Originally printed in the January 2018 issue of Vogue Arabia.
The rituals of self-care are etched into the DNA of Arab women, and steeped in our traditions and culture. The beauty consumer of today is returning to these roots – she’s no longer just investing in international brands, but increasingly turning to local startups, reminiscent of at-home remedies and age-old rituals. The Middle East will be the fastest-growing beauty market in the world over the next five years, according to research done by Euromonitor International, with local brands showing exceptional growth. These niche businesses are often pioneered by Arab women, who, through adapting traditional recipes, are changing the way consumers perceive the industry. From green products to color therapy, these are the regional brands and the women behind them on Vogue’s radar.
Mouna Abbassy, founder of Izil Skincare Line
Moroccan heritage is central to skincare brand Izil. “It is the essence of all that we do,” explains founder Mouna Abassy. Izil means “pure” in the ancient Berber Amazign language, and is also the name of Abbassy’s son. Inspired by her mother and grandmother, who she describes as “fanatics” when it comes to homemade recipes, Abassy launched her brand in 2013, after moving to Dubai. “I got lost among all the different brands and claims out there. I missed simple, pure, natural beauty rituals,” she says. “Our products are inspired by traditional recipes and employ the secrets of Moroccan wellness and beauty transmitted from generation to generation.” Izil uses ingredients such as argan and prickly pear seed oils, ghassoul clay, and roses, while products are free of parabens, synthetic colors, and preservatives. Having launched the line from home, Abassy now sells Izil globally through ecommerce and the brand is also stocked in spas and stores across the GCC. The entrepreneur has been recognized for her business acumen, winning the Cartier Women’s Initiative for the Middle East and North Africa region in 2015. “The beauty industry is being challenged to be more transparent and offer products which are natural,” Abassy says. “Digital, in particular, has changed consumers’ purchasing habits and how they engage with brands.”
Amna Al Habtoor, founder of Arcadia Fragrances
“Our lives, culture, and traditions revolve around scents,” says Emirati perfumer Amna Al Habtoor. “This is true of the past and is a certitude of the future.” While she may have picked up her business acumen from her entrepreneurial family, she has ultimately found her own success in fragrance. “I grew up surrounded by different scents, such as bukhoor, musk, amber, and oud – all of which provided the inspiration to do what I’m doing today. The memories and joy these smells evoke are the reason I wanted to be a perfumer.” Following training as a perfumer at The Cotswold Perfumery in England, Al Habtoor established her fragrance label, Arcadia. “I create perfumes to evoke a sense of nostalgia. I want each smell within the Arcadia range to tell its own story, inspired by genuine encounters.” The collection of 10 scents is inspired by Al Habtoor’s childhood memories, and by rewrites the rules of gender and cultural limitations with unisex fragrances. “I wanted to create something for those who dare to defy convention,” she says.
Sheikha Fatima Al Sabah, co-founder of Prismologie
Color therapy is at the heart of Prismologie, the brand founded by Sheikha Fatima Al Sabah and her mother, Sheikha Intisar. “It was launched because of our shared intention to help people,” Sheikha Al Sabah says. “By providing tools to empower, women can enhance their lives.” Prismologie believes color and mood are intimately linked, and categorizes its products into six distinctive hues: white for purity, yellow for energy, pink for happiness, green for restoration, red for vigor, and indigo for relaxation. “Picking the right colors to enhance the feeling of well-being goes a long way in helping us manage a more stress-free life,” explains the sheikha. The mother and daughter duo also uses gemstones to amplify the color experience, and are regional leaders in the beauty industry’s shift towards the roots of wellness. “Beauty is best when how you look is complemented by how you feel,” says Sheikha Al Sabah. “As our lives become increasingly fast-paced and our stress levels increase, we all need to find some sort of peace of mind.” Even if it is as elementary as using a yellow shower gel infused with bergamot and citrine.
Dr Lamees Hamdan, founder of Shiffa Skincare
“Shiffa is a no-expense-spared skincare line,” says Emirati Dr Lamees Hamdan, who founded the brand in 2002. “I use the best of what is available in the worlds of nature and science to create skincare that helps prevent the signs of aging.” Hamdan has always had an interest in dermatology, and the word shiffa means “healing” in Arabic. “I work with the skin’s natural healing process – which is very powerful – not against it. I only use ingredients that I know make a difference.” The range focuses on enlarged pores, uneven skin tone, and loss of elasticity and firmness, and is known for its powerful formulas and luxurious solid glass and gold packaging. Hamdan’s idea arose from her quest to prevent stretchmarks during her pregnancy, and she spent four years to formulate the range. Two years after launching, she was awarded Best Business Leader at the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Awards, followed by winning Best Health and Wellness Company. Of working in the Middle East, she says, “I am lucky to be based in Dubai, where there is definitely a push to hear women’s voices.”
Sara Chemseddine, founder of Repère Care
Moroccan Sara Chemseddine believes that the world of beauty is going green. “Consumers are so much more aware and educated now, and this represents a giant opportunity for the green beauty industry to grow,” she explains. Following a bout of adult acne in her mid-20s, Chemseddine, who has a background in biotechnology, founded Repère Care in 2016. “I wanted to create natural, simple, and easy-to-use skincare routines for every skin type, with zero compromise on quality and safety.” Drawing inspiration from her Moroccan roots, she uses prickly pear seed oil in her products. “It’s an oil that has been used among Berber women for generations and has proved, through time, to heal and repair the skin,” she says. To guarantee that the brand stays authentic, Repère Care is formulated, produced, and packaged in the UAE.