Eyebrows are an embodiment of a woman’s spirit. They are an extension of her personality and image. Eyebrows tell the tale of how a woman feels and behaves — a trait that fascinated Suman Jalaf, who was born in the United Kingdom to Punjabi Sikh immigrant parents, from her pre-teen days.
Jalaf, who lives in Chelsea in west London, was a precocious child and knew at the tender age of 11 how to thread unwanted hair. Today, she has made a career out of bespoke eyebrows, which allow a woman to express herself more than she can with any other gesture.
Her eponymous SumanBrows, which she runs from her studio at Knightsbridge in Central London, offers a bouquet of services — from a simple, elegant signature brow enhancement to a bespoke red carpet makeover that has made her a favourite among global celebrities (see box). “I try to interpret the art of sculpting the natural eyebrow which, when completed successfully, does not only enhance the structure of the face, but can also lift the expression of each emotion, forming the perfect facial frame,” Jalaf says.
How did she begin? “I started doing eyebrows without knowing much about the craft. I started honing my skills, which got better as I excelled in it. Thin brows were the in-thing in the 1990s and even during the turn of the new millennium, which I experimented on my peers, family members and teachers,” she recounts.
“I obtained a degree in fine arts and graphics from a university and wanted to leave Great Britain and travel around the world, especially the USA. I was keen to immerse myself in the field of fine arts,” says Jalaf.
As luck would have it, brows and beauty therapy fell into her lap unplanned. “However, I was clear that I’d be my own boss and didn’t take up a job for long. Having friends and acquaintances in high places stood me in good stead,” she adds.
Jalaf counts hair stylist Nicky Clarke, who runs her salon at Mayfair in London; Errol Douglas, the Guyanese-British hair stylist, who was presented with a Member of the British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth-II for services to hairdressing in 2008, among her friends and well-wishers. She has worked with Douglas, whose salon is located at Belgravia in Central London. She also worked with South African hair stylist Ego Iwegbu-Daley, the never-say-die entrepreneur behind Miss Salon London nail boutique in London. “They all said I was a brat. However, all of them appreciated my potential because I excelled in what I did,” she says. “Initially in 2006, when I started from scratch, it was all word of mouth, and later, I started getting a lot of assignments after I started my own Instagram page in 2015,” adds Jalaf.
Her debut in the UAE and the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was fortuitous. “I came to Dubai on a vacation six years ago. A few people got in touch with me on the basis of word-of-mouth publicity. I thought I’d post on my ‘gram my dates in Dubai and see how it goes. Wow! I didn’t expect the outcome, as I was flooded with offers and ended up extending my trip. Such was the craze that Louise Nichol, then editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, did a spread on me, hailing me as a bladerunner eyebrow artist. I was thrilled about becoming popular in Dubai overnight.
Gradually, my popularity spread to Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Now, I spend around four-five months a year in Dubai and in the region, as my clientele has grown by leaps and bounds. Many want me to start a business in Dubai that can cater to the wider region. However, I’ve been insistent that I’m not in a rush, as I run a successful outfit in London. Besides, it’s very stressful. Significantly, I want the growth to be organic, and niche. I value quality over quantity. I’ve been approached by several investors, which, I must confess, is a good feeling at the end of the day. However, I’m endowed with a sharp business acumen that always guides me to take hard decisions that can stand the test of time in the long run,” she says.
She considers herself to be a self-taught artist. In retrospect, she turned adversity into a professional career. “My mother was stricken with cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy. I saw her lose hair and eyebrows at a young age. Bless my mum. She has been a fighter and fortunately managed to overcome the odds. Now, she has the coolest hair and bespoke eyebrows, thanks to my ‘magical’ touch,” she reminisces.
She fondly looks back at her formative years as an eyebrow artist. “I had to borrow money to do a makeup course and it took me ages to complete it. I was lucky to have a degree in fine arts. All I needed was a certificate. Now, I impart my skills to students and also conduct my own microblading manual and bespoke brows courses,” she adds.
She is well-versed in microblading, nano blading, powder brows, diamond blading and semi-permanent hair colour, lip blush and eyeliner.
She is bullish about the eyebrow trend in the UAE and the wider Middle East and North Africa region. “While the UK was under stringent lockdown precautions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, much of the Middle East remained relatively open for business when public health officials deemed it safe to do so. Much of this region has since rebounded significantly — a true testament to the visionary leadership and resilience of the people and the beauty industry here. I certainly look forward to future opportunities to continue to innovate, collaborate, and offer the highest level of artistry to my clients in the region,” she adds.
She cites the international eyebrow trend. “Bold, bushy brows are in vogue across the world. I’m all for expensive, chic, healthy, beautiful and natural-looking brows,” she says. “We love to see men — who often troop in at the request of their significant others — dropping by to get their eyebrows done. I think men are starting to understand how eyebrows frame the face. If you take the effort to style your hair, you should also be styling your eyebrows — especially in the era of video conferencing,” she adds.
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