Why siblings make the best partners in Middle East's beauty business
For most women in the Middle East, beauty is a way of life. Little wonder then that the sector is currently booming. This weekend, My Beauty Fest - a beauty event to be held at Burj Park, Downtown Dubai - will see influencers and key players in the industry assessing the further potential of growth of the sector. The promising stats have also enabled a number of women in the region script their own success stories as they launch their own beauty businesses or become influencers in their own right. Following the success of the Kardashians and the Kattan sisters, many pairs of siblings are coming together to spearhead their own brand. This week, WKND caught up with three such sets of sisters, who are adding newer dimensions to the world of beauty in the region.
Sonia and Fyza Ali
"Our father still insists we look like him," jokes Fyza Ali. To the outside world, though, Fyza and her sister Sonia are symptoms of the Kardashian fever that has gripped pop culture. Sonia and Fyza look exactly like Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner, and if you have seen images of the two on Instagram, you're less likely to dispute the contention.
The girls, however, take it as a compliment. "Being compared to them is an honour, but we do not exactly want to be treated as lookalikes. We have something to offer to the world too," says Sonia.
Their offering to the world: Fyza is a trained makeup artist who often uses her sister Sonia's face as a canvas to push the boundaries of her skills. It's a collaboration that has won them about 765,000 followers on Instagram.
"Beauty has always been a passion of mine. As a student, I really liked the idea of art coming into a real life form. I feel makeup is the best way to express myself. My sister is a beauty fanatic as well. So, the fact that we are both on this platform certainly helps," says Fyza.
It all started four years ago when the once London-based siblings met a makeup artist in Miami, who was quite intrigued by Sonia's makeup. Impressed with the girls, she advised them to create a body of work on Instagram, which was then a relatively new social media vehicle. "She asked us to have a portfolio so that she could show it to her team," says Fyza.
Soon, their Instagram page took on a life of its own, and the duo began to get noticed, primarily for their similarities with the Kardashians. "We have seen many women who look like the Kardashians in this region, but they do not put themselves out there. We look at them as such bosswomen," says Fyza.
Working together as a unit has not only helped them professionally, it has also assisted them personally. "With your sister, you have more freedoms and you know she's not going to be a sneaky person. You just trust your sister more than anyone else, right?" says Sonia. "I have seen friends working together and one opens a company behind the other's back, and I know that this would never happen between sisters. That's the one thing I like about the Kardashians too - they stick together as a family," adds Fyza.
Having each other's back has also meant warding off criticism from other beauty influencers. Fyza says the real challenge of being a beauty influencer is that people are always comparing you with other influencers. "We hear things like, 'Oh, you should get more international followers, not just from the Gulf.' It's hard to get that. I feel the fact that we look similar to Kim and Kylie has made others insecure," she says. Sonia has another perspective. "People often talk about the pressure of looking good all the time. I don't have that. In fact, I would like to wear makeup all the time."
Moving forward, the girls would like to take their already soaring popularity to the next level by launching their own line of makeup. Fyza says, "Growing up, we would often find it difficult to find beauty products that matched our skin tone. We would like to launch products that cater especially to women like us. 2018 is our time."
Nora, Sarah and Dana Al-Ramadhan
It's not every day that one quits a promising career in banking and finance to test the waters in the beauty business. Looking back, Nora, Sarah and Dana Al-Ramadhan feel that it was perhaps the best decision of their lives - to take a slice of their collective passion for beauty and make a brand out of it. Combining their business acumen with their interest, the Kuwait-based sisters have managed to build what many are calling a beauty empire in itself.
Their labour of love, Apotheca Beauty Company, is a specialised beauty distribution agency that brings premium products to the region. They are credited with bringing Anastasia Beverly Hills, Lime Crime and Sarah Chapman, among several other top-notch brands, to the region. The Apotheca story started in 2012 when a local dermatologist asked the sisters to help him with the distribution of beauty products. The sisters carefully observed the trends in the market and realised there was space to bring niche products to the region. Researching tirelessly over two years, they started their own company. Today, Apotheca has a presence in Kuwait and the UAE, and retails at Harvey Nichols, Bloomingdale's and Sephora.
Taking the plunge wasn't easy, but the fact that they were all in this venture together was comforting. "Family businesses have always been a tradition in the Middle East. I think the reason why this trend (that of sisters coming together to open beauty businesses) is picking up is because the rates of women's education have increased significantly. They're more empowered now," says Nora, adding, "I think it boils down to trust. When you're starting a business, it's a huge investment. That can be scary. But if you're doing it with someone you trust, it adds a level of security to it."
Like with any other industry, being part of the beauty sector is not bereft of challenges. "I would say the challenge is that the industry, though its primary consumers are women, comprises of men, who are in their 40s and 50s, and have been in the market for a long time. So, they have a different way of doing business, while we bring our own sensibilities, given our finance backgrounds," says Sarah.
Working with sisters, then, becomes a way of doing business on their own terms. Could it, however, also become an echo chamber? "Well, the perks of working with a sibling is that we understand each other, and we also challenge each other in ways traditional colleagues may not," says Nora. Dana argues that having three different personalities means there are three different strengths on the table. "We know each other really well, so even though we might not agree on everything all the time, we know how to work with the different personalities, which allows us to get things done efficiently," she says. "We are all different pieces of the puzzle, and it works well for us."
Nazanin and Aida Fara
"She cannot shout at people, but I can. I am a strange woman," says Aida Fara, before bursting into laughter. The confession comes as sister Nazanin, the founder of Fara Beauty, admits she finds it rather hard to be strict with her employees. They may be different in their own right, but what brings Aida and Nazanin together is their love for the business of beauty. That may have something - or a lot, actually - to do with the fact that the Iranian siblings were born into and raised in a family full of beauty entrepreneurs. "Our aunts and cousins have owned salons. So we always did have a little bit of background in makeup and beauty. I ran a salon with my cousin for two years and then came to Dubai," says Aida, who is the co-founder of the brand.
Over a rather short period of time, Fara Beauty acquired a niche following for its range of brushes, eyelashes and other accessories. Today, the brand has a presence in the UK, Germany and Norway, as well as a store in Dubai's DIFC. It's also available on online retail platforms.
When the sisters started out, they barely had 10 employees, including themselves. This meant that work had to be done round-the-clock and the lines between their personal and professional lives would often blur. There was also a perception to be fought. "My husband often told me, 'You're playing, not working,'" says Aida light-heartedly, to which Nazanin adds, "When we started, we had 10 employees, including us. Our husbands were like, 'Why do you do that?' And once they looked at the sales, they said, 'Oh my God, how did you manage to do that?'"
Working with a sibling in a fiercely competitive industry is not a cakewalk. But Aida and Nazanin have established an understanding. "We have our separate roles. While Nazanin is more into researching products, I look at the marketing side," says Aida.
The sisters keep their ears onto the ground. "We look at the best makeup products in the market and come up with something that is as good. We're constantly researching about what suits the GCC market," says Nazanin.
Over a period of time, the staff has increased to 25, but the sisters admit to having the same attitude towards their work as they did when they started. In other words, they're extremely hands-on, sometimes even more than required. Nazanin says, "We try to do the important things ourselves and not leave it to the team, though they are very good at their jobs. It's simply because we are women, and women never completely detach from the work." Agree?