Shifting Trends: The Grooming Lab CEO Zein Arbeed Is Ushering Modern Day Masculinity Into The MENA Region With Her Enterprise The Dubai-based distributing platform offers skincare, shaving, hairstyling, and haircare items for men.

By Aalia Mehreen Ahmed

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The Grooming Lab
Zein Arbeed, CEO, The Grooming Lab

The concept of masculinity and its many connotations has seen a seismic social shift over the past decade, with it now no longer being defined by the restrictive viewpoints that were typical of past generations. One of the topics that have come out of this discourse is on how skincare and/or makeup are no longer the sole domain of women, and The Grooming Lab, launched in 2017 by Zein Arbeed, was born out of this gradual breakage in social constructs.

The Dubai-based distributing platform offers skincare, shaving, hairstyling, and haircare items for men. Arbeed's previous work as a client servicing manager at an ad agency and in the UAE's fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) sector allowed her to notice a lack of dedicated premium male grooming products in the region. "Men today want to feel good about themselves, and they are also more actively and openly seeking skincare and beauty services," explains Arbeed. "But I noticed that barber shops and pharmacies had more mass-market male grooming brands, and I realized there was a gap for niche and exclusive brands. We wanted to convert the concept of "must have' to "can't do without.'"

In its opening year, The Grooming Lab launched the sale of the very first brand on its platform- Captain Fawcett, a beard grooming and shaving products range. Soon after, it distributed a hairstyling brand called Dapper Dan. In 2019, the firm started distribution of Jaxon Lane, a Korean skincare clean beauty brand for men, with the most popular item being a facemask for men called BROMASK. "Face masks have always been a thing in the cosmetics and skincare industry, but recent trends are leaning towards creating masks that cater to the male demographic," Arbeed reveals. "BROMASK uses hydrogel to ensure active ingredients are absorbed into the skin, for maximum results. This mask is also made in two pieces, so men with beards can use it."

Zein Arbeed, Founder and CEO, The Grooming Lab. Source: The Grooming Lab

This was followed by the distribution of The Groomed Man C, an Australian men's skincare and grooming brand with a focus on botanicals and clean beauty for men, in 2020. The visibly recurring phrase in a lot of these products is "clean beauty." Arbeed says that this facet of the business is important more than ever now owing to a shift in consumer psychology. "Men are increasingly demanding clean and environmentally responsible credentials from the brands they support," she explains. "The importance of using "clean beauty' products will only continue to gain traction in the Middle East, since consumers are becoming savvier by the day. At The Grooming Lab, "doing good' is part of our culture, and although we aren't perfect, we're continuously looking at ways to become more sustainable."

Related: Sustainable Innovations Can Give the Beauty Industry A Much-Needed Boost Post-COVID-19

Apropos of the rise in demand for male grooming products in the MENA region, Arbeed says that factors like the role of social media and the increase in spending power among millenials have all led to the rapid diminishing of male grooming as a social taboo. Notably, recent studies have shown that this changed perception around the globe is being imbibed from East Asian and South East Asian cultures, where skincare for men is seen as a necessity and is often taught from a very young age. Take, for example, the global impact of South Korean boyband BTS, arguably the biggest group in the world and the face of the K-pop industry, and how they've made the notions of softer masculinity increasingly more accessible and mainstream. "As a modern man, you know that neither you nor your peers consider it feminine to visit a skin clinic or use specialized products," adds Arbeed. "Social taboos, which a few decades back implied that men who took pride in their appearance were less masculine, are fast dropping. There is a collective transition towards a healthier and more matured version of masculinity now."

The results of these modern trends translate well into business numbers too. Research by Statista shows that the global male grooming market is expected to be worth approximately US$81.2 billion by 2024. This is reflective of what is happening in the MENA region, in particular, too- a Euromonitor study showed that the GCC has high levels of per capita spending on men's grooming, and that it is comparable with that of Western European countries.

According to Arbeed, these trends will continue well into the future as well. It is this optimism that highlights Arbeed's hopes for the future of The Grooming Lab. "Over the next few years I want to revolutionize the men's grooming industry in the region," she says. "I want The Grooming Lab to be a one-stop-shop for all things men's grooming- from haircare and hair styling products to beard and shaving items, dedicated skincare ranges for the face and body, and other aspects of men's personal hygiene and care. From an industry perspective, I would like to cover a considerable amount of the B2B market (men's barber-shops, salons, and spas) and the luxury retail market, both in-store and online, across the UAE, and then move to other areas in the GCC."

A point must be made here about the fact that Arbeed is -quite literally- a woman in a man's world, because after all, she's the CEO of an enterprise that caters solely to the male population. When asked how her experience has been in this regard, Arbeed responds positively. "It's been challenging, fun-filled and very rewarding to be an Arab woman selling men's grooming products in the Middle East," she says. "I do get asked a lot by owners and decision makers if I own the company, and often, they are surprised when they discover it's I who owns and runs the company. But I also get a lot of respect from them, and that's the great part of being an Arab woman in this business in this part of the world!"

Related: Follow The Leader: Laudy Lahdo, Interim CEO And Senior Advisor, Companies Creating Change (C3)

Aalia Mehreen Ahmed

Features Writer, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aalia Mehreen Ahmed is the Features Writer at Entrepreneur Middle East.

She is an MBA (Finance) graduate with past experience in the corporate sector, and was also co-founder of CyberSWIFTT- an anti-cyberbullying campaign that ran from 2017-2018 as part of the e7: Daughters of the Emirates program.

Ahmed is keen on pursuing and writing stories on people-centric leadership, female-owned startups, and entrepreneurs who've beaten significant odds to realize their goals.

A bibliophile, chai addict, and photography enthusiast, she can be often found (animatedly) talking about Kdramas, BTS, cricket, novels, and comic book films.

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