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Follow The Leader: Salama Mohamed, Founder, Peacefull The Emirati entrepreneur and social media influencer gets candid on how she came to launch UAE-grown skincare brand Peacefull and what she considers her biggest milestone (yet).

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Salama Mohamed, founder, Peacefull

This article is a part of the 2023 edition of Entrepreneur Middle East's annual Follow The Leader series, in which enterprise head honchos from the region talk strategy, industry-specific tactics, and professional challenges as they lead their respective businesses to success.

Here's the thing about getting to interview someone who's constantly in the limelight: you worry, for the merest of seconds, if the person might not turn out to be how they are onscreen. But that was far from the case when I got to interview Salama Mohamed, the Emirati founder of UAE-based skincare brand Peacefull and a social media influencer, who spoke to me with the same level of honesty, humility, and humor that many among us have known and admired her for over the years.

Indeed, much before launching Peacefull in June 2021, Mohamed had already built an online presence for herself via social media. With impeccable comedic timing at her disposal, much of her content has been lighthearted takes on topics such as family and marriage. But amid providing a daily dash of laughter, Mohamed also struck a chord with her audience for being very open and honest about living with vitiligo, a chronic, autoimmune skin condition that leads to patches of skin to lose its pigmentation. "Prior to Peacefull, I had a pattern on social media… [and] it kept leading me back to skin," Mohamed recalls. "Everyone was interested in my story about vitiligo. I wasn't your typical person on social media. I created a community, a family. I felt like that was the whole aspect of Salama being on social media- to actually make a difference, even if it's less than 1%. I wanted it to be as real, as true to me and myself as possible. I discovered that talking about vitiligo publicly and openly made people feel comfortable in their own skin, which led me into doing campaigns for skincare. But throughout that journey -on social media and doing campaigns about skincare- I discovered that there is no skincare catered specifically to those in the Middle East! We're a highly profitable market that generates money for the beauty industry, but there is nothing that was made for us. I took that quite personally."

Mohamed's first area of focus, while creating a region-specific skincare brand, was to find the right mix of ingredients. Having known all too well what the struggles of sensitive skin can be, Mohamed decided to turn to Korean skincare which she regards as "the best in the world." That led to her spending time studying and analyzing the active ingredients –i.e. the key elements in a skincare product that particularly target a condition like acne, uneven skin tone, clogged pores, etc.- within Korean products. "Because of my vitiligo, I have super sensitive skin," Mohamed reveals. "I get allergic reactions from the highest end products to the drugstore ones. My body cannot even handle antibiotics for acne! On top of that, my body is so sensitive that I can't take Accutane [a medication for acne]. This is where I shifted my focus into active ingredients, and I started using Korean skincare, and I soon noticed the healing [I got from it]. That gave me the motivation to start my own skincare line."

By thus making use of the best of what Korean skincare has to offer, Peacefull has been formulated as a brand for anyone who has to withstand the Middle Eastern heat and humidity. "Having a skincare that is inclusive for every skin tone, every skin type, and every gender, and specifically for our Middle East weather- this is where the idea and the whole of Peacefull came from," Mohamed emphasizes. "People often think that Salama is Emirati, and Peacefull is an Emirati brand, so that means it's for Arab skin. But there is no such thing as Arab skin! There is the Arab sun, the Arab weather… But every single Peacefull product is for every skin tone and type. It's for you. It's for me. It's for everyone else. It's from the people, for the people. And it is from a person who suffered not having skincare, to everyone else that is on the same journey."

Source: Peacefull

Now, coincidentally, my Zoom call with Mohamed was just two days after Peacefull's two-year anniversary. Since its launch, the startup has already received plenty of accolades from the likes of Condé Nast and Vogue Business Global. In 2022, Mohamed also won the Fashion & Beauty Leader award at the inaugural Women SME Leaders Awards, an annual event staged by Mastercard and Entrepreneur Middle East.

But Peacefull's most recent milestone came in June this year via Mohamed's status as a longtime high-profile supporter of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Through a collaboration with Made51, a UNHCR initiative that provides work opportunities for refugee artisans, Peacefull connected with RefuSHE, a Kenya-based social enterprise for women, to curate a unique project: the designing of eco-friendly limited-edition t-shirt towels crafted by Kenyan refugee women. The entire process was also filmed and turned into a documentary titled She And Her Dignity, which was made in collaboration with Made51, UNHCR, and RefuSHE. "We flew to Kenya and documented stories of four refugees, and the fifth one was a student's point of view," Mohamed elaborates. "During this process, we were able to create a co-branded product: a t-shirt towel, which is hand tie-dyed in refugee compounds, through which Peacefull is enabling these women to stand on their own feet, restore dignity back to women, and not label them as refugees and victims- in fact, these women are heroes!" Notably, this partnership aligned with one of Peacefull's corporate social responsibility initiatives, namely, "Purchase with a Purpose," which has seen a portion of the funds raised through the sales of the exclusive t-shirt towels donated to the UNHCR.

Related: A Return To Roots: Black Flamingo Beauty Co-Founders Mona Gulaid And Mariam Abdillahi Have Created A UAE-Based Natural Skincare Brand That Pays Homage To Their Native Somaliland

But as Mohamed continues to list what she's most proud of in her entrepreneurial journey so far, it becomes all too evident that creating a lasting social impact is a defining factor of her leadership. "Changing men's perception [about skincare]…that's been a huge achievement for us!" Mohamed declares. "For Peacefull, most of our purchases come from men. It's about 53%-54%, which is amazing! Because that is a huge pat on the back for how our formulation is inclusive. I wanted to create a product that men are not ashamed of using. That's one of the reasons why it took me years and years to formulate, to perfect the formula. I'd been working on Peacefull three years before launching itfrom the research to manufacturing, to formulation to creating the product. But eventually, I discovered that it's not my journey alone. It started as my journey, but in the process of creating it, I realized it's everyone else's too."

Through a collaboration with UNHCR's Made51, Peacefull worked with Kenya-based social enterprise RefuSHE to create eco-friendly limited-edition T-shirt towels esigned and crafted by Kenyan refugee women. Source: Peacefull

Here, it comes as no surprise to me that the one thing Mohamed rates as her greatest success so far goes beyond titles and numbers. "If I keep talking about them [the milestones], I'm going to cry by the end of it," she says. "Trust me, I have an ugly cry, you don't want to see it! So many things that I'm extremely thankful for, alhamdulillah. But my biggest achievement, honestly, is having a team that believes in Peacefull and me. No amount of awards or articles can give you that feeling of having a strong group of women -and one man now- to actually see your vision, and help you grow and thrive. That's my biggest milestone."

It is this sense of long-term purpose that Mohamed has found through launching her own brand that she now hopes to replicate on a larger scale. "Peacefull is not just about the company or the product- it is a relationship, it is an experience, and it is about how it makes you feel," Mohamed says. "That's the legacy I want to leave behind. I want it to be known that it's not unusual for the UAE to be a leader in every single field. And I want to follow in the steps of our country's leaders. Of course, they are huge shoes that cannot be filled, but I just want to try my best to be a leader in innovation, creation, integrity and transparency. And to be in people's hearts, because Peacefull ultimately is a lifestyle. It's not a brand. It's a journey of self-love and self-care, and we want to be a part of that!"

A portion of the funds raised through the sales of the exclusive t-shirt towels were donated to the UNHCR.. Source: Peacefull

And within Mohamed's vision is a lesson for many up-and-coming entrepreneurs who might feel tempted to take an unethical -but quicker- route to success. But the key to longevity, Mohamed suggests, is to stay on the road of integrity. "I personally don't take a shortcut in anything," she says. "Peacefull is not here to be a trend. We're not here to generate wealth, and take the market by storm… And that is why you don't see us in every single store. We're very selective in where to go, because we want to build trust. We've only launched five items [so far], because it's important for people to build a relationship with each and every product. You need to try it. You need to test it. And so, word of mouth is extremely important for Peacefull's credibility. For me, success is when someone says they tried Peacefull because someone recommended it to them. We want to be here for generations to come."

But for someone who wishes to inspire the masses, Mohamed reveals that she herself had no role model to look up to when she started her career. "That's why I try my best to be the role model that I needed as a kid," Mohamed says. "Of course, I have support at home, and within my circle. But I did not have a mentor throughout my journey- because who can mentor me with how crazy I am! My formulations are out of the box, and out of this world, and it's hard to find someone that can relate to your insanity at such an early stage. That's why I'm trying my best to help anyone and everyone who wants to step into this field."

Now, having personally admired Mohamed for many years, I must confess I took this particular moment during the interview as an opportunity to ask the mother of two something that's always been on my mind: what is Salama Mohamed's secret to a healthy work-life balance? Her answer, as expected, did not stray away from candid honesty. "If you ever hear anyone answering about work-life balance in a nice way, just tell them that Salama says that's a lie!" she laughs. "There is no such thing as work-life balance. If you know the formula, please help me. It really depends on what's priority on a given day. If it's family, then it's family. If it's work, then it's work. I am yet to find a work-life balance. My job is to put out fires on a daily basis. But you have to just adapt, and do everything in moderation. And you just take it day by day. Have a set of goals obviously, but be agile enough to know that sometimes it doesn't go your way, and you just have to be flexible and go with the flow."

Salama Mohamed, Founder, Peacefull. Source: Peacefull

As someone who has clearly learnt to juggle multiple responsibilities at once, there is quite obviously a lot of to-do's on Mohamed's list. But there is one thing, she reveals, that she hasn't yet learnt how to do. "One thing I am working on very closely with my psychiatrist is knowing how to celebrate," she says. "I do not celebrate any achievement. It's always on to the next one. I don't even have a 'yay!' moment. That's something that I don't know the root cause of, but I'm working very closely on. I wouldn't change anything about myself, but if I would change one thing, I would change that. I want to be able to celebrate and recognize the achievements that I can claim."

It is thus with such a learning mindset that Mohamed has started working towards new goals for Peacefull. "We're excited to launch our new line by the end of the year," she reveals. "We're dedicating this line as a tribute to the UAE and the Middle East. We'll hopefully be expanding internationally at the end of the year as well. Things are exciting and bright, and we're taking the world one product at a time. This is as far as I can share now, so stay tuned, I guess!"

Related: Different Roles, One Goal: How Loulou Khazen Baz Is Directing All Her Efforts Toward Enriching The MENA Startup Ecosystem

Aalia Mehreen Ahmed

Features Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aalia Mehreen Ahmed is the Features Editor 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 particularly keen on writing stories involving people-centric leadership, female-owned startups, and entrepreneurs who've beaten significant odds to realize their goals.

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