Minal Siyal, 30, is the founder of Beauty Binge, a UAE clean beauty and self-care platform offering cruelty-free, organic and vegan products.
Born in India and raised in the UAE from the age of three, she worked in advertising for eight years before health issues prompted her to launch Beauty Binge in 2019, showcasing sustainable alternative products for a more conscious lifestyle and responsible consumerism.
Ms Siyal lives with her husband in The Greens, Dubai.
How did money influence your upbringing?
My dad and mum came here with very little. They’ve gone through struggles and, from humble beginnings, come a long way… they worked their way into the kind of life they wanted.
We never had to compromise on necessities, were well provided for, but I didn’t get everything at the click of a finger. We had to be cautious, but it’s not like we had a difficult life. I had an enjoyable lifestyle.
Mum’s a teacher, dad’s been in international sales and their responsibility wasn’t just our nuclear family, they offered support back home, too. The need to empower other people has been an integral part of my growing up.
I wasn’t in a family that believed in pocket money, but my mum believed in me taking care of household chores, knowing my responsibilities from a very young age … cleaning, doing the groceries. Even when we were progressing financially, that element of being grounded was important.
How much were you paid in your first job?
I went to university in the US at 17. I did odd jobs and had an internship every summer. I was working when I could, at the International Club, and as a cashier during my last year because I really wanted a bag.
I’ve always been a very planned, organised and focused person. I’ve never been a shopaholic or a fan of fancy food, so when I earned … I kept saving.
Do you have a saving philosophy?
It’s always played, “If I want this, I need to save”. Even if what I earned wasn’t significant, over time it built up. Earning is important, but the end goal needs to be clear … you’re working towards something – a better future for your family, for yourself, a yacht, whatever it is. There’s got to be focus. You need to have a plan; the plan might not work, but at least it facilitates you going in the right direction.
I became a spender when I started earning big bucks with my first official job. I was 21 and it all came in too quickly. But for the most part of my life, I’ve been a saver.
How do you save?
I started with fixed deposits and over time moved into mutual funds and short-term investment plans. We have our life and critical illness insurance in place. We’ve been contemplating getting an apartment for investment purposes.
What led you to start Beauty Binge?
My health journey took me towards this path, where I wanted to do something that has meaning. I’d been struggling with a hormonal issue since being a teenager. From 23 to 28, I spent money on so-called health practices meant to help with appearance and internal functioning.
We live in a time where radio, TV, friends and social media bombard you with marketing. If you have the purchasing power, you fall into the trap. That frustrated me further. These struggles with my health got to a point where I realised I needed to empower myself, to know what I’m using … ingredients, what’s good for me and what isn’t. I wanted to start something of my own and had saved enough.
I regret spending money on those health and beauty places, dietitians and different facial treatments when I needed to fix myself from the inside and just use better quality products. I would have a better bank balance if I hadn’t, but you learn from it.
Are you making the sector more affordable?
Clean beauty/living has, for the longest time, been for a select few. That bothered me; the lack of accessibility and that it wasn’t affordable for all, including myself. I was scammed by different things that were far from clean. People were becoming increasingly aware (of clean products). I realised I had to come to the market.
We maintain minimal margins. All packaging is sustainable. I was very clear I was not going to compromise on brand ethos just to bring down cost. If that means a couple of years with low margins, I’m okay to do that.
What has been your best investment?
A good chunk of my savings have gone into Beauty Binge, it’s completely self-funded. It was a big move, but I wouldn’t say a big risk because I believe in it. We’re impacting other people, the environment and the community, and the sense of satisfaction and meaning … I couldn’t have experienced those things in any other professional space.
What is your most cherished purchase?
Our Maldives holiday. It was our first-year anniversary and I surprised my husband the night before. It was expensive, funded by me, but one of those lifetime memories. It opened doors to our common love for travel.
Are you wise with money?
I’ve had one credit card since my first job. I keep track and pay the balance each month. Money doesn’t come easy and because I have a business, I don’t maintain the same lifestyle I did when I was getting a pay cheque every month. I also believe you need to feel the pinch somewhere to work harder.
Money’s a tool. It’s not my only source of joy and satisfaction. It can’t be the only thing that keeps you going.
What are you happiest spending money on?
In 2018, we made a decision not to gift each other “things” anymore. We’ve seen tough times and good times and that put how we want to use our money into better perspective. We decided to travel. Any occasion we gift each other now, whatever our budgets, we have a money box … it has funded a lot of our vacations.
Has the pandemic impacted your start-up?
I quit my job the year before, not knowing a global pandemic was going to hit, to launch a business with my savings. We weren’t in “essential needs” and when it comes to personal care and beauty, the UAE is a very promo-driven market.
My goal was clear … create awareness, then focus on conversion because I want people to understand what we’re doing. I’m not looking for one-time purchases, I’m looking at long-term relationships.
We were supposed to launch in March 2020, which got pushed to June because of logistical nightmares. The pandemic taught me to be as agile as possible.
Do you plan for the future?
I want to expand to different markets, like Africa. We are already launching in the GCC. I want to find that space where we give back to communities, either by ethical employment or getting artisans on board. I see myself going global and want to develop our own line in the near future. I don’t see a better place (than the UAE) to pursue your dreams.