly look at life differently.

I climbed Kilimanjaro, jumped out of a plane in Dubai, took a solo holiday (sans husband, daughter, friends of family!), am starting a Masters in Psychology (something I’ve wanted study since I was 15). I’ve actively reached out to create experiences and core memories with friends and people every opportunity I get.

I now make plans to do things now, not wait for “later”. I’ve also learnt that if ⁠I approach every negative experience or uncomfortable feeling with an immediate response of “this will be over soon”, it instantly takes the sting of the situation away.

The most important thing as a mother is that ⁠I’ve learnt to tune in to Aaliya and her life in a different way too, not taking her for granted.

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The image at the Sassy Awards courtesy of Anaitha Nair. All other images courtesy of the talented Asmita Das of Asmita Das Photography. Follow her work on Instagram.

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