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Emaan Abbass on the Three Things Every Entrepreneur Should Know

Emaan Abbass. Photo: Courtesy of Ketish

Ketish founder Emaan Abbass has had a very busy year. After securing start-up funding as the first angel investor project from Huda and Mona Kattan’s HB Investments, Abbass has spent the past year both building the feminine health brand and spreading its pro-woman messages. Ahead of International Women’s Day, Vogue Arabia exclusively speaks with this passionate entrepreneur about exactly what makes a business work, why feminine health can still be taboo, and why she thinks female-owned brands are the future.

How has Ketish’s first year in business been so far?
It has been an absolutely beautiful whirlwind.  We launched Ketish a little over seven months ago, and it has been non-stop ever since. We’ve managed to cultivate an incredibly vocal and supportive community that continues to grow every day. We’ve also launched two products, The Quickie – our intimate refreshing wipe, and The Potion – our soothing body oil for period cramp care. There is so much in the pipeline from additional products, to dynamic educational and empowering content, expansion in distribution, and helping women in real and impactful ways through CSR partnerships. We are so excited to see where we will be in another year from now. Seven months in, so many learnings, so many wins big and small. The most exciting part is that we are just getting started.

What has been your biggest hurdle? How did you handle it?
One of our biggest hurdles, that is still ongoing, is working to break down the stigmas that exist around products like ours and the topic of feminine and intimate health in general. We are essentially working to create a market for feminine and intimate wellness products that virtually does not exist here in the Middle East region. The products that do exist are predominately in pharmacy and mass spaces, and are largely traditional hygiene products like pads and tampons. At Ketish, we aim is to replace shame and stigma with sensuality and self-love by creating a luxury experience around feminine wellness. For us, luxury has very little to do with the price tag, but rather the experience a woman has with our brand and our products – from ingredient quality, to buying experience,  to the community and education that come with it. It’s a challenge because we are working to reshape a mindset, and not just sell a product. We are working to change the way women see their feminine health, and elevate the entire experience  so women can see their feminine health as part of her overall wellness routine.

And your biggest success?
There have been so many small wins and blessings in the past seven months since launch, but I would say our biggest accomplishment was being named as a Most Promising Brand of the Year. We had only launched five months prior, and it was our first time being recognized in this way. I remember getting the call, I immediately burst into tears. There have been a lot of tears this year. No one told me how emotional this process would be. I had to read the letter over, and over, and over to process. It means people are seeing the power and the potential this brand has, that people believe in us, and as a “taboo” brand- that was so often warned about backlash and lack of acceptance before launching-  that meant everything to me and the team.

What are the three most important lessons you have learnt as an entrepreneur?
Never lose sight of your mission.
This year has been filled with so many ups and downs, with constant curve balls being thrown our way. The most important lesson has been to never lose sight of what anchors us as a brand, and for me as a person. There are bound to be countless moments of uncertainty, fear, or failure that will try to deter you from just that. I make it a point to revisit our mission often, and analyze if what we do day in and day out aligns with that. If it doesn’t, we make the changes  necessary so that it does.

Authenticity is everything.
In building this brand I’ve had to open up about some of my darkest days whether it was my battle with cervical cancer, my history with intimacy and relationships, culture and family dynamics- things that a lot of women in this region could relate to. I knew if I was going to ask women to trust us and share with us, I would have to bare my soul and share with them, and do it in the most authentic and true to self way. No one can be you better than yourself and there is a lot of power in sharing your authentic experiences. You never know how your story could provide comfort and support to someone else

One of my favorite Arabic quotes translates as “everything in its right time is beautiful.” It’s a notion that I’ve had to lean into a lot this year. Trusting the divine timing of life, and of Ketish’s progress. As a founder, I think there is this innate pressure for everything to happen right now. I’m constantly having to remind myself, the whole point of building something meaningful and impactful lies in the journey itself- the lessons, the setbacks, the peaks, the pitfalls, and all that comes with it. Im learning to be patient and ride that wave.

What surprised you in the past year?
The response from men has been quite a pleasant surprise. I think I naturally expected for women to rally around us, because of all the work we did before launching to understand their needs. The positive and supportive response from men has been surprising and really nice to hear. We receive messages from men all the time encouraging us to keep going, and even expressing their wishes for a platform like this for men. One in particular said something really interesting, “at least you women speak to one another, whether it’s in your tight knit circles behind closed doors, or in open forums like this. Us men hardly speaking to one another about topics around our reproductive and mental health.” And that really stuck with me. There is such a need to normalize conversations around our bodies and our intimate health, not just for women, but for men as well.

Did you feel like you were prepared as a business owner?
Yes and no. I don’t think I was adequately prepared for the mental and emotional toll that comes with building a brand, especially a brand that is so connected to my own personal journey. I knew it was going to be hard, I knew it would require a lot of determination and sacrifice, but I don’t think anything could have prepared me for just how taxing it is – mentally, emotionally, physically. It is worth it though, and everyday I am reminded of how just how important the work we are doing is, but man, is it taxing.

What we were over-prepared for was the potential backlash that we could have received. We received some when we first launched, but we were ready for it. With every point of opposition or friction we’ve received has been an opportunity for healthy dialogue, and a better understanding of where women are with their comfort level.

How have you found the reception to Ketish?
The reception around Ketish has been incredibly positive. When we first launched we received hundreds of DMs and emails from women all over the world, sharing their experiences with us, thanking us for building a community they finally feel safe being apart of, and address issues that matter deeply to them. The outpour of support from the women (and men) in our community has been a constant affirmation that we are doing the right thing. Our number one goal when we launched was to start the conversation, to get women talking, whether it was to us, to their friends, to the community as a whole, and I think we were able to accomplish that in such a special and authentic way.

What’s beautiful about other brands in this space is that we are all fighting the same fight. We all want to accomplish the same things- to educate women, to bring awareness to what we women face, and to provide women products to allow them to better connect to their feminine and intimate health journey. I see these other brands as allies, much less competitors. It’s been amazing to connect with other founders and teams in the space to discuss the challenges we face and how we can better support one another on this fight, because it really is that. There are a lot of factors that continue to silence us – whether its censorship on social media, policy, uncharted markets, cultural stigmas and taboos etc. At least when we lean on another, we can tackle these things as a united front.

How have you found being an entrepreneur in our region? Are there enough open pathways for women to access here?
The founder community here is so supportive. I have met so many other female entrepreneurs and brand founders that are willing to jump in, support, give advice, and uplift one another. Even with that being said, there is still so much room to grow, not just here in the UAE, but around the world. Globally only three percent of investments are given to women-led businesses and now is the time for that to change.

I think my journey has been a bit unique. I was working for a female founder who decided to believe in and back my idea in a big way. I know that isn’t always the case for other women in the start-up space. As I am now preparing for our initial seed round of funding, I think I will probably be more exposed to what the traditional landscape looks like outside of my experience, and from what I have seen and heard it comes with a host of challenges, especially in the feminine wellness and femtech space. It is a space that is quite untapped, but emerging. Whenever you are trying to do something new, or something different it takes a different level of trust, vision, and understanding from investors. That’s exactly what we are looking for in an investor relationship, a partner that sees the vision and understand the impact we are trying to make in the feminine wellness space and wants to be a part of making it come to life.

How will this last year guide you for the next year?
We are constantly learning what the needs of our community are and working to bring those needs to life. A big focus is continuing to pump out educational content around the topics that she wants to learn about. There are so many topics that have gone unspoken about for far too long. We will also continue to leverage the products we create as vessels to narrate these lessons and guide women to tap into their feminine and intimate health in active and hands-on ways. Another exciting focus is largely centered around our growth – whether it’s the growth of our community, expanding the product line, and our team.

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