Euromonitor International is pleased to present an interview with Mauli Teli, who along with her sister founded India's first halal cosmetics. The range has created quite a ripple around the world. In this series, Mauli discusses the factors prompting them to think about halal cosmetics in the first place and how the range is performing in addition to how she expects the range to unfold going forward.
How did the idea originate?
Both my sister and I moved back to India from the US in 2009 with a vision to start our own business. We chose to enter the field of personal care and cosmetics, looking at our interests, capabilities, given our pharma and research backgrounds, and the market potential in India; in 2012 we set up our company – Ecotrail Personal Care – with in-house facilities to develop and manufacture beauty care products. Being entrepreneurs, we wanted to launch our own brand, but knew that, given the fact that the Indian market is crowded with brands and dominated by MNCs, our brand would need to stand for something unique, address an unmet need, and target a niche audience by offering additional value.
Having observed first hand global trends and increasing consumer preferences for ethical and natural products among consumers in other countries, especially Kosher or Halal products, we noticed that such certified products are missing in the Indian market today. On researching further by meeting consumers and thought leaders across India, we found a strong relevance of Halal in cosmetics and a latent need for them, given that the absence of such products either prevents or restricts usage of certain products among consumers – for example most perfumes or deodorants contain alcohol (not considered Halal) and hence interfere with namaz (prayer), while lipsticks and other make-up products may contain pig fat and hence many Muslim women avoid wearing make-up. This led us to launch Iba, India’s first Halal cosmetics brand. All Iba products are free of alcohol, pork and other animal-derived ingredients and harsh chemicals like sulfates and parabens.
Why market as Halal when it can also be vegan and cruelty free, both of which consumers are likely to embrace?
Halal is a way of life, it is a holistic concept embracing the values of safety, purity and integrity in the way products are made and sold. Our entire manufacturing facility, for example, is Halal certified. This ensures purity and integrity in the manufacturing process as well. Halal is thus much more than just vegan or cruelty free.
What does it mean to be halal?
Halal is an Arabic word for “that which is lawful or permitted”. The word Halal may bring the thought of food to mind, but it is actually a universal tenet that applies to all aspects of life and not just food. If a product is Halal certified, it doesn’t contain alcohol, animal ingredients and harsh chemicals and is not tested on animals, so it gives consumers the reassurance that it is pure and natural.
Halal cosmetics are ethical beauty products rooted in the science of “Halal” and free of impurities such as pig fat, gelatin, keratin and other animal-derived ingredients, alcohol and harsh chemicals such as sulfates and parabens commonly found in many popular brands’ products. Halal cosmetics are not just natural but also pure and hygienically manufactured, vegan and animal cruelty free. Such products are bound to be better for us as well as for our environment.
Does it affect the efficacy and finish of the product?
No. Given the advances in ingredient science and technology and through careful research we have been able to substitute harsh chemical-based ingredients commonly found in leading branded products with equally or more effective natural ingredients in our products. For example, instead of harsh surfactants known as sulfates, Iba Halal Care shampoos contain natural coconut-derived surfactants that are equally effective in cleansing but without the side-effects of hair and scalp dryness and hair loss.
How are you substituting the use of alcohol? Isn’t fatty alcohol necessary as emulsifier, emollient and thickening agents?
Only the “ethyl alcohol” form of alcohol is not considered Halal due to its nature of causing intoxication and harm to body and skin. Iba’s entire range of products is ethyl alcohol free. Our fragrances are either oil based (roll-ons) or water based (sprays) and can be applied at any time during the day. Fatty alcohols such as cetyl alcohol etc are basically oils and are permissible as per Halal guidelines.
Do you plan on introducing nail polish? How can you make it halal?
We do not currently have nail polish as part of our range. Many do not consider nail polish as Halal since it coats the nails, thus preventing proper cleansing at the time of wuzu before offering namaz (prayers). Water-based polymer technologies are now becoming available, which makes the nail polish porous and allows water to penetrate the nails. We are currently researching this further.
What are the reasons for not having foundations?
We plan on adding new colour cosmetics such as kajal, foundations, eyeliners etc in the near future.
What is the positioning of the brand in terms of price points (mass, masstige, premium)? What are the reasons behind the stated positioning?
Our brand positioning is masstige. Our price points currently in the Indian market are very competitive compared to leading brands in the market, thus enabling easy switches for consumers. Our products are highly affordable, along with being Halal, vegan and cruelty free, and this is of huge value for our consumers.
You market through stand-alone stores. What are the reasons for choosing your own outlets as a means of distribution?
Halal cosmetics is a very new concept in the Indian market. We want our consumers to understand our brand philosophy and understand the product well before purchasing. This level of interaction is only possible through our own exclusive stores and hence we have chosen this as a means of distribution currently.
Are you considering any other form of distribution channels?
Yes. Starting from 10 November, all Iba products also became available for online purchase at www.amazon.in across India.
What is the consumer response to your range in India?
Consumer response has been very encouraging both from Muslim as well as non-Muslim consumers in Ahmedabad. For our core target consumer, which is Muslim women, Iba offers peace of mind and guilt-free usage of beauty products, which has been much appreciated.
What is the response from non-Muslim consumers?
Response from non-Muslim consumers is also good. Many who visit our store for the first time have a limited understanding of Halal, but, once they understand the philosophy and come to know that our products are vegan, cruelty free and devoid of harsh chemicals, they show a keen interest in trying our products.
What is your competitive landscape? There are a number of brands that are positioned as natural/organic, Ayurvedic and compatible with the philosophy behind Halal cosmetics. Do you see these brands as a threat in the long run (when the novelty of Halal concept wears out)? How do you plan on keeping your competitive edge?
We are India’s first Halal-certified cosmetics brand and what we have done is essentially create an entirely new category within the personal care and cosmetics space where no direct competition exists. Competition, when it comes, will only grow the market and make it bigger, but being first will always give us the advantage.
How do you see competition from the foreign brands such as the Body Shop?
Foreign brands or any other Indian brand, for that matter, have their own positioning and strategy. The cosmetics market in India is seeing double-digit growth and, from a per person usage perspective, India has a lot of growth potential. At the same time, the market is getting crowded with many new brands entering every day. However, we are confident that our positioning, branding and strategy will differentiate us from the competition.
Do you plan on expanding internationally? If so which markets do you want to start with and which products?
We have enquiries from many countries in Middle East, Africa and Europe. We are gearing up from a production capability standpoint and plan to address some of these markets by early next year.
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