Meet the women making nude lipsticks truly diverse

These regional brands are ensuring their cosmetics collections are inclusive and ethical

There are endless quotable quotes uttered from famous lips about, well, lipsticks. From Elizabeth Taylor’s advice to simply “put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together" to make-up artist Bobbi Brown’s pro tip about finding “a lipstick that looks good on your face when you are wearing absolutely no make-up”, and Audrey Hepburn’s simple “I believe in lipstick” mantra, here is a product that unites women across the world.

It may come as no surprise, then, that lipstick sales jumped up by 80 per cent this quarter compared to the same period last year, according to market research firm IRI. It seems as vaccination rates rise and social activities resume, women worldwide are breaking out this much-loved make-up staple. However, many are now looking to independent, home-grown brands centred on inclusivity, plus halal, vegan and cruelty-free beauty for their cosmetics investments.

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The industry has conditioned many of us to think of nude as ‘beige’
Naseeha Khan, co-founder, CTZN

“Lipsticks and lip glosses are such an essential item in any woman’s make-up bag; they can quickly transform a look with a simple swipe,” says Barkha Shewakramani, founder of Barkha Beauty, which caters to women from Middle Eastern and South Asian diasporas. “I’m a Middle Eastern entrepreneur with Indian heritage, which gives me a strong responsibility with regards to inclusivity. I understand the struggle of not being able to find a lipstick that matches one’s skin tone and how frustrating it can be to feel underrepresented in the beauty world,” she tells The National.

Lip shades for darker skin tones

One of the primary gaps in the beauty market is the lack of shades that suit darker, non-Caucasian skin tones. This was the starting point for sisters Aleena, Aleezeh and Naseeha Khan, who live in Dubai and who founded CTZN in May 2019. The inclusive and genderless beauty brand responds to the lack of brown-skinned representation in the market.

“As South Asians, we hardly felt represented within the beauty industry – whether it was campaign imagery or product development. We were constantly mixing shades to find our correct matches, and found beauty assistants were not adequately trained to assist women of colour,” says Aleena.

“When we noticed that the industry has conditioned many of us to think of nude as ‘beige’, we felt a strong need to orchestrate an educational beauty intervention,” says Naseeha. The Khan sisters’ primary launch was their Nudiversal collection, comprising 25 nude lipsticks, from a warm beige to a fudge brown so as to suit every skin tone.

Halal make-up

Diverse shades aren’t the only concerns of Middle Eastern and Asian make-up enthusiasts. After living in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and France before moving to the UAE, and working for the beauty divisions of brands such as Chanel and LVMH, Nour Khalife decided to zero in on the halal beauty niche, and launched Shade M Beauty in February 2020.

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We understand feeling the need to put foundation on the lips as a base just so a lip colour may show more
Aleena Khan, co-founder, CTZN

“In our research, a few studies showed that women eat between four and nine pounds of lipstick during their lifetime, and that’s when the obsession of making lipsticks that are better for you started,” Khalife tells The National.

“There are almost one billion Muslim women in the world who are rarely seen and represented in mainstream beauty. Muslim women come from different origins and have different skin tones, different cultures and a huge array of styles. Yet, I had never seen a halal-certified make-up brand at my favourite [mainstream] beauty retailer.

“Halal, for us, is synonymous with inclusivity, culture and ethics – our products are not only halal-certified but also clean, so free of harmful ingredients; vegan-friendly, so free of animal by-products; and cruelty-free, so not tested on animals,” explains Khalife, who says she is responding to the eco-friendly demands rocking the industry at large.

CTZN’s products are also all cruelty-free and vegan – aside from the matte lipstick line of their Nudiversal Lip Duos, which are formulated with beeswax and classified as vegetarian. Barkha Beauty products, meanwhile, are void of animal testing, and don’t contain ingredients that are carcinogenic or harsh on the skin.

By women of colour, for women of colour

Some mainstream businesses have dabbled in halal beauty or have one-off lines dedicated to diverse skin tones, but beauty brands helmed by women of colour, these entrepreneurs believe, will be able to promote inclusivity more effectively. “When you feel that your identity is underrepresented or even misjudged, and you create a brand that answers this problem, then this will definitely give you an edge in an inclusive and diverse beauty world,” says Khalife.

“That is the difference between authentic inclusivity and actions that seem like tokenism,” says CTZN’s Aleezeh. “For example, you can tell when it’s Caucasian men in boardrooms trying to create brands for young women of colour, without even consulting members of that target demographic. Our brand is by people of colour, for people of colour.

“We understand having darker pigmented lips, we understand feeling the need to put foundation on our lips as a base just so a lip colour may show more, and we understand the frustration of being avid shoppers in an industry that doesn’t seem to care as much about us in return.”

Need of the hour

While there is demand for inclusive lipsticks in the Arab world, there are large pockets of diverse demographics in the West, and these beauty entrepreneurs from the UAE are all focusing on growing their brands globally, not just locally. Khalife says that for Shade M Beauty, the US is the main market, where she has “identified a clear appetite for our product proposition”.

Aleena believes recent events in the US have had a ripple effect and helped propel demands for inclusivity and diversity, pointing out that after the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer, many brands had to apologise to their darker-skinned consumers for overlooking their make-up and skincare requirements.

Shortly after the launch of CTZN, the brand was featured in an ad in New York’s Times Square. “Currently, there is a large focus and heightened sense of awareness on inclusivity in the US that correlates with CTZN’s brand ethos. More than ever before, American customers and retailers are now actively searching for brands that align with their values, and act as allies to their communities,” she explains. “Customers in the US seem to resonate with our mission and identity, in a time where there is no longer room for discrimination.”

Mask-friendly lipsticks

Shewakramani is focusing on the Middle East and Indian markets, but has had successful events in both Los Angeles and London, and plans to launch Barkha Beauty internationally. The brand has already shown its adaptability, having pivoted during the pandemic to ensure that its lip products would not smudge or stick to face masks.

“We seized the opportunity and made sure our liquid matte lipsticks are long-lasting and transfer-proof to ensure that they can be worn under a mask with ease,” says Shewakramani.

Khalife says that the transfer-proof element of her lipsticks has become a primary selling point, too, in a market that has undeniably lost some momentum over the past year because of lips being largely concealed. “Luckily things have picked up and we are optimistic about the next level when it comes to lip make-up.”

Updated: July 7th 2021, 4:41 AM
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