Melissa Juried Kriebel
RIYADH: Muzon Ashgar, founder and manager of Saudi brand MZN Bodycare, has always had an interest in natural skincare products, which she sourced from the US.
But after throwing a recreational “spa party” for friends a few years ago, she realized there was no need to look abroad to be ethically conscious.
Ashgar put together her own recipes for natural skincare products and packaged them herself. She went from giving the products away as gifts at her at-home spa to selling at local markets and events, eventually establishing her own company.
Now her cruelty-free and sustainable products can be found at major pharmacy chains, premium retailers, and spas across Saudi Arabia.
“We are impressed that most of our customers actually care about MZN being a sustainable brand. There is a remarkable awareness within our community of the benefits of buying sustainable local brands,” Ashgar told Arab News.
But this awareness was not always apparent, and is nonexistent in some communities.
A report by business consultancy Mordor Intelligence found that the major players in the Saudi beauty industry are non-cruelty-free firms, including Beiersdorf AG (parent company to brands such as Nivea and Labello) and Estee Lauder.
When a brand is not cruelty free, the company either conducts individual testing on animals itself, through their supplier, or through a third party.
Ranked top in the huge global market is Procter & Gamble, which holds brands such as Herbal Essences, Pantene, Olay and SK-II. The consumer giant recently announced its commitment to #BeCrueltyFree throughout its 19 companies, highlighting moves by the industry to become more sustainable.
Coming in third is Avon, a brand that is completely cruelty free. While Estee Lauder is not, some of the brands in its portfolio, including Smashbox and Too Faced, both popular with Saudi consumers, have cruelty-free certification by the US-based animal rights group PETA.
The issue becomes complicated because some brands cannot fully develop a cruelty-free approach because they sell products in countries that require animal testing by law, such as China. Pulling their supply from such countries would result in a huge revenue loss.
However, Saudi Arabia does not insist on animal testing for skincare and beauty products. This creates an easy market for local sustainable and vegan cosmetics to step up and answer the demand for those items.
Saudi environmentalist Zahra Alqatari told Arab News that there is only limited awareness of sustainability as an issue in the Kingdom.
“That makes demand for cruelty-free and sustainable beauty products low. As a result, the beauty industry continues to produce products that harm us, animals and the environment.”
However, this is changing as local brands, such as MZN Bodycare, champion natural, vegan and cruelty-free products for the everyday consumer.
The brand, established in 2015, believes in using local plants to create environmentally friendly products.
“Our region is full of plantations that have amazing benefits like the moringa, olive oils, rose and lavender essential oils, and date seed powder and oils. We found through published research that those oils are very high in antioxidants and vitamins which are beneficial to the skin,” Ashgar told Arab News.
The company has seen a growing interest among Saudis in developing sustainable and environmentally friendly living habits.
“We actually had some customers ask for a ‘return packaging’ program from us, where we take back the used packaging and refill it for them. Some call us to verify the source of our raw materials and that we are actually a cruelty-free brand,” said Ashgar.
Another cruelty-free brand, Mama’s Alchemy, is based on veganism as a core value and motivator.
“We wanted to offer vegan options in the bodycare category in Saudi and the region, as there are very few brands that cater to the cause. We believe veganism plays a vital role in keeping our planet clean and reducing waste,” Dina Horanieh, the firm’s managing partner, told Arab News.
The brand founders went on the hunt for vegan body products for their personal use, but were unable to find any — so they made their own. Mama’s Alchemy caters not only to vegan consumers, but also anyone looking for clean and sustainable body products.
“The response (from the Saudi public) has been heartwarming. We hope to see more local suppliers offering sustainable options. We are continuously working to offer more vegan and sustainable products,” said Horanieh.