It’s more likely that while growing up your mother’s dressing table was dominated by a Chanel perfume, Dior lipstick, Covergirl compact and Nivea moisturiser.

But a peek into today’s beauty bags will throw up a motley product bouquet from home-grown favourites such as Huda Beauty and Shiffa to international must-haves such as brow specialist Anastasia Soare’s eponymous range Anastasia Beverly Hills; make-up artist David Klasfeld’s Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics line that combines hard-wearing, high-density pigments with 100 per cent vegan ingredients; Urban Decay’s Naked Palette; Too Faced’s Better Than Sex Mascara; Sephora’s lip stains; and Iraqi-born make-up artist and entrepreneur Dee Abdullah’s Hi Impact Brows. 

According to data from market research company NPD Group’s retail sales tracking service, US Prestige Beauty Total Measured Market, niche, indie brands are growing at the fastest rate within the country’s prestige beauty market, giving bigger brands a run for their money. 

Stay social

The beauty landscape has shifted with the cosmetics consumer increasingly choosing to spend their money at speciality stores such as Sephora and online rather than in the classic department stores and pharmacies.

With a much greater focus on education, niche beauty brands remain constantly connected to the consumer by maintaining a strong social presence. These brands tell a compelling story to engage potential consumers who want to know who’s behind the brand and what makes it unique. YouTube videos, online ads, creating virtual communities and sharing a purpose are all critical in the new world order where social media has become a necessity to drive niche product growth. 

The global penchant for niche products has certainly caught on in the UAE too. In third position after Saudi Arabia and Iran in the region in terms of market size, the UAE has a solid appetite for beauty and personal care products, with sales estimated to reach $2.7 billion (Dh9.92 billion) by 2020 from $2 billion last year, according to research by Euromonitor International.

“There is a strong niche products category within the UAE beauty market,” Amna Abbas, Research Analyst at Euromonitor International tells GN Focus. “These come from well-known international brands as well as some local companies, both bringing organic or natural ingredient-based products into the market.

Examples include local brands such as Shiffa Skin Care, which is exclusively available in Sephora, Camelicious Beauty’s soap bars, and Organic Foods and Café’s cosmetic range from well-known international brand Dr Hauschka. These brands are becoming popular due to increase in hype around niche products and awareness due to their strong social media presence. Additionally, the UAE is a demographic that is already exposed to international trends, has high disposable incomes and consists of savvy consumers who want to know more about such products, keeping the demand growing.” 

The business of beauty has changed dramatically, with millennials preferring to buy face masks and foundations based on YouTube videos and product reviews. Today’s shoppers want to read product info on their smartphones, locate the nearest retailers, compare products and hunt for bargains — all the things that niche brands are offering by being constantly connected.

The impact of this trend is evident as heritage brand Estée Lauder recently introduced the youth-centric Estée Edit represented by social media star Kendall Jenner. It has also been acquiring small but successful companies such as Glamglow, Le Labo and Rodin.

Haysam Eid, Founder of niche lifestyle brand Eideal, admits people are now becoming more loyal and appreciative of upcoming brands committed to providing innovative products while at the same time putting quality at the top of their checklist. “The key point for niche beauty brands is to have a strong connection with its customers. In our experience, end consumers are always eager and curious to know the story of the brand in addition to the people behind it.” 

It’s vital to remember that a constant social media presence is crucial for niche brand survival. “Our strategy is to always use new marketing tools rather than stick to the traditional expensive strategies,” he says. “We believe that a small out-of-the-box idea, picture or a video can make a huge impact.”  

Easy access

One of the early game changers that checked all the above boxes was Sephora, which opened in 1998 and changed the way many New Yorkers and others bought make-up. 

“Sephora’s uniqueness lies in our service offering, our loyalty programme and our exclusive brands in order to best cater to the local consumer and differentiate ourselves in the region,” says Ghada Khoury, Head of Marketing, Sephora Middle East.

“Keeping our offerings diversified is just one of the ways we cater to the modern-day beauty addicts who are busy, dynamic, well travelled and on the go. We aim to make their beauty obsessions as accessible as possible.” 

Or take, for instance, Dee Abdullah’s revolutionising concept of beauty bars. In 2008, Abdullah merged her two passions, make-up and commerce, to develop the idea of the first drop-in beauty bar in the UK. Today, with more than 50 locations, she has plans to expand to the UAE. “It is great to see how quickly niche beauty brands have been welcomed by women here as warmly as they did in the UK,” Abdullah tells GN Focus in an email.

“Thanks to retailers such as Sephora, new and exciting products like Hi Impact Brows are now available. Women have become savvier with make-up, and brows are a focal point for all women when it comes to using make-up to naturally enhance their beauty.” 

Consumers now have a heightened interest in a personalised approach and in their choice of beauty products. This is providing a level playing field for brands that have a specific beauty focus, be it eyebrow expertise or targeted solutions for specific skin concerns, rather than more generalised care. 

“In the UAE, consumers are increasingly on the lookout for personalised solutions that tackle specific skin concerns or which can offer specific, improved benefits such as beauty treatments that fit seamlessly with their fast-paced lifestyle without compromising on quality and results,” says Nicole Arnoldussen, co-founder of Starskin, the sheet masks inspired by Korean skincare that celebrities use to get red-carpet ready and is now a beauty buys du jour. 

“The rise of the online environment, including social media, bloggers and online shopping, is also a great contributor to the rise of niche brands, as it allows them to have a platform to interact with consumers and consequently have a wider reach than they would potentially have had before the social media era. Niche brands are now able to have more leverage next to commercial giants and develop their brands according to specific customer demands"