The Soap Box Kuwait, and BLOOM, The Cosmeceutical for Arabia
By Nourah Al-Oseimi
Exclusive to The Times, Kuwait
Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a lavender farm somewhere in Ireland. Imagine the fresh, clean air. Breathe it in, breathe it out.
I walk into a uniquely spa- like store on a Thursday afternoon and the scent of freshly cut lavender takes over my senses and transports me somewhere else completely. I am standing amongst visuals of a beautiful, violet-colored oasis on my left and rose gold and pearl jewel-like bottles on my right and I quietly observe as Astrid Al Hadeedi converses with two customers about different skin care products and soaps.
Astrid makes no assumptions; she simply listens to what they are looking for and offers friendly advice. She does not push them to buy anything, instead she wants them to know the choice is entirely theirs. I immediately deduce that she cares about her customers, and she respects her product.
I turn to Yousef Al Hadeedi, Astrid’s son, who greets me with the same warmth as Astrid and he begins to tell me the origins of how his parents met and how that story, from so long ago, set into motion the events that followed. “My Dad is a surgeon, and my Mum is a registered nurse.
They met in an operating room! My dad has naturally very dry skin and being a surgeon, he frequently has to scrub his hands. Mum, who has always had an interest in health and wellness, suggested he start using handmade soaps which are cleansing but also moisturizing. Such soaps were not available in Kuwait at that time.”
Astrid chips in, “We started buying handmade cold process soap whenever we went abroad and we realized it made quite a significant improvement so every time we traveled we would stock up. But soap is heavy and soon we realized that this lovely soap was taking up a lot of our baggage allowance! And then a very dear friend gave me a box of handmade soap. They had been made in Kuwait, by an American lady (who soon after left Kuwait). I thought to myself, “Well if she can make it in Kuwait, then so can I!” Astrid continues to tell me more about the origins of the business as well as each person’s role within it.
“I’m very much a self-taught soap maker who also loves the science of skincare. After lots of trials and experiments I knew I had hit the magic formula. Our soaps are 100 percent natural and we use only pure, plant-based essential oils to scent our soaps. That is quite a luxury in these chemical-laden days. Of course, the more soap I made, the more our house smelt lovely.
By then I was making for the wider family and giving it to friends as gifts. Very quickly I noticed some people felt embarrassed to ask for more and asked me if they could order and pay for the soaps I was making. I have a Health and Wellness background, I am not one bit business oriented so I suggested to Yousef, who has a degree in Business Administration, why don’t we go into business together?” We already had a ‘boutique’ style lavender farm in Ireland, which we planted for fun and for its beauty in 2013. So somehow it seemed that all things were ‘coming together’.
A simple question that prompted the establishment of a high-quality business by a family who really care about customer service, offering premium products and above all, nurturing one another and allowing each other to shine.
“I’m only 33 percent of the business. Two of my children make up the other 33 percent of the business. Yousef handles the business, marketing and facilities management. The other 33 percent lies in the branding, which is a vital element to our business. In a saturated market, what will make you pick one product over another? We are enormously proud of the branding of our two separate skin care lines, The Soap Box Kuwait and BLOOM, The Cosmeceutical for Arabia. The person who gets the claim to fame for this is Lara, Yousef’s sister and my daughter.
An Art Director by profession, Lara has ensured that our branding and our adherence to our brand ethos exceeds most of the international names available in Kuwait. Every ‘touch point’ for customers is elegant, luxurious, easy, and tempting. Customers frequently praise us for this.
Astrid provided me with details on how their family set up their business as a partnership following which I asked both her and Yousef about how their operation was funded. Astrid recalls how the business was funded in its early days and how the support they obtained from the Government really helped them lay a foundation for their first brand, The Soap Box Kuwait, a business created by a Kuwaiti family, in Kuwait and for the people of Kuwait and beyond.
“At the same time as we thought of building a business, the late Amir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah (Rest in Peace) had initiated the Kuwait National Fund for Small and Medium Enterprises. This fund was created to provide financing to suitable. Kuwaiti entrepreneurs who wanted to start their own business.
To qualify for funding, entrepreneurs had to attend a two- month training program on all aspects of entrepreneurship and business planning. Then we had to submit our detailed plan and vision for the first three years.
We were successful and received some funding that we put towards our own capital. Within six months of receiving funding we had set up our shop, website and production facility.” Yousef chirps in and adds, “Our initial growth was slow, but in our second year two extremely entrepreneurial girls started Qout Farmer’s Market which was a wonderful marketing help for us. Using lavender we grow on our own lavender farm in Ireland, we like to say that we are mixing the clean and green of Ireland with the culture of the Arabian Hammam.
We were completely aligned with Qout’s ethos of farm to table, though we were farm to spa! Based on the success of Qout Market, we were being requested to join different markets across the country which was a wonderful salute to us. We were not very well into the digital world at the time.”
It was not long before customers of The Soap Box Kuwait started asking this duo for products for the face that were just as great as the ones they were producing for the body. They knew too that businesses do not stand still, they either grow or become more specialized.
Astrid and Yousef decided to grow and in late 2020 they launched BLOOM, The Cosmeceutical for Arabia. Bloom is a facial skincare brand that is designed specifically for the hot, dry, and frequently dusty climate we have in Kuwait and for the Arabian skin type exposed to that climate. It is the first time anyone has scientifically developed a product for the Arabian skin type.
Astrid explained to me the rationale and inspiration behind Bloom as a concept. “Bloom is targeted towards the modern, educated Kuwaiti. It is minimal, just three products containing all seven actives needed to protect, nourish and enhance facial skin that is exposed to a seriously harsh climate.
We need to get real on this excessive consumption and excessive purchasing of products that are not suited for us or are left in a drawer to expire because we have too much. Also, so much of the available skincare in Kuwait is produced for Northern American and European skin types living in more temperate climates.
“We decided to be the bridge between what dermatologists were saying about what our ladies in Kuwait are complaining of and what cosmetic scientists were able to produce.” Astrid further elaborates on her involvement in the product development process, and I find that my initial observations of her with her customers were completely accurate.
“We have taken the knowledge of what the problem is with the solutions of what really, really works and brought that to the cosmetic laboratories to make that product. We spent an enormous amount of money in developing a product regime in which we hoped the result of the product would sell the product. And then along came COVID-19. “So we are back a little in time” says Astrid, “relaunching a relatively new brand!”
I turn to Yousef and ask him how family dynamics affect their ability to run their business together. Do they struggle at all?
“Everybody has their part in their own way. We make decisions together but each person has their own area of specialty. We’ve been doing it for a while so we kind of know what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are and that helps in a way. If we disagree on something, we debate it.” I turn to Astrid with the same question.
“My husband, he is the most ambassadorial, diplomatic and wonderful leader. When things are going in a way that isn’t helpful he will come in with that word of advice and it will be exactly spot on. Because he’s not in the situation, he can see it for what it really is. It’s charming also that our Soap Box Kuwait logo has the letter S in it. S for Soap and Sabon and my husband’s initial!
Yousef has a very easygoing and extremely patient personality, I am the complete opposite, I am the most impatient person in the world which drives my children bonkers but at the same time, I think that they recognize it’s my determination to get things done. It’s a synergy.
Seeing how family-oriented the Al-Hadeedi family is truly warmed my heart. As an owner-managed business, Astrid and I joked about the culture of ‘modeer’ (Arabic word for manager) in Kuwait and how most owners are not as involved in their day-to-day business as Astrid, Yousef and Lara are.
Yousef further elaborates. “We are always trying to think outside the box, to connect with our customers and grow our customer base. From time to time we conduct workshops here [at Dar Al Awadhi] as this is a private area during the evenings. In the past we’ve had soapmaking demos, ‘make your own body scrub’, ‘understanding facial oils and serums’, etc.. A lot of people understand us through these events. They’re very in tune with the brand, they’ve met the founder and the product developer.”
I found myself wondering whether having a physical store was warranted considering The Soap Box’s strong digital presence and same-day shipping policy for online orders.
Yousef, the business mastermind, quickly responds, “In any business, having a bricks and mortar as well as an online presence actually builds on both platforms. And when we attended Qout Market, we could always say that ‘we’re in Dar Al Awadhi’ and it brought a lot more trust and strength to the brand. It’s a cultural/Middle Eastern thing where people want to smell/touch/feel the product and they love meeting us.”
I couldn’t agree more. I certainly loved meeting Yousef and Astrid and learning about their family, their business, and their ethos as entrepreneurs. As our conversation ended, both Yousef and Astrid wanted to emphasize how excited they are for what the future holds.
They have aspirations for Bloom to grow and for The Soap Box to expand across the country. “In an ideal world we’ll see both brands reach the wider GCC” I, myself, have no doubts over the wonderful successes that the future will hold for this incredible family.
Nourah Al-Oseimi is a 30-year-old Kuwaiti who holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration. Nourah has worked in different places such as the Central Bank of Kuwait and the United Nations. She serves as a free-lance contributing writer to The Times Kuwait – News magazine.