The UAE beauty brands that launched during the pandemic

From a halal nail stain to inclusive concealers ...

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In hindsight, spring / summer 2020 was probably not the best time to launch a beauty business in the UAE. With mandatory masking and social distancing in place, beauty products, you would assume, were not in high demand in the first two quarters of the year.

Yet, during this time, a number of entrepreneurs in the UAE were finalising their forays into the beauty market, eager to disrupt the segment with new business plans and products, and banking on buzzwords such as halal, inclusive, cruelty-free, vegan and natural, to attract conscientious cosmetics consumers.

According to Middle East beauty brands distributor Madi International, although the regional industry experienced an 85 per cent decline in May, it bounced back with a 50 per cent recovery in June, suggesting that the time may now be ripe for beauty entrepreneurs who have been waiting out the pandemic.

Make-up artist and beauty blogger Eljammi Gozali, who has more than 300,000 followers on Instagram, planned to open her first salon, GlamJam Beauty Bar, in March, but because of coronavirus restrictions, the launch was delayed until July.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic has hit us hard – it pushed our launch massively,” she says. Gozali used the downtime to focus on digital marketing. “I think it positively affected my social media, where people were paying more attention, so I was able to promote the launch of my beauty bar,” she says.

Glamjam Beauty Bar opened in July. Courtesy Glamjam Beauty Bar
Glamjam Beauty Bar opened in July. Courtesy Glamjam Beauty Bar

Previously, she launched GlamJam Beauty Xpress, which offers home beauty services through an app to users across Dubai and Sharjah. "I learnt what our clientele was looking for and what was missing in the salons around the UAE," says Gozali, whose two-storey Jumeirah 3 salon combines a wide range of beauty services – from body treatments, to manicures, pedicures and lash extensions – with a unique and interactive experience. "You can make your own custom drink at our bar – that's why we called it 'GlamJam Beauty Bar'. The growth of the beauty industry in the Middle East is becoming massive, so I really wanted to bring a new kind of concept to Dubai."

Halal nail stains

The beauty market is already quite saturated, with fierce competition and a seemingly endless assortment of salons and cosmetic offerings. But Farah Bilal was inspired by her religious beliefs to create a nail product that was different. It is natural, organic and halal, or compliant with the belief that water must directly touch your nails while performing your ablutions before prayer.

“Coming from a practising Muslim family, I always saw my mum stain her nails with henna,” says Bilal. “I imagined how cool it would be if henna came in different colours.”

Available in a range of seven launch shades, her Hala! products are formulated from henna and plant-based dyes, and are quite unlike the halal, water-permeable polishes already on the market. “Hala! is not a nail polish brand. It’s a nail stain. It does not coat the nails. It simply stains the nails [when washed off] after an hour. What’s left is a beautiful, coloured stain on your nails,” explains Bilal.

According to a report by Prophecy Market Insights, the global halal cosmetics market was worth $26 billion (Dh95.48bn) last year, and is expected to be worth $52bn by 2025. Like fashion labels, beauty brands are tapping into the spending power of Muslim consumers, while recognising the needs of women of colour, widening the industry’s long-standing benchmark of beauty while celebrating a spectrum of skin tones.

Concealer that caters to women with yellow undertones

Inclusivity – evidently a driving force in the industry at present – is ingrained in the DNA of new Dubai brand, Brulee Beauty. “The idea came to me three years ago when I noticed the gap in the market for a brand that caters specifically to women with yellow undertones,” says make-up artist Fizah Pasha, who launched Brulee Beauty this month with a range of concealer shades for women with golden undertones. “When I looked into things further, I realised concealers are the most difficult for women of that undertone to find.”

The global Black Lives Matter movement has led to widespread overhauls of businesses that engage in colourism, and caused Unilever to drop words such as “fairness” and “lightening” from its Fair & Lovely (now renamed Glow & Lovely) brand. Pasha’s launch, amid these changing attitudes in the beauty industry, is well-timed.

Fizah Pasha launched Brulée Beauty this month. Courtesy Brulée Beauty
Fizah Pasha launched Brulée Beauty this month. Courtesy Brulée Beauty

“The global social revolution has helped us propel meaningful discussions, since our core brand values are very much about being comfortable in your skin,” she says. “The way forward is enhancement, not concealment.”

Vegan and cruelty-free options

Global beauty brands are also increasingly championing vegan and cruelty-free beauty – products created without any animal ingredients and without animal testing. Odist, founded by Dubai resident Amy Hanbury, launched this August and is centred on ethically sourced, cruelty-free, vegan make-up brushes. The entire production and preparation phases were carried out during the pandemic, and while it may have caused setbacks, Hanbury believes that the #supportlocal movement has helped put a spotlight on small businesses in the UAE.

“With an effective shutdown in non-essential manufacturing, we experienced a number of production delays in bringing our product to market, which left our capital tied up much longer than expected,” she explains. “However, what seems to stand out is that consumers are looking to support authentic and local, home-grown businesses more than ever before and the region has shifted its purchasing habits online. As a UAE-based e-commerce start-up, we hope to capitalise on that shift in consumer behaviour.”

Odist, founded by Dubai resident Amy Hanbury, launched this August
Odist, founded by Dubai resident Amy Hanbury, launched this August

The brand has a charitable element, too. Dh10 from every order is donated to Gold Standard, a World Wide Fund for Nature non-profit organisation.

Madi International’s report suggests that consumers are hesitant to spend on luxury beauty products at present. “The pandemic has highlighted the important aspects of our lives and made us question superficialities,” says Hanbury. “As a result, more people are naturally drawn to authentic beauty brands that are backed with good ethics and values. Customers like to know they’re supporting brands that care, and that their money is benefiting a wider cause.”

In January, Dubai residents Priya Judge and Gayatri Sagar launched The Dubai Dolls – a toxin and cruelty-free, socially responsible lipstick brand with 100 per cent recyclable packaging. Two per cent of sales is donated to the education and nutrition of young girls from underprivileged and impoverished backgrounds.

"In February, Covid-19 took us all by storm, but with the change in consumer mindset, we quickly realised The Dubai Dolls was positioned well to conquer the new normal," says Sagar. "Our initial response to the pandemic was to donate 100 per cent of our sales towards providing gloves, hand sanitisers and soaps to the less fortunate."

While their new beauty businesses may have had a rocky start, these UAE entrepreneurs remain positive and hopeful for the remainder of the year. Pasha says 2020 is a year of “self-reflection and change”, while Hanbury calls it “the year of uncertainty”. Judge, meanwhile, calls it a “rollercoaster” and emphasises the role that cosmetics can play during this tumultuous time.

“In moments of despair, make-up, beauty, self-care and self-love can be so rewarding.”