In the Middle East, a market that is perhaps the world’s top destination for luxury goods, skin care has never gotten the attention that it deserves.
“In international Sephora stores, skin care usually makes up a third of the products available. In the Middle East, skin care is only 10 per cent. That tells you that consumers here are focused on fragrances and make up—they’re not really thinking about skin care,” says Herbal Essentials founder Aly Rahimtoola.
10 years ago, Rahimtoola noticed something. While the world was embracing natural products more than ever before, skincare was not yet getting the same treatment. In the past few years, Herbal Essentials has made its way into the home of most discerning skin care consumers in the Gulf, but it began as gut feeling from a man in the shipping industry.
“I saw that there was a movement for holistic natural care, and I thought, that if we can blend in a natural, holistic approach to consumer beauty, then maybe it can become something special,” he says.
“If you ask 100 women in Dubai if they’d rather use naturally inspired skin care products, I would be most would say yes—that was the hunch that I had back then,” adds Rahimtoola.
There was one problem.
“I didn’t understand anything about skin care,” Rahimtoola admits. “I was a typical bloke that uses an aftershave balm after you shave—that’s it. If you wanted to be invested in something, you have to learn. I enrolled myself in a skincare class, and they looked at me like I was crazy. I sat there and learned about skincare. Ten years in, I still thirst to understand how things work,” he says.
But while he had the idea set, he didn’t yet know where he would take it. That ended one day when he came across a man selling products not far from where he was born in Pakistan.
“I met a very interesting gentleman at an exhibition who was from the Himalayas. I asked him what his products were, as they were unique looking, and he said these are all skincare products based on the principles of Ayurveda, a thousands of years old philosophy that takes lessons from the past. He gave me the example that a newborn baby has perfect skin. Because of external stresses—diet, stress, pollution and lifestyle—that’s when skin can get out of sync. Yoga is a form of meditation to restore equilibrium as part of Ayurveda. I asked him, do you have a brand? He said he had no money, he just wanted to share his products,” he says.
From there, Herbal Essentials was off. But while it began to find success, it still was not at the level that it would become. For that, it took a pep talk from one of the luxury world’s biggest voices.
“I was at the stage where I needed to take it to the next level. I sent Nicki Kinnaird, founder of luxury beauty retailer Space NK, my products, and I got an email two months later asking if I was free for a cup of coffee in London. In the beauty industry this is like Warren Buffett saying are you free for a coffee in Omaha, Nebraska—you go!” Rahimtoola says.
“She sat down and said, Ali, tell me about Herbal Essentials. Sell me your product, because if the founder of a brand can’t sell you their product, then maybe you should go back to your shipping career. I told her, and she said, that’s nice, but I’ll take that Estee Lauder product instead. I thought, I flew all the way here to have her reject me?” he says.
But Kinnaird wasn’t done.
“Then she said, can I sell your brand back to you? Like in Jerry McGuire she had me at hello,” he says.
“She told me that Herbal Essentials is a skincare brand that believes that there is wisdom that has been lost through the ages. What we seek to do is travel the world, uncover that lost wisdom, and at the same time, understanding that the challenges of today are very different than they were long ago. People don’t have the same issues that they once did—so we fuse modern technologies, modern know-how with old world knowledge to create a beauty brand that is essentially beauty rediscovered,” Rahimtoola continues.
Since that moment, Herbal Essentials has now elevated its game, and realised the full potential of what the Dubai-based brand could become.
“We’ve recognised that there are certain natural ingredients that have great skin efficacy. For example, blackcurrant, ginseng, green tea, flaxseed. If you fuse that together with Himalayan spring water, which is very good for the skin because it’s very alkaline, you create essentially an active compound. We’re working with French formulators to come up with a proprietary Himalayan active complex that we will put into all the products. We’re now coming up with innovation,” he says.
“There’s nothing to stop this brand in three years from getting its figurative backpack, heading down to the Amazon, and coming up with some great beauty wisdom that was lost in the Amazon, and adapting that with modern technologies in France and creating a new natural product. We could technically have compounds from each part of the world that we update, bring in to the 21st century.”
“Indiana Jones for skin care?” WEALTH Arabia asks.