DUBAI - A new e-commerce start-up joins the growing clean beauty sector in the United Arab Emirates. Unfazed by competition from big platforms that stock clean beauty products, such as Noon.com and Amazon.ae as well as the recently launched Powder.ae, the founder and CEO of Secret Skin believes there is ample room in this expanding market segment.
“Our model is a green world of beauty. We want to raise awareness about clean beauty, sustainability, mindful consumption, and women’s’ health. Instead of the traditional beauty model that uses influencers, we want to reach out to real people using conversations that affect the world,” Anisha Oberoi told Salaam Gateway.
Secret Skin has curated a portfolio of more than 1,200 eco-friendly and ethically-sourced clean beauty products through exclusive partnerships with ‘first-time in UAE’ global brands.
With more studies showing links between chemicals widely used in cosmetic and personal care products, and health and skin problems, consumer preferences are increasingly shifting towards conscious, independent brands with social and environmental values.
There are no definitive market size numbers for the global clean beauty industry, with estimates for natural and organic personal care starting at $11 billion in 2016 to $16.6 billion in 2020. They point to growth reaching $26.6 billion or $29.7 billion by 2026.
Former Amazon exec Oberoi definitely sees the market opportunity but her narrative is also influenced by the fact that she’s a cancer survivor. “The market is saturated when it comes to beauty but there’s a huge opportunity when it comes to clean beauty. Because we’re doing something good for the world, it’s not a competition; it’s a buffet and there’s plenty of space on the table. The more the merrier.”
More consumers in the Middle East are becoming aware of how easy it is to shop online, said Oberoi.
“[A]nd there is greater emphasis on skincare than makeup because of ‘me-time’, COVID-19, and the reluctance to meet and engage with new people. All these factors tie in with the digitisation in this region, and the fact that the younger generation that lives on social media has a significant spending capacity.”
Oberoi survived an aggressive form of breast cancer 10 years ago that left her frustrated due to the toxic medication she had to endure. She lost her lashes and hair, and chemotherapy and radiation burnt her skin. She was put on hormone treatments after surgery, which made her desperate to find clean, chemical-free alternatives to mass beauty products.
“I knew that one day, I would do something in the area of wellness and beauty, I just didn’t know it would be Secret Skin. I moved to the UAE one and a half years ago and thought I would continue on my corporate career progression path.”
After working with Amazon for almost five years and then briefly with the retailer Bloomingdales, Oberoi decided to incorporate her start-up at the Sharjah Research Technology and Innovation Park in February this year. By October, she was ready to launch Secret Skin.
The platform has eight brands and plans to add four new ones every month as well as a kids’ category in the coming weeks.
“We have something called the ‘Never List’, which means products must be free from sulphates, SLS, and parabens; they have to be cruelty-free, and they cannot contain harmful ingredients or palm oil,” said Oberoi.
The products must also be alcohol-free and vegan, making them halal as well.
Some brands are rooted in Ayurvedic formulations, such as Mauli (UK) and Ranavat (US), and some prioritize minerals and potent botanicals in their compositions, such as Amly (UK). The platform also offers hand-blended serums from the UAE brand KJ Serums.
Except for beard-grooming products, all items on Secret Skin are gender-neutral, and there are no filters for men’s or women’s products.
“We cannot ignore the cultural movement in terms of diversity and inclusion. Secret Skin is for everybody – men and women. If we can use the same shampoo and deodorant, then why can’t we use the same skincare?” said Oberoi.
An important aspect for the CEO was to incorporate sustainability practices across the company’s flywheel of sourcing, packaging, and shipping.
For instance, the company is reducing single-use plastic consumption through its partnership with ZeLoop app, which rewards users for recycling plastic bottles with crypto tokens as well as discounts on their next purchase from the brand.
“Our packaging is 100% eco-recyclable. You can take back your plastic bottles, recycle them, earn reward points, come back to the website and shop. With a single click, we give you the opportunity to support small businesses, become a part of the circular economy by recycling, and reduce your carbon footprint, because you’re getting your product the next day.”
Most of the global brands on Secret Skin are sold in the UAE for the first time through an exclusive partnership with the e-commerce start-up.
“This market is so ripe. All the brands around the world that do well in their native markets want to come to the Middle East, but they need someone on ground because the process is cost-prohibitive, labour-intensive, and time-consuming,” said Oberoi.
“We go to them and say ‘we want to be your voice and expose you to Middle East customers. We want you to come in an exclusive partnership where we undertake the responsibility of registering you, of the licenses, imports, and customer approvals.’”
Oberoi believes this approach convinces brands to be more open to partner with her.
“They listen to your philosophy and see this is not just another retailer, but somebody with a mission to protect the people and planet with purpose.”
ELIMINATING SHIPPING FEES
Secret Skin offers free next-day shipping on products that would normally take several days to be shipped from their country of origin.
“If you wanted to buy these brands from different parts of the world, whether it was from aggregator sites or the brands themselves, you would have to pay between 55 and 85% overage for shipping, depending on the location, plus import fees, and you’ll have to wait for a week or more,” explained Oberoi.
The margins on imported clean beauty products are immense, making the option cost prohibitive for UAE consumers, according to the founder.
“We want to dispel the notion that clean beauty is expensive, that it cannot be luxurious, and that it doesn’t perform as well as pharmaceuticals. We have very high-performance brands.”
Secret Skin currently fulfils locally and ships to customers in the UAE and India. By 2021, the company plans to expand regionally.
“We’re having conversations with potential partners on expanding to other GCC countries and how we can start building operational efficiencies while we are here. We want to win the UAE first before we expand into other markets. This year is critical for us to gain momentum and acquire customers. This will give us the impetus and confidence to move to other geographies,” said Oberoi.
“Right now, we’re nailing the basics on our platform and we’re looking for impact investors who understand sustainability and mission-driven start-ups. We’re also going to roll out our AI-enabled app with interactive tech so that customers can experience the products.”
(Reporting by Heba Hashem; Editing by Emmy Abdul Alim firstname.lastname@example.org)
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