Layla Mandi, a Canadian convert to Islam and a make-up artist, has come up with an idea that has left the cosmetics world in awe. Mandi now fills a gap in the already crowded market of religiously correct products by launching a “100% halal" cosmetics line, devoid of animal by-components and alcohol. After a year and a half research in Morocco, Mandi established the OnePure cosmetics line in 2007 in Dubai, at the very heart of the biggest “halal" products distribution market. She now offers a relatively pricey alternative (125 USD for 4 products) to particularly conscientious Muslim women around the world. Mandi discloses to Al Masry Al Youm how she transformed into a successful businesswoman, riding the ultra holy and fashionable ‘halal-wave’.
Al-Masry Al-Youm: You converted to Islam about 8 years ago and have since questioned the ingredients used to produce the make-up and skin care products you were using on a daily basis. What was your reaction when you realized that most of them had animal by-products and alcohol in them?
Layla Mandi: I am a make-up artist - I love all kinds of beauty products and use large quantities of them for my work on the catwalks and for myself. But eventually, I felt the need to be sure of their composition, so I looked behind their glossy labels for the list of ingredients and discovered that they had animal by-products like blood, fats and gelatine as well as alcohol, all “haram" according to my religious faith. I decided that I would not work with products like this and started my search for alternatives on the market that would be of equal quality. The only products I found that were animal and alcohol free were labelled ‘vegetarian products’ and dated back to the 70’s. They were created under a different philosophy and catered to skin needs that differ from those identified today. I was also disappointed by the old fashioned appearance of the packaging and the lack of development of the products’ textures. It was obvious these products had not developed since their original introduction to the market.
Al-Masry: Is it this disappointment that inspired you to launch a cosmetics line of your own?
Mandi: Yes. I figured that I probably wasn’t the only woman to face this dilemma and I seriously started shaping this idea in my head. Being in the make-up market for so long gave me plenty of successful examples of people who launched beauty product lines and I could find none who filled the ‘halal’ make up void in the market. The girl who created the Hard Candy make-up line did so because she could not find the blue nail polish she wanted to use. So I told myself that it could work and went to Morocco for a year and a half to research and learn more about the people and the country. I soon understood that the Moroccan market was unsuitable for halal products in general, so I moved to Dubai which holds 90% of the world’s halal distribution market.
Al-Masry: How did you get the “halal" certification for your skin-care line OnePure? Is the process of certification similar to any other “halal" food item?
Mandi: For now I have been given the Malaysian “halal" certification, and I am in the process of getting it from the UK as well. It pretty much works the same way as any food item. Inspectors from the certification body visit the factory; they take random samples of the products and test them for animal-by ingredients and alcohol traces. Then if everything is deemed correct they give me a certification for each individual product. I am not the one claiming that my products are halal, the inspectors from the certification body are. It is not the butcher who guarantees that the meat he sells is halal, but the certification.
Al-Masry: Those products are devoid of alcohol, which usually guarantees that the product is hygienic, so which substitute was added instead?
Mandi: You would have to speak to my chemist about it because this has nothing to do with my background. I could not possibly tell you how we palliate to the lack of alcohol, but I did send a list of requirements to the chemist, asking to ban pork or alcohol-related ingredients, along with many other requirements. Many samples of the product were then sent to me and I simply chose the best one.
Al-Masry: You have been accused of finding a very profitable marketing niche by feeding on the needs of religiously-accepted products, by competitors and individuals. How do you react to such accusations?
Mandi: What I do is providing an alternative for Muslim women. Of course there is marketing involved in the process, but I guarantee you that if I dozens of halal cosmetics lines already existed on the market I wouldn’t have faced so many criticisms. It is not easy being the first one launching a brand new line. I also needed to do promote my products to raise the women’s awareness, and this is a lot of work too.
Al-Masry: Your skin-care line OnePure contains 4 products so far –an eye cream, a moisturizer, a toner and a cleanser- that you specifically designed for the women in the Arab world. Are their needs in terms of beauty products different than the western women?
Mandi: When I was reflecting on this skin-care line I noticed that all Arab women formulated the same criticism, saying that the western beauty products reacted badly in hot countries. It is true, they have a tendency to liquefy and stick when exposed to great heat. My products are specially formulated to be rapidly absorbed by the skin, while leaving a dry finish.