Inclusive beauty-representation doesn’t only mean in the ads you publish, it’s also in the products you make
By Mariam Nouser
I remember walking into MAC Cosmetics for the first time with my mom at the start of Grade 9. I wanted “higher-end” makeup items—all I had was low-quality products like Ardene and Claire’s. With the money I saved up, I picked four different eyeshadow shades, complimentary lipstick shades and mascara. That day, I ran home to play with my new shades and came up with a look that quickly became my signature in high school.
As a Muslim woman, I’ve used beauty as a means of self-expression since middle school, always looking up to my aunts and cousins in Egypt who always looked incredible. Their eyebrows were perfect and their complexions were flawless.
But despite my love for makeup, I had no idea that MAC’s products had content that did not meet my religious needs, such as alcohol that is prohibited to use in Islam or non-halal animal byproducts.
After two years of developing the brand Infinitely Classic, the business was born and we assumed our niche into cosmetics in 2018.
According to a study by pharmacy students in Switzerland, the demand for halal cosmetics for 2.4 billion Muslim consumers worldwide is increasing. But the request remains unmet as cosmetics production is dominated by non-halal cosmetic manufacturers, whose production methods may not fit with the requirements of Islamic science.
Cheryl Thompson, associate professor for Ryerson’s creative industries program, says the first thing to do when trailblazing and representing your community is to start something new. “We’re in an era where the idea of the self is prominent.”
Halal-beauty consists of many things. For makeup, products must be made ethically and ingredients must be sourced from halal resources
As the author of Beauty in a Box: Detangling the Roots of Canada’s Black Beauty Culture, Thompson’s work focuses on representing of Black women and other minorities in beauty.
Beauty customers gravitate toward brands like Dior and Lancome due to being brands that portray “western ideals,” according to Thompson, such as lighter-skinned models.
As the western hemisphere becomes home to many settlers from across the world, Thompson feels areas like beauty need to represent what society looks like now. According to Thompson, while non-European immigration has increased in Canada, society’s standards have not moulded to that.
Many beauty campaigns will also portray cookie-cutter white and thin models, but there are many more experiences to portray. For example, Kohl, or eyeliner, was a staple in Prophet Muhammed’s time. Many wore it—including the Prophet—yet no mention of our history is there in people selling eyeliner/kohl.
Maryam Sheikh grew up in a small, conservative town in Syria and noticed how women rarely wore makeup—usually only for weddings or women-only parties. “I would be in awe of them,” says the now-first-year Ryerson student.
When she got to Canada this year for the early childhood studies program at Ryerson, she wanted to venture into the makeup world. Her older sister, who already lived in Canada, suggested Yves Rocher as a suitable beauty product—but she mistakenly thought the vegan brand was halal too. Meanwhile, many vegan products contain alcohol and the Yves Rocher website states its products contain alcohol made from fermented beets.
Halal-beauty consists of many things. For makeup, products must be made ethically and ingredients must be sourced from halal resources. If manufacturers use animal products that are not pork, the animal must have been sacrificed in a halal way with blessing and mercy.
Because of how tricky it is to source small parts from an animal that were sacrificed in a halal way, halal cosmetics typically contain ingredients that make it vegan but also alcohol-free. That is hard to do as you need one or the other to make products cheaper to make per unit.
Although it’s good to see the prioritization, most companies focus on nail polish and forget that other forms of beauty need to be made accessible to Muslim women too
Nail polish is another product that is extremely important for Muslim women to find made in a halal way—and yet often don’t. Muslim women must have their nail beds accessible to water when doing the ritual wash, wudhu, for prayer. With conventional nail polishes, the water doesn’t hit the nail bed, so it invalidates the wash.
Companies including 786 Cosmetics and Maya Cosmetics started with halal-certified and water-permeable nail polish. More than a dozen companies specialize in halal nail polish which gives consumers options.
Although it’s good to see the prioritization, most companies focus on nail polish and forget that other forms of beauty need to be made accessible to Muslim women too.
I have seen Muslim women be put on marketing campaigns for brands or generic beauty campaigns, and yet those same brands won’t accommodate our religious needs, such as Huda Beauty and Farsali, with none of their products being halal-certified. Other companies will only carry two to three Muslim-founded brands.
Being in the industry myself now, I know that another aspect is the actual making of the products. As a co-founder of Infinitely Classic, it was challenging to find a laboratory that fits requirements for both manufacturing and ingredients. For example, it took 10 months to find a lab in the Greater Toronto Area that can produce high-quality, halal liquid lipsticks.
First, you start with formula. Sometimes a lab can give you formulas they have, but it’s best to create your own to avoid imitations. The key is that the formula must be suitable to hold a pigment and not distort the colour. After that, a select group of people try out the products to see if it is suitable for use. Once that has been approved, we can go into full production.
Before going forward with production, we had to work with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) to get halal-certified before we could even start full production. For our newer products, which have a larger shade range, we had to change laboratories and they did not specialize in complexion. Now, our upcoming products are being made in the U.S. because of the lack of accommodation here in Canada.
Although Infinitely Classic is all about claiming the Muslim woman narrative in beauty, it extends much further than that. It’s about challenging the status quo. And our business isn’t the only one striving for this
Asmaa Toor, a third-year journalism student and now Infinitely Classic’s co-founder, has a passion for finding halal products that matched her skin tone. As someone who has a dark complexion, it’s often difficult to find a foundation of her shade—let alone one that fulfills her halal needs. Some brands carry vast shade ranges, but their products contain alcohol, or their vegan and alcohol-free, but don’t carry her shade. A lot of Muslim-owned brands contradict what our religious texts say.
Toor joined our team in May 2019 as a marketing coordinator and is now our chief content officer and co-founder. Our business was the first time she had ever seen a company that catered to our needs as a Muslim woman.
Our business isn’t the only one striving for this.
Three Ryerson students who are sisters, Fadumo, Nasra and Amal Botan founded Botxn Beauty in 2018. They’re marketing and products are all about inclusivity in beauty. Recently, they announced their expansion into skincare.
Although Infinitely Classic is all about claiming the Muslim woman narrative in beauty, it extends much further than that. It’s about representation. It’s about empowerment. It’s about challenging the status quo.