Understanding Muslim Beauty: The endless growing opportunity

Apr 25 2017

What is the real opportunity for Muslim beauty? Let’s start with the numbers, which are truly impressive, before sharing  some research on what Muslim women want from beauty and the relationship between beauty and Muslim values. Let’s then look at one beauty brand that I think has been successful in capturing these needs and values, before putting Muslim beauty into a broader context of global beauty trends.

The Pew Research Center predicts that the global population of Muslims will increase by 73% between 2010 and 2050, reaching 2.7 million people (an increase of 750 million). The same projection predicts that Muslims will be the largest religious group in the world by 2070. Muslims have a very young age profile too.

And they also have money to spend. In 2014, Muslim beauty was worth 54 billion dollars and is predicted to reach 80 billion in another three years. Muslim beauty is important for ASEAN as well as globally, with around 235 million Muslims (more than a third of ASEAN’s population).

The success of beauty brands that appeal to Muslims is based on two foundations. The first is halal certification, and especially a focus on natural and recommended ingredients (and the absence of haram ingredients such as alcohol). While this is important, there is more to success than this, especially when halal certification becomes obligatory in some countries (for example, by 2019 in Indonesia).

Before I come to the second, let’s look at what Muslim women from beauty and what Islamic values can teach us about Muslim beauty.

My company TapestryWorks uses implicit and visual research approaches to understand the deeper motivations of human behaviour. We used visual card sorts to understand the implicit motivations of women in relation to beauty and you can see examples of the visual cards on the slide.

The cards map into a framework of 12 motivations and human archetypes. For this presentation, I have simplified this to 6 core beauty missions: the need for Sophistication (representing independence and self-reliance and including Confidence and Strength ), the need for Discovery (mind and body), the need for Fun and Freedom, the need for Affiliation (romantic Love and group Belonging), the need for Harmony (including Idealism and Nurture) and the need for Order (of the physical world and in the mind).

The two largest Muslim populations in ASEAN are in Indonesia and Malaysia, so let’s look at these countries, first at the whole population. You can see that Indonesian women are more motivated by Harmony, Order and Fun, while Malaysian women are more motivated by Sophistication and Discovery.

Do Muslim women have different goals from others? If we look at Indonesia and Malaysia, we can see the differences between Muslim women and those from other faiths. Muslim women have a stronger desire for Affiliation and especially for Harmony.

What do I mean by Harmony? While halal means ‘permitted’, tayyab means ‘wholesome’ and implies a sense of integrity. Tayyab stands for the implicit values that are implied by the explicit sign of halal. Put another way, tayyab stands for the inner beauty that lies underneath physical appearances, including a respect for the environment and an ethical supply chain.

Some of the earliest verses in the Qur’an invoke nature including the skies, the dawn, the sun, the moon, trees, mountains, the desert and water. These symbols of nature are signs pointing to the existence of the Creator and the ultimate meaning of life. Nature is above humans and not below them.

Cleanliness is an important daily ritual. Water is believed to purify both the outer physical self and the inner spiritual self. Finally, modesty is a key principle in Islam. Dignity or nobility is an innate characteristic of humans. The belief underlying this is that the worth of a person’s being is measured by their heart and not by their body. The concept of modesty tells us that there is something superior to the visible and physical. Spirituality is intrinsically modest, encompassing the physical, intellectual and emotional too.

The success of Muslim beauty brands is based on two foundations. While Halal certification is important, I believe that the look and feel of brands will ultimately be much more important to building a successful beauty brand for Muslim women (or men).

How would this look for a brand? One of the most successful beauty brands in ASEAN in recent years is Wãrdah which has been hugely successful in Indonesia. As well as having halal certification, using Muslim models and designing products for specific occasions, what is most notable about the brand its look and feel.

Wardah captures the implicit codes I have mentioned. The brand looks and feels very natural. It creates a strong sense of Affiliation with casual settings and everyday make-up styles in their communication. Wardah looks and feels “soft, pure, elegant and modest” (in the words of Shelina Janmohamed).

This Wardah is implicitly Muslim, as is clear from the values that are stated on their website.

Going beyond the words and imagery, the name Wardah is the Arabic word for rose, and the turquoise colour has a deep symbolic meaning of purity and long-life (as well as a very premium feel). Even more, green is the colour of Islam and blue is the colour of water, sky and heaven.

Other international brands are following the lead of Wardah and other local brands. Unilever’s Sunsilk brand was one of the first to identify that the hair needs of women who cover their heads are quite different. Going beyond this, they created ground-breaking adverts featuring no hair whatsoever, focusing on hijab styling rather than hair styling. You might notice some similarities in the look and feel of these ads compared with Wardah.

Are there any broader lessons that the beauty industry can learn from these examples and the success of some Muslim beauty brands? According to Mintel and Euromonitor, there are three global trends in beauty that are very relevant here, and very aligned with these values.

Overall, the market for green beauty products is growing, and especially the demand for and focus on natural, botanical and herbal ingredients. This is described in one report as “from the laboratory to the kitchen”, something that beautifully fits with South East Asian traditions.

Related to this, there is an increasing awareness of products with concentrated chemical ingredients or with deep penetration of skin, and a desire for products that can deliver the same effectiveness using more gentle and natural approaches.

Thirdly, there is an increasing demand for organic, environmentally-friendly and ethical beauty products. Euromonitor’s most recent report shows that this demand is highest in this part of the world, and Indonesia ranks first in the desire for green cosmetics.

In summary, Muslim’s demand natural, gentle and ethical beauty. Perhaps there is an even bigger opportunity than Muslim beauty?

[This is a written version of a presentation to the ASEAN Cosmetic Association conference in Bangkok on 28 April 2017. You can access the slide show here.]


Generation M: Young Muslims changing the world by Shelina Janmohamed

“All eyes on Asia’s halal beauty market: What brands need to know” by Elison Lim, WARC, May 2016

“The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050” by Pew Research Center, 2 April, 2015

New Muslim Consumer Landscape by JWT Intelligence (April 2017)

Euromonitor International Beauty Survey (2016)

Mintel Trends 2025: Beauty & Personal Care

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