You might know her as the rebellious modest fashion/lifestyle blogger on Instagram. But what you might not know about the iconic Ascia Al Faraj is that she runs two unique and wildly successful businesses.
Away from the Gram’s glam, Ascia shared with us her journey with her ventures, ‘Desert Baby’ and ‘Seoul Kool’, and proved to us that a woman not only manages to wear many hats, but can also excel in them too.
I thought to myself that if we didn’t have one in the Middle East yet, I would be the one to just jump in, feet first. - Ascia Al Faraj
1. Your journey on social media started as a fashion blogger when the concept wasn’t that familiar in the Middle East region. What urged you to start blogging? And why did you choose fashion as your “genre”?
I was really active online in the fashion blogging community as a consumer of other peoples content. I quickly grew really tired of not being able to replicate what I saw online (outfits, lifestyle, etc) in my own region because I was only able to find bloggers from the US or Europe that were online. I thought to myself that if we didn’t have one in the Middle East yet, I would be the one to just jump in, feet first.
It began more like a social experiment at first since women were not necessarily the first image you thought of when it came to Middle Eastern media. Watching everyone’s reactions to it was like my mini feminist rebellion & I delighted in pushing the boundaries until the status quo caught up a bit. Fashion was my chosen genre because it’s the most accessible on the consumer level. There’s always some form of relatability in fashion, whereas other genres can be more polarizing.
2. Throughout the years, we couldn’t help but notice how your personal brand has been evolving on social media platforms. Does this evolvement reflect your personal growth or is it based on the evolvement of the industry?
Purely based on my own personal growth. I started blogging at age 21: still in university, still living with my parents and the expectations that came with that. I’m turning 30 this year, married with my own household, children and businesses. So much of my personality has changed and sharing that with my audience is the most important thing about being in social media.
Staying as authentic to yourself is the only way to stay sane in an industry that demands so much from you. I didn’t want to lose myself in the process of it.
3. As you may have noticed, our region is saturated with Instagram accounts eager to be the new “influencer” in the block. As an expert in this field, what’s your advice for people who want to monetize their Instagram accounts?
There’s room for everyone in the industry. Representation from all walks of life truly matters. My advice for new accounts is to stay authentic even when it sucks sometimes, stay away from the petty drama that can sometimes blow up in our industry, and be.about.your.brand. Do not allow businesses or brands or people to sway you from it. We’re in a time where everyone is looking for people who feel real and monetizing yourself will come when you earn people’s trust.
4. By 2015, your name began rising in the Arab world as one of the most successful fashion icons on social media, specifically for modest fashion. However, you started paving your path as an entrepreneur with Desert Baby that produces fashionable and safe goodies for newborns-toddlers. Why did you choose to start a business that serves this niche market instead of one that caters to the needs of the majority of your followers?
I never wanted to start a business that I couldn’t stand behind as an avid user of the product. I have a business doing that already: as an influencer I stand behind the products I use for short spurts or for trials then advertise about them. I wanted the business that I owned and operated to come from a place of love and passion, and at the time Desert Baby launched I was a new mom to a one year old boy who loved being in a sling while I worked. It was a natural progression to start something centered around children that I could be passionate about.
5. How does Desert Baby stand out from its competitors in the region and worldwide?
We try to locally source all of our products and the components when possible. Desert Baby as a brand really meant home for me, and home meant the entirety of the Middle East. If we can commission a job to be done within Kuwait (despite the cost) we will. Job creation and fueling the economy of our region was and still remains one of the pillars to our business. Everyday we come closer to being able to open our own factory in Kuwait so we can give back to our community by hiring people that might have difficulty getting jobs elsewhere. That’s the goal. That’s the dream. I’d love to use our businesses as a means of providing a safe haven for underrepresented members of our community, but in the meantime we’ll hustle hard to make that happen.
6. Few years after Desert Baby, we witnessed the birth of your second successful business, Seoul Kool, the brand that aptly introduced the Korean skin care products to the Middle East region. What motivated you to start this brand?
I’ve had the worst time with my skin for years. It’s been such a source of instability with my own self confidence and I know that to be true firsthand, so I assumed (correctly, I hope!) that it was an issue for others around me. Skincare that was able to do anything for my skin was expensive to maintain, and I didn’t want to resort to medication unless I truly had to. My business partner Angie introduced me to Korean skincare and it changed my life. It’s affordable, ahead of its time, and it WORKS. It motivated me to want to make it accessible to others, and after much brainstorming with Angie - Seoul Kool was born.
7. What are the challenges that you’ve been facing with Seoul Kool, and how have you been managing to overcome them?
While we may not be the first to bring Korean skincare to the MENA region, we definitely were the first to introduce it properly...and nothing is more time consuming than a proper introduction. Nothing is more costly than spending time on educating a new consumer to a completely foreign concept that can sometimes be overwhelming if not done with compassion and care. The education aspect has been the most challenging task we’ve taken on, because it’s a constant necessity with our products. They’re not self-explanatory. They’re not shoes or makeup or clothing. We’ve been managing to overcome that challenge by putting together a very culturally diverse team and trusting them with the job of looking at our products from all angles & simplifying it for the consumer. Skincare is personal, and it needs a personal touch.
8. We’ve noticed that you’re keen on spreading kindness and love in this world through your personal account. Being the owner of a brand, and the co-founder of another, what kind of CSR initiatives do your brands focus on?
We’re still in our infancy as a brand, but it was important for both of our brands to have an overall aura and ethos of inclusion, acceptance and self-love.
With Desert Baby, we’re selling you something for your child and there’s truly nothing harder than feeling like a good parent when making choices on behalf of your children. While we’re only able to begin CSR initiatives this year with Desert Baby, I know that giving parents a safe space to ask questions & make mistakes will be our main focus.
With Seoul Kool, we’re selling you skincare. We’re technically in the beauty industry and while beauty on a whole is so varied, it’s sometimes not the most inclusive space...especially in our region. We’re working really hard at making sure no one feels left out in the industry. We also don’t want to make you feel bad about yourself to sell you something. Skincare isn’t about covering up what people identify as problems. It’s about accepting yourself as you are, and caring for that self. Not changing it, altering it or hating it. But, caring for it. Skincare is about taking the time to focus on just yourself in between the hectic schedules we all have. That is definitely the core of all the CSR initiatives we’re rolling out this year.
With both brands, we’re moving them over to more sustainable packaging, recycling schemes for customers to bring empty bottles in, and we’ll be focusing this year on better business practices when it comes to our carbon footprint.
9. A lot of our readers might not know that you’re not only a brilliant businesswoman, you’re a loving caring wife and a mother to two adorable boys as well. What is your secret behind balancing between these two demanding worlds?
Communicate endlessly with your life partner. Develop a community of people who you trust to care for your children when you sometimes cannot. And don’t be afraid to say you’re overwhelmed or that you need help. You’re not a failure, you’ve just never been through this stage of your life before: when your child turns two, you’ve never had a two year old while running a business before. When your child is teething, you’ve never functioned on such little sleep before. Recognize that this is your first time, or this is a hard time, and allow other people who love you to help you through it. We were all put on this Earth together to aide one another: strangers, family, friends. Believe that in your core and life becomes so much more beautiful.
10. Any plans for a third venture in the horizon?
Unless that third venture is developing a way to also get work done while you sleep...then probably not just yet.
© 2000 - 2021 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)