03 Oct 2015 15:28 IST

Food for thought: The business of halal cosmetics

India’s first brand of halal beauty products sees a market much bigger than the Muslim community

Vegetarian and vegan cosmetics, in themselves a niche market, can now count halal cosmetics as a competitor on the horizon. While they have been available in global markets for a while now, India now has Iba, a brand of halal cosmetics started by Mauli Teli and Grishma Teli of the Ahmedabad-based Ecotrail Personal Care.

Mauli Teli says research has shown that there is great potential for halal cosmetics in India, which has one of the largest Muslim populations in the world. The demand is higher in Kerala, Delhi, Mumbai and Gujarat. However, the Telis’ target market is not only Muslim consumers, but everyone who is concerned about animal derivatives in cosmetics and their being tested on animals.

What they are

“Jain and vegetarian” as she describes herself, Teli’s stay in the US gave her the impetus to investigate what went into things – when she was mulling ordering pumpkin soup, she found out the broth was chicken.

Teli lists a few ingredients used in cosmetics that are non-halal: Keratin, used in shampoos, hair rinses and skincare products, is derived from bird feathers, carmine or cochineal dye comes from insects, gelatine can come from pigs, and most perfumes contain alcohol – all no-nos for those who observe halal.

“Many Muslim women do not wear nail polish because they are supposed to wash before praying, but the polish is impermeable,” says Teli, revealing some of the insights and needs that prompted them to start this venture. Many products that are vegetarian and claim to be ayurvedic or herbal use harmful substances such as sulfates and parabens, which Iba does not, she claims.

The halal certification gives users the assurance that the products are vegetarian and vegan as well, she adds. The cosmetics are certified by Halal India.

Between soaps and kajal at the extreme ends of the range, the cosmetics are priced between ₹40 and ₹300.

The animal fat provides not only glide, but longevity. A short shelf life is one of the challenges of marketing halal cosmetics. This also prevents them from being manufactured in huge quantities. Most of Iba’s products are made in-house, deodorants are sourced from a partner.

There are five Iba stores now, two in Ahmedabad, and one each in Aurangabad, Surat and Vadodara. Another 7-10 stores are likely to open by April 2016. Chennai, Kerala, Bangalore and Hyderabad are on the radar.

The sisters have invested ₹8 crore in the business, including manufacturing, marketing and branding. They plan to set up another manufacturing unit when they expand, and possibly go in for private equity.

“It’s a blank slate in India. It’s not easy and full of challenges. There’s the need to create awareness,” says Teli on the prospects for the business.

“But it is a large enough category where we could exist.” Iba hopes to appeal to all customers irrespective of faith – and its branding, which is quite distinct. The name Iba is from Arabic and denotes sense and pride. The model, Sanjeeda Shaikh of TV shows Nach Baliye and Ek Hasina Thi fame, is seen in a head scarf.

Would this look and the halal appeal render the brand irrelevant, or deter customers who are not Muslim? “Yes, there is a chance of that happening as we are in a niche category. Perception plays a role, given the history in Ahmedabad, but all kinds of people come and buy our products,” says Teli.

Strategic move

Jagdish Acharya, Founder-Director of creative agency Cut The Crap, which worked on the brand, says its appeal is being built on its goodness, not on religion. Acceptability comes from credibility, not from dressing or looks, he says. It needs to be progressive, scientific and glamorous. The business objective: Halal is for all. “But we took the risk of showing the hijab because if you show an ordinary woman, it becomes diffused.”

Elucidating, he says that a brand such as this should be positioned with early adopters in mind.

“Fifty per cent of customers who buy jeans are older people, but they buy them only when the younger ones do. North Indians would rather eat at South Indian restaurants that are popular with people from the South. By the same token, these cosmetics would be successful if Muslims like them first. Initially, we have to sacrifice going out to everybody.”

John Goodman, Worldwide President, Ogilvy Noor, O&M’s Islamic branding consultancy, says the potential in marketing halal cosmetics to a non-Muslim audience depends how it is positioned. “Positioned as ‘halal’ it has little appeal, but positioned as ’natural, healthy, vegetarian’ is has considerable appeal.” Only time can tell, though.