The Founders of Shade M on Challenging Beauty Standards and Shining a Spotlight on Muslim WomenApril 29, 2020
Armed with a collection of 15 matte lipsticks, Nour Khalife and Jolie Nubani are on a mission. After noticing how underrepresented the Muslim community is in the beauty space, the cosmetic industry veterans joined forces and set out to challenge standards, expand representation and shine a light on the importance of individuality. Enter Shade M, their vegan, cruelty-free and halal-certified line of matte liquid lippies. Take it from me, they’re amazing. We chatted with the co-founders about everything from how they got their start and what’s next for the brand to why art lies at Shade M’s core and what beauty means to them.
Can you give some background on your careers before Shade M?
NK: Jolie and I met over ten years ago while working at L’Oréal where I used to manage Yves Saint Laurent and Jolie was managing Giorgio Armani. We always got along really well! Working for a beauty empire like L’Oréal taught us a lot about the beauty world, but has above all, helped us build a great network and relationships with colleagues that we still call friends. It’s this community feel that actually allowed Jolie and I to keep in touch after we left L’Oréal. Between the two of us, we have over 18 years of experience in the luxury beauty space. In addition to working with YSL, I have also worked with Chanel and with Benefit Cosmetics. Jolie worked with the Giorgio Armani Beauty brand in both the Middle East and the US markets. Working in dynamic, global, luxury beauty brands and markets taught us so much about strategy, passion, leadership and growing a makeup business. It also allowed us to identify market gaps! It was so obvious that there was a narrow scope regarding representation and production of products for ethnic women like ourselves, being both of Middle Eastern descent.
What made you decide to branch out and start your own company?
JN: We started to recognize that ethnically diverse women had this challenge of identifying with existing brands. We wanted to create a makeup brand that spoke to women of all ethnicities. Women who have been overlooked by mainstream brands. That includes representation in both identity and ethos. We wanted to ensure that all women were able to experience products without sacrificing on quality. As a result we decided to create Shade M, makeup made for every shade. A highly pigmented, clean, halal-certified, PETA-approved, vegan and cruelty-free makeup brand. We believe in everyone loving and owning who they are, being the truest form of themselves and screaming, I am my own shade! The brand has a mission to drive this message into a global reality. Shade M has been designed and developed hand-in-hand with real women, from product development to partnerships with female artists from around the world. It’s made with ethnic diversity, representation and a special spotlight on the Muslim woman at its core. The Muslim woman specifically makes up almost a billion women globally, yet she is rarely seen in mainstream beauty. We wanted to highlight her while being inclusive to all!
Shade M launched with a line of lipsticks. Why did you decide to start with just one hero product?
NK: Lipstick is such an experimental category that people always love to try! It plays on our mood and can give such an immediate boost of energy and happiness! That’s why we decided to start with lipsticks. But we didn’t want to make just any lipstick. A few studies have shown that women eat between four and nine pounds of lipstick during their lifetime! It’s crazy. We became obsessed with making our lipstick better for you. We also wanted to achieve a great selection of shades that offer full coverage for every skin tone and a long-lasting and non-drying color without compromise! Selecting the shades was such a big deal for us. We made it a mission to cover the best shades of nudes, pinks, reds and purples. That said, we also pushed the norms and offered a silver lipstick that can be mixed with the other shades or used on its own for the more non-conventional consumer. Our range contains 15 matte liquid lipsticks which we lovingly named Muse after all of the women who inspired us to create Shade M.
Take me a little behind the scenes of the development process. What was really important to you when creating your products?
JN: The most challenging part of building Shade M was developing a matte liquid lipstick formula that fit all of our brand ethos while truly being a long-lasting quality product. It took us over a year and a half to develop the formula for Muse. Removing so many ingredients wasn’t something every manufacturer was up for.
NK: Our line is free of a lot of not so great ingredients commonly found in makeup like: sulfates SLS and SLES, parabens, formaldehydes, formaldehyde-releasing agents, phthalates, mineral oil, retinyl palmitate, oxybenzone, coal tar, hydroquinone, triclosan and triclocarban. It’s also Halal-certified which means it’s non-drying because it’s free of alcohol commonly found in vegan makeup products.
JN: We ended up finding an amazing team Italy and once that was set everything else was a lot of fun! We initially thought we would create a circular tube but when we started working on the design further, we really fell in love with a square shape tube. The most important part for us in terms of the packaging was the applicator which we spent a lot of time developing. It’s shaped like a teardrop. The pointed tip allows everyone to create a flawless liquid line, no need for a lipliner. The small hole on the base ensures the perfect amount of Muse glides across the lip each time. Art is at the core of Shade M, too. It allows for the perfect combination of self-expression and personal interpretation. We partner with female artists from around the world to visually bring the brand to life. For the outer packaging of Muse, we were super excited to collaborate with an amazing Saudi-based digital artist, Fida Al Hussan, whose work is centered around furthering the conversation of women world-wide. Fida embodies the same ethos as Shade M, she is a strong and confident woman who moves against the tide of society while making strides and positively impacting the world along the way. She truly is a Muse!
What have you learned throughout this process?
NK: We’ve always been trained to perfect our work. With Shade M, we learned that sometimes it’s necessary to settle with good enough on the operational end and advance ahead without aiming for perfection. You just don’t always have the time nor the resources for it. When you start a business, you have a vision in mind and you have to be prepared to know that things will not go the way you want. You need to be agile, open minded, curious and on a continuous mission to learn and to listen. Nothing happens without challenges and so far we’ve really taken a positive approach towards every hiccup that comes our way. Jolie and I have done an excellent job in working as a team, with full transparency and trust. That has allowed us to make each struggle an optimistic learning experience.
What has been your biggest “pinch-me” moment?
JN: Our biggest pinch me moment has really been seeing the excitement and positive reaction of so many influencers, people, artists and consumers of Muse. Reading their messages, seeing them wear it and love it, really showcases how much women are excited by the Shade M identity. It’s a surreal experience. We are so thankful to every Muse, who has believed in us from the start.
What's next for Shade M?
NK: We ultimately aim to have Shade M be the first Halal makeup brand to be readily available in mainstream retail.
Walk me through a typical week-in-the-life.
JN: We have a unique setup because we’re based in Dubai but we travel a lot for meetings, manufacturing and to interact with customers. Every week really is different; sometimes we’re in Dubai together working on development, marketing concepts and execution, other weeks, I’ll be in New York meeting with press and designers and Nour will be in London meeting with investors. The great thing is it never is boring and there’s always something new and unexpected.
If you could tell your 20-year-old self anything, what would it be?
JN: Working hard is important to get where you are, don’t give up! That being said, remember to enjoy the ride, it goes quickly and it’s not about where you’re going to end up, it’s about the journey you took to get there.
NK: Make the best of every moment you live and appreciate it. Don’t take anything for granted as anything can change in a blink of an eye!
Fill in the blanks:
A beauty trend I regret trying is...
NK: Thin eyebrows, oh god!
JK: None, I think you should try everything. It’s sort of the point if it works great, if not no worries you can wash it off or your hair will grow back. Use beauty to express yourself!
To me, beauty means...
NK: Confidence. Be proud of who you are and love yourself. Perfection, in its universal approach, is a myth. So stop chasing it and look for it inside of you. You will find it.
JN: Feeling amazing in your own skin, whatever makes you feel good is what beauty is. I believe it’s really about your own relationship with yourself.
What keeps me motivated is...
NK: Curiosity! Keep learning and keep improving.
JN: My passion for makeup! It’s always made me happy since I was young. And my desire to give back to others. I really believe in paying it forward and I hope to be able to do that always.