Why beauty entrepreneurs Simi and Haze will never stop talking about Palestine

The sisters speak to The National about building a beauty empire in their own defiant image

Palestinian twin sisters Simi and Haze Khadra founded SimiHaze Beauty in 2021. Photo: SimiHaze Beauty
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In the world of business, there are certain doors that will only open to you if you sacrifice what you believe in. Simi and Haze Khadra, 30, the twin Palestinian entrepreneurs behind SimiHaze Beauty, have consciously chosen to keep those doors closed.

“Principles aren't principles unless they cost you something,” Simi tells The National. “We’ve sacrificed relationships and brand partnerships, but what is that compared to life? What is that in the face of a genocide?”

Last year, when the devastation in Gaza began, Simi and Haze held themselves to a promise they made to each other as children – never stop talking about Palestine. But after October 7, the sisters, who live in Los Angeles, found their support met with an intense backlash.

“We were getting very loud boycott calls against us,” Haze says. “People were trying to petition our brand out of Sephora stores.”

The threat to remove their brand from major department stores could not have come at a more precarious time as the label, which launched in 2021, was on the cusp of a major global expansion, with a key Middle East launch set for early 2024. For the sisters, there was no question of how to handle it – they would not back down from their beliefs. Doing so did not just make clear the intense schism between the two sides of the equation, both in Los Angeles and around the world, it also laid bare a generational divide in the West.

“Some people in [our] company from the older generation asked us to tone it down,” says Simi. “Haze and I were just like – there’s no way. There’s no way.”

Haze adds: “One thing has become clear to us – the tide has turned a little bit in the younger communities. The youth is with Palestine. Even here in LA, the youth seem to be the ones that understand what’s happening most clearly."

Even so, the two braced themselves for what might happen as controversy swirled. But in the months that followed, sales increased.

“We’ve actually seen growth in the company," says Simi. "We’ve seen way more support. It’s a beautiful thing, and it shows that if you speak your truth, there are rewards. Even if it doesn’t feel that way in the beginning, in the long run, it pays off. And now, Haze and I feel more connected to our purpose than ever before."

That purpose, Simi says, is beyond support for one cause. “Everything Haze and I do, we try to do through true compassion," she says. "If this happened to anyone else in the world, we would react the same. It’s just human rights. It’s the most fundamental thing. Basic moral decency shouldn’t be up for debate."

Their broader social circles are made up of many who either strongly support the opposite viewpoint, or shy away from taking a stand. Rather than hide themselves from the world or move away, however, the two have consciously stayed in the public eye.

“There’s active erasure happening. Just Haze and I showing up as Palestinians is a concerted effort to resist erasure,” says Simi.

Haze adds: “The more we meet people, the more people can stop and say, ‘I actually know a Palestinian,’ and the more we become humans in people’s minds, as insane as that sounds. It’s incremental moments like that that help bring about real change.”

For many in the Mena region, where support for the Palestinian cause has been staunchly held for decades, conversations since October have evolved differently. For them, the question has not just been a matter of how to raise awareness. Rather, it has been what choices they can make in their day-to-day lives to effect change, and what choices they had been making that unknowingly had supported the status quo.

Those questions have led to numerous organic boycotts of brands that allegedly support the Israeli cause, with brands in the beauty industry coming under fire for their supposed ties. It is coincidentally in that context that SimiHaze Beauty has been launched in Sephora stores across the region, providing consumers with a Palestinian-led label that was already gaining attention for its unique packaging, ethically produced products and distinct brand ethos.

Part of what makes the brand so different is down to the two sisters themselves, neither of whom grew up passionate about make-up and beauty.

“Because we were such late bloomers in the make-up world, we didn’t know the restrictions that were supposedly there,” Simi says. “When you grow up with something, you are aware of all the invisible fences, because you know how the industry works.

"For us, we never used make-up until we were 18, because we weren’t interested in it. We had none of that knowledge, and that was really to our benefit. We walked into a multi-brand store unable to find what we imagined we might find, so we decided to just create it ourselves."

Haze adds: "I think being naive, and diving in headfirst has benefited us again and again, because we would never have accomplished any of this if we’d been conditioned to think it was impossible.”

It started with a lipstick that they could not find, a balmy matte, making the desire to produce one purely functional – filling a need that they required.

“We started telling people what we wanted, both in terms of products and packaging, and kept being told it was impossible," says Haze. "But we kept pushing and pushing, and travelled the world until we found people that could make it possible."

Everything, they decided, had to not only be different, but feel different. That meant no plastic in their packaging, for example.

Haze says: “It doesn’t feel like plastic, because it’s not – it’s all acetate. It feels like a rock in your hand. It feels natural. It’s a soothing sensory experience from the moment you pick it up. And to do that, we had to travel from small islands all the way to the countryside of Italy to find labs that could make this happen.”

When the brand debuted in South Korea in summer last year, the public response was significant. The products were picked up at major retailers across the country, leading to a stand-alone shop. Due to the ever-growing influence of the country's market, SimiHaze Beauty became a viral sensation, especially attracting those who, like them, are not deeply embedded in the beauty world.

“People have told us, ‘I feel like your brand changes who make-up belongs to – it changes how make-up is used.’ And the big brands, and the big make-up artists, have responded in kind,” says Haze.

Part of the reason that they refused to take no for an answer since beginning their journey in the industry goes back to their mother. In their early years, the sisters lived in Saudi Arabia, where their mother Rula Khadra ran The Art of Living, a successful fashion boutique in Riyadh.

“We would travel with her on buying trips, and we would just sit and watch in awe," says Simi. "She was just so decisive. Everyone loved working with her because she knows exactly what she wants. I think that’s a skill you have to develop, so it’s something we’ve focused on."

Their mother, like them, had an outsider’s vision, which often led to her altering designs from their Paris and Milan runway debuts to suit the local market, with a particular focus on catering the designs to different body types in a time when the fashion world was not as attuned to inclusivity.

“She started the store in her garage, and it became this big store that changed the landscape of fashion in Saudi Arabia," says Simi. "We saw that from the beginning, and we always were, and continue to be, inspired by her."

Ultimately, their determination in activism and in business are guided by the same mentality. It is easy for them to look at the fashion industry in Saudi Arabia now thriving and see the small things their mother had to fight for over the years that helped lay the groundwork.

So too, their years of talking about Palestine has inspired more people than they ever imagined – something of which they are reminded again and again when people approach them. That is what’s driving them forward, in every aspect of their lives, with lucidity and indefatigable determination.

Simi says: “My friend was telling me the other day that there are Chinese bamboo trees that you have to water every single day for years before one day, they shoot up overnight.

"He told me, 'That’s what you guys are doing.' It’s all these small moves that lead to big change. And that’s what we’re trying to bring.”

Updated: March 29, 2024, 5:21 AM