by Shyamantha Asokan 

Until a couple of years ago, Abrar Mirza, a 30-year-old Londoner, found it hard to keep his beard looking good. He tried dabbing it with olive oil – way too greasy. He tried hair wax – it just irritated the delicate skin on his face.

Mirza, a Muslim, was struggling to find grooming products that contained neither alcohol nor animal products. “There weren’t really products available for beard care – let alone halal beard care,” he says. “And then one day I was walking around London, and I could see men from several backgrounds with beards, and I thought: ‘This is an opportunity.’ ”

Last year Mirza launched London Beard Company, a start-up that makes organic beard oils with scents such as sandalwood and black pepper. His is one of a crop of new businesses making halal grooming products for men, such as soaps that use clay instead of by-products from animal fat, and beard brushes with synthetic bristles instead of animal hair.

The men’s start-ups are part of a growing scene. The market for halal beauty products – those made specifically in line with Islamic principles – is forecast to be worth $39bn in 2019, up from  $23bn in 2015, according to Technavio, one of the few research groups to track the sector. Muslims spend $56bn on cosmetics and toiletries overall, which currently accounts for 7 per cent of global spending and is growing more quickly than the global average,  according to a report released last month by Thomson Reuters and advisory firm Dinar Standard.

Yet while some companies have created entire halal ranges for Muslim women, with a halal stamp denoting a product’s provenance, their male counterparts have largely had to start their own ventures for their smaller niche.

“The general rise of the Muslim consumer has really taken off over the last 10-12 years,” says Shelina Janmohamed, vice-president at the Islamic branding agency Ogilvy Noor, pointing to global companies that have started offering “modest clothing” for women and halal food ranges. “We’re starting to see things happening for men – little trends popping up, Muslim men’s lifestyle blogs.”

Islam forbids the consumption of alcohol, blood, or pork, and only permits the consumption of animals killed using halal methods that include saying blessings. Some Muslims believe halal products should also be free from animal cruelty. But there are different views on whether beauty products need to be halal at all, as unlike food they are not directly consumed.

“At the beginning, it was only for myself,” says 32-year-old Jawad Piorek, an IT consultant in Montreal who converted to Islam in 2004 and started making his own beard oil and balm last spring, partly by using vegan cosmetics recipes he found online. He soon started making batches for friends and launched Elegance Beard last autumn. He now makes 100 batches of his balms and oils a month, which are sold online and at ten stockists in countries including Canada, the UK, and the UAE.

14915221_683257435174840_7354400223065996091_nPiorek found it easy to avoid using alcohol, an ingredient in some fragrances, by using essential oils such as peppermint. The bigger challenge was avoiding the animal products used in many soaps and creams, such as stearic acid, a component of animal or vegetable fat that breaks down dirt, and glycerine, a moisturising by-product of fats. He uses red clay and shea butter instead.

“I’m a beard teacher now,” he says of the emails he gets from customers seeking tips on how to grow long beards and keep them soft.

The Prophet Muhammed is believed to have had a beard and many Muslim men therefore have one to emulate him. The Quran does not contain rules on the topic but some Hadiths – collections of sayings attributed to the Prophet – recommend that men grow beards and keep them well groomed. As a result, for some Muslim men, a well-kept beard is central to their identity.

“Within my own community, it gives me a sense of solidarity,” Areeb Ullah, a London-based journalist, said of his beard in a 2014 column for The Guardian.  “I can only liken it to the experience of black women who relax their hair and then one day stop relaxing their hair and find it opens up a brand new world to them. There are all these beard products, oils, shampoos, combs,” he also said.

The Muslim entrepreneurs’ start-ups are also part of a growing crossover market. They attract customers regardless of faith due to the hipster trend, with its love of beards, and the rise in ethical and vegan consumers who shun animal ingredients.

Mirza estimates that 60 per cent of his customers are non-Muslims – and his general vibe is that he makes luxury beard oils that also happen to be halal. He makes 700-800 batches of his beard oils a month in his workshop at home and sells them online and at over 50 stockists mostly in the UK, including London’s Spitalfields Market and the high-end retailer Fortnum & Masons.

10-halal-lbc“Our ethos was to have a brand for everyone – Muslims or non-Muslims, regardless,” he says, manning his Spitalfields stall and pointing out bearded hipsters who pass by.

The halal beauty scene is dominated by women’s products and is most developed in south-east Asia, with prominent homegrown brands such as Indonesia’s Wardah and Malaysia’s IVY. Women’s ranges include anti-ageing creams with collagen derived from plants instead of animal tissue, lipsticks that use mineral-based red dyes instead of carmine pigment made from insects, and even permeable nail polish that does not fully block water during wudu.

Although global cosmetics giants have largely not launched specific halal ranges so far, they do adjust the ingredients and manufacturing methods for their existing ranges in Muslim-majority countries. For example, companies such as L’oreal and Unilever use halal-certified factories in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population.

This worldwide push to sell products to Muslim women is spurring the niche for men’s products – women buying gifts for male relatives and friends make up half of Mirza’s punters and a third of Piorek’s.

The male grooming entrepreneurs acknowledge that Muslims could in many cases use vegan toiletries and cosmetics, which often pass the halal test – but they say many customers want products specifically made to fit halal criteria, which saves them scouring through ingredients lists.

“It gives a lot of people peace of mind. [We feel] like: ‘Somebody else has already looked into this, so I don’t have to’,” says 35-year-old Omar Usman, who lives in Dallas and has blogged about Muslim men’s fashion and grooming. He is also part of the team behind Lion of the Jungle, an American halal and vegan beard-care range that launched last month.

“It’s good that companies are paying attention to us and acknowledging what we want.”

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Shyamantha Asokan is a London-based journalist and photographer, who mostly covers migration and diasporas. She’s lived and worked as a correspondent in the UK, the USA, Nigeria, and India. Her work has appeared in the Financial Times, the Economist, the Washington Post, the Guardian, Reuters and Buzzfeed. Twitter: @shyamantha

One thought on “The Muslim entrepreneurs making halal beauty products – for men

  1. The unhealthy obsession with religion and religious rules continues strongly in this section of the populace. It’s sad that superstition still rules.


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