What Ayat Toufeeq and Amina Grimen have created with Powder goes beyond retail, it’s a community where likeminded beauty and skincare aficionados can review and recommend products, look at ingredient lists and find out about the latest product launches.
They both make it a point to try and test the products they carry and collate feedback from real people. Talking about the company’s inception, Grimen says: “We’ve been friends for over a decade. Ayat has always had this passion for beauty products and she got me hooked on Korean products several years ago. Now, we have a shared passion for good skincare and beauty products.”
Making niche and luxury products available and accessible to consumers in the UAE is the aim of the platform. Toufeeq says: “It made sense for us to build an online store. A community where consumers can read reviews, learn a little bit about the products and find something that’s tailored to their particular needs. This can be really difficult and stressful to do in store. We found that there was a gap in this market in that we weren’t necessarily finding niche brands or Korean beauty products very easily. There are a lot of businesses but some of the ones we found online weren’t necessarily licensed or working with reliable logistics partners so we decided that it was the most natural step for us to take. That’s how Powder was born.”
Both women hail from multicultural backgrounds. Toufeeq is Iraqi/British while Grimen is Somali/Norwegian so inclusion was also was important consideration for them from the start. Toufeeq explains: “Just looking at us, you can see how different we are. We wanted to bring products that can work for everyone. We have a very diverse set of friends and wanted to positively impact the women and men in our lives and the region. At Powder anyone can find something that works for their skin or hair. We believe that there should be options for everyone. Authenticity was also another huge factor and all of our products are registered and authenticated.” Grimen adds: “We essentially represent the diverse group of people that live here whose needs our platform is designed to address. We saw a big market opportunity in curated beauty products and wanted to build a company that serves it.”
As is the case with most start-ups, the pair initially had their fair share of trials. Grimen explains: “One challenge we faced was how we were going to market to our diverse audience. So it took a lot of homework and we wanted to make sure that we had the customer in mind first and foremost. We spoke to our friends and made sure that we got to know our customer to make sure that they were part of the process. We had to learn digital marketing and familiarise ourselves with the legislation and regulations of the country when it came to importing and distributing beauty products. From there, it was very important for us to partner with the right people from logistics to suppliers.”
The pair aim to introduce more organic and cruelty-free makeup brands to the site.
Once they knew how to reach their target audience, they focused on the customer experience and making the platform as user-friendly as possible. Grimen continues: “We had to ensure that our website was easy to use and guarantee the authenticity and quality of our products. It was also important to make our website dual language, available in both Arabic and English.”
According to Toufeeq, their aim was never to compete on price: “For us price isn’t a key driver. What we aim to do is provide quality solutions for a range of budgets. What we believe is that if a product doesn’t work, it doesn’t matter how much it costs, it’s money wasted. So we focus on providing a range but our strategy is to provide information and a set of tools for the customer to enable them to make an informed decision. At the end of the day people want quality and choice without paying a third of their salary.”
In terms of their sourcing strategy, the pair have been led by their customers. Grimen says: “We have relied on strategic sourcing from day one and engage with the people we are selling to on a daily basis to make them part of the process. We wanted an authentic and real picture from our customers and have been very hands on from the start. Ultimately, we aim to give customers incredible value for money by making effective and luxury products available to them.”
Though Powder certainly isn’t the only beauty-focused retail platform in the region, the co-founders believe the community they’ve managed to create and the trust they’ve earned have set them apart from similar platforms and conventional retailers. Toufeeq says: “We bring choice, information and accessibility. As we grow the business, more and more we realise that regardless of lifestyle, we all face the same challenges in finding a skincare regime that works for us. We get quite a few Instagram requests from customers asking us if we carry a particular product or brand. We do carry a few brands that aren’t easily available in this region and we’ve noticed that they do quite well so we know that the customer wants these products and that they’re going out of their way to find them.” So far, the response from users has been nothing but encouraging. She continues: “Introducing Powder to the UAE and to the other markets in the GCC, the response has been positive, and we now have customers all over. Our model is an evolving one and it is very important for us to continue to stay close to our customers and address the needs of the market.”
Indeed, those needs and preferences are also constantly evolving. Grimen says: “Our customers and your readers are getting savvy, they are well-informed with the tremendous amount of information out there through the click of a button. They are smart and educated women and men. We represent and curate products that meet those needs on our content platform.”
The newly-launched beauty boxes are a cost-effective way to sample Powder’s niche product offering.
Sharing her thoughts on upcoming trends in the region, Toufeeq says: “We are seeing customer demand more organic and natural skin care and beauty products as people become more conscious. There’s definitely a big interest in organic and cruelty-free products. We also have people contacting us about vegan products. As consumers become more informed and are presented with better choices, that’s the step that they’re taking. For generations people have used ingredients from their cupboards or pantries to homemade remedies and now we’re starting to go back to that.”
In fact, consumers are also turning towards natural-looking make up. She adds: “A really interesting trend is that a lot of makeup in the past few years has been very contour heavy and glamorous but that’s they’re slowly being replaced by an interest in a more natural look and a focus on revealing beautiful, glowing skin. Skin care and makeup should be about enhancing your skin and not simply masking it with makeup. I think it was championed by Meghan Markle at the royal wedding and that’s really having an impact. We’re seeing it in our sales.”
Another trend is the appeal of K-Beauty products and routines. We get a lot of requests for Korean beauty brands. Consumers are interested in them. This is because they’re affordable, they’re effective and there’s more information in this region about what’s on offer. It’s not going anywhere.”
Neither, it seems, is Powder. The company is growing and is heading towards the next phase of its development. Grimen says: “We started just over a year ago and since then we have grown our product offering considerably. To date we have over 20 global brands. The demands are real, and the model is proven. We have hundreds of SKUs available to us that we want to add.”
Toufeeq agrees with regards to expanding their existing product offering: “Makeup always does well in this region and we’re looking at providing more luxury and organic makeup solutions. We don’t carry a lot of makeup at the moment. That’s something that we’re working towards.”
In the immediate future, Powder is launching a new product category. Toufeeq announces: “We are thrilled to be launching not one but two exclusive beauty boxes. The Gift Box provides a unique selection of luxury products that make beautiful yet practical gifts, be it for family, friends or a significant other. We understand that selecting Korean beauty products can be overwhelming for our customers, so we have also curated an assortment of our favourite products to kick start a Korean-inspired skin care routine. The K-Beauty box is priced at AED350 (US $95) but worth over AED500 (US $135) so customers will benefit from a generous AED150 (US $40) in savings and our Festive Gift Box, available for a limited period, is priced at AED325 (US $88).”
Though the outlook is positive for the burgeoning company, Grimen and Toufeeq are cognizant of the fact that they won’t be able to go it alone for much longer. Looking down the line, Grimen says: “Our aspirations for Powder are big. We want to serve multiple markets, invest in marketing to reach more people, offer greater availability and increase our team to serve the growing business. To get there, we need working capital to enhance our product offering and stock rates. True of all e-commerce businesses we require capital. To date we have personally funded the business however, we are now very interested in outside investment. We are soon to launch a formal raise.”
Toufeeq adds: “We want to provide more of what the consumer is looking for as well. We want to expand our product offering. More K-Beauty and more natural and organic makeup which we know that there’s a gap for in this region.”
It’s clear that, although this is all fairly new to them, their work ethic, their differences and the subsequent combination of their distinct skills are likely to be the key drivers in the success of their business. When we first sit down, Grimen recites the three Cs that Powder is based on: “community, curation and content.” Camaraderie would make a good fourth.