Cholpon Djusueva from the central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan was the face behind offering grooming services to US troops in war-torn Afghanistan. Now, she has set up an e-commerce platform in Dubai.
Djusueva has launched Foxyskin that delivers premium organic products at doorsteps across the UAE.
But the road to success was fraught with daunting challenges.
Djusueva reminisced that for more than four years at the height of the US’s ‘forever war’ she ran barber shops and salons that catered to thousands of US military personnel deployed in Afghanistan.
“It’d be an understatement to say that it was a tough assignment. I lived in military bases and rarely ventured out. I all along travelled on a helicopter gunship,” she recounted.
Djusueva was hired by the US Department of Defence in November 2009 — shortly after the launch of Operation Strike of the Sword — billed as the biggest offensive airlift by US marines since the Vietnam War (1955-75).
“Suddenly, I found myself in what was then the most dangerous place in the world. Everything looked surreal. Who would’ve thought I’d make a foray into the beauty business in Afghanistan of all places and all my clients would be military personnel?,” she said.
“I landed in Kandahar in the autumn of 2009 and was immediately bundled into a heavily-guarded military base. In the beginning, I could barely catch 40 winks because the noise from military planes flying overhead, and the movement of armoured vehicles would keep me awake all night. Besides, there were those security protocols that had to be followed at all times.
Djusueva said she had her hands full once she settled into a gruelling routine.
“I was working in the business development department. My job was to set up and run beauty and barber shops at various army bases in Afghanistan. I needed to keep a tab on the inventory in a bid to ensure that the supply chain was operational. In hindsight, it wasn’t an easy task.
“There were several women in the forces. Their requirements were vastly different from men. It was often a challenge to give them what they wanted such as hairstyling,” she said.
Djusueva said her stint in Afghanistan gave her a firm grounding and shaped her entrepreneurial journey that culminated with the launch of Foxyskin. She relocated to Dubai in early 2014, when her contract with the US Army ended.
“I had visited Dubai to procure personal care products and had instantly fallen in love with the city. I told myself if I were to launch a start-up, it ought to be in Dubai,” she said. She worked for various Dubai-based organisations between 2014 and 2020. She launched Foxyskin in April 2020, despite the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic led to countless opportunities for online businesses. So, I put all my experience in the beauty industry from Afghanistan to good use and came up with a dedicated platform, which would give consumers in the region access to premium, organic and sustainable brands sourced from all over the world,” she said.
“The response has been overwhelming. For instance, there is a lot of interest in cruelty-free skin and hair care products. Most of our products are eco-certified,” she added.
The Middle East and Africa’s beauty and personal care industry is forecast to grow from $32 billion (Dh117.54 billion) in 2020 to $39 billion by 2025. According to a new report, the Middle East’s skin-care product industry alone is expected to hit $1.92 billion (Dh7.05 billion) by 2027, a compounded annual growth rate of 5.8 per cent from 2021 to 2027.
Dubai’s rosy business outlook has buoyed Djusueva’s entrepreneurial spirit.
“I’m happy to be at the right place at the right time,” she added.
Djusueva’s coming of age as a start-up entrepreneur further embellishes Dubai’s credentials as the one-stop destination for the ease of doing business across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.