Afiya Beauty is a rurally based business run by two women of colour – Shamsa and Kaltum Hassan -- in the Quinte West region. The company creates handcrafted, nutrient-dense skincare for individuals interested in natural and organic beauty products.
The business is based on an understanding that nature and natural, raw ingredients have the power to heal, nourish and repair the skin, as well as promote overall wellness. The sister-run company has been in operation for just over a year.
While the company formulates products for all skin types and skin tones, its “why” has always been to provide safe and non-toxic products for black women who oftentimes use products filled with harmful ingredients marketed to them.
The sisters say, “We have an acute understanding of what it feels like to be excluded with regards to beauty standards and the beauty industry. Even more so in the clean beauty and wellness space, there is a lack of inclusivity and diversity. Black women spend as much as 22% of the $42 billion a year personal care product market which means they buy and use more of these harmful products than anyone else, yet research on products marketed to black women is scarce. Oftentimes we use these products due to lack of alternative options. At Afiya Beauty, we want to change this narrative and create a brand that is inclusive of ALL WOMEN, a brand that is clean, non-toxic, accessible and practices low-impact and sustainable beauty.”
Prior to COVID-19, Afiya Beauty had been accepted into its first store, The Arts Market, located on Dundas Street West in Toronto. The company had just finished a successful fall and Christmas season during which they attended various artisanal markets. The business had also planned and paid its fees for spring and summer 2020 markets which were the mainstay of the business.
One of the biggest challenges for Afiya Beauty was accepting the notion that people could no longer purchase its products face-to-face. The sisters’ confidence and success came through their passion of explaining the ingredients of their products to customers and showing them how to use the products. This personal interaction was the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) that set them apart from their competitors. All that changed with COVID-19.
While social distancing brought challenges to the business, it also brought opportunities through a shift to online sales. “Online sales were inevitable for our business however it is incredibly intimidating, costly and overwhelming,” say the sisters. “Now that we have fully transitioned to the world of online sales, we have become more confident in our abilities to navigate this new landscape.”
Afiya Beauty is a part of the Rural Mentorship program, designed and offered by the Kingston Economic Development Corp. as a partner to Queen’s University which is leading the WE-CAN Project. “WE-CAN has brought eight other amazing, talented and incredibly generous women entrepreneurs into our lives,” says Shamsa. “Being a woman entrepreneur in a rural area can be lonely and isolating. This program brought us a community of like-minded women with endless amounts of support and help to troubleshoot areas of our business we had been struggling with. Our fearless leader, Claire, has brought so much energy, passion and insight to every call. We feel confident our business is going in the right direction and have gained so much knowledge from the incredible women in the cohort.”
Since it began selling its products online, Afiya Beauty’s sales have increased by 20%. The sisters say they now have more clarity about how to grow and scale its business thanks to the WE-CAN mentorship it has received. “We have been able to pivot and embrace online sales which has opened us up to all of Canada, whereas we were hyperlocal prior to COVID-19.”