Singer Balqees Ahmed Fathi hits the right note with her intuitive and inclusive beauty brand.
When Emirati-Yemeni singer Balqees Ahmed Fathi noticed a lack of makeup essentials that spoke to the specific beauty issues encountered by Arab women, she took matters into her own hands and created a bespoke beauty brand. Named for her nickname used by close friends and family, Bex is a truly personal project, she shares, launching with a range of undertone-matching foundations and following up with a humidity-proof liner.
While balancing her celebrated music career, motherhood, and the challenges of creating a beauty empire from scratch, the petite performer says that she took to her newest venture with equal amounts of passion and studious research over the last three years. “I was getting a lot of questions from other Arab women about how to find a foundation that matches, and I thought, why do I recommend other brands when I could have my own, with the products that Arab women actually need?” she explains.
Ahmed Fathi started researching the gaps in the regional makeup market, soon realizing that GCC women shared the same issues, dealing with pigmentation and particular skin tones. “I wanted to cater to these needs, and to develop something specifically for Arab women that’s modern,” she says. “I created Bex for the girls going to school, for the women who are working hard in their careers, and for the busy mothers. Women are natural multitaskers, we are used to doing it all and excelling.”
Multifaceted herself, Ahmed Fathi is a force on set: exuberant as she sings along between takes, and then suddenly thoughtful and introspective, deep in conversation with the makeup artist about his own family’s traditions. In front of the camera, she transforms again, fixing the lens with a coolly confident gaze. Back at the mirror for a style change, she deftly touches up her lipstick, reaching for a Bex-emblazoned tube and smoothing the pinky-tan shade onto her pout. Her latest brainwave is a collection of matte lipsticks, with shades inspired by the women that surround her.“We prefer nude lipstick shades in the GCC, and while we may try darker shades occasionally, it’s the pink and brown-based nude colors that get worn daily,” she points out. “I spend all day reapplying a nude color, so I need the formula to be matte but not dry, soft but not oily, and to be long-lasting.” Featuring true nudes, the lipsticks are designed to complement a spectrum of GCC complexions. “I curated a five-piece collection because those are the colors I wear and that I know other Arab women are interested in,” she explains. “There’s the pinkish-nude, the orangish-nude, the brown-nude – and each of these will work with an Arab woman’s skin tone.”
It’s this ongoing commitment to how Arab women will use and interact with the product that has driven her release decisions and formula tweaks, always thinking through the customer’s experience. One concern is how Western beauty brands are positioned prominently within the GCC market, while the same level of exposure is rarely granted to the Arab-owned brands who make it into US and European markets. “Why should an Arab brand not succeed internationally?” she asks. “We have been sold all sorts of American and Western brands. Some we’ve loved, but we start to recognize gaps where there can be improvements made to suit us specifically. So why not dream of having an Arab brand that makes it into stores in the US, and that exposes Americans and those in the West to our world of beauty?”
Part of the issue, she says, is that the Arab woman who lives in these Western markets can feel ignored by the beauty industry, without seeing products made with her in mind, and not advertised with women who resemble her. “I want to reach out to those who may live outside the GCC who can’t find products that match them in their country,” she posits. “I want all Arab women to discover a brand that is tailored to them.”
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Originally published in the April 2021 issue of Vogue Arabia