by ASJAD NAZIR
HOW SISTERS MYRA QURESHI AND REMA TASEER TEAMED TEAMED UP TO REVOLUTIONISE THE BEAUTY MARKET
SISTERS Myra Qureshi and Rema Taseer are revolutionising the beauty industry in Pakistan with certified all-natural products which use fresh and organically sourced ingredients free from harmful chemical components.
What started off with experiments in the kitchen to find perfect natural products for themselves led to them taking on a beauty market loaded with toxic materials and building up their brand Conatural, which is now branching out globally, including in the UK.
The big-thinking sisters have combined their entrepreneurial knowledge working in the corporate sector to build a profitable hair and skin care brand that has a rapidly-growing client list. They are also raising awareness about the dangers of chemical-based products and offering a natural, healthier alternative towards looking great.
Eastern Eye caught up with Myra and Rema to talk about their brand Conatural’s organic products, the secret to building up a business, beauty tips, their special bond, inspirations and more…
Have you always shared a close bond growing up?
Myra: As children, I found my sister Rema really annoying! She’s five years younger than me, wanted to hang out with my friends and do all the things she wasn’t allowed to! But as soon as I left for LSE, we became really close. Today she’s my best friend and confidante, but still pretty annoying (laughs).
Rema: Our five-year age gap meant we had different likes and dislikes as children. When Myra was a teenager, I wanted to do the same things she was doing but wasn’t allowed. But after I read Business and Sociology at Sussex, we got closer. We also lived together in London while I was at UCL pursuing an MSc in Construction Economics and Project Management.
What made you want to team up for the Conatural project?
Rema: We’d both reached a professional crossroads in our lives and found ourselves in Lahore at the same time with a shared entrepreneurial vision. Before that, I’d been working at the United Nations in New York and Islamabad, and the World Bank. We brainstormed about starting something with one product and taking it from there. And so Conatural was born.
What was the big challenge in setting up the brand?
Myra: We found the biggest challenge to be the lack of education and awareness about ‘safe’ beauty products. The Pakistani market is flooded with chemical-laden, carcinogenic beauty products and the average consumer doesn’t really know what they are putting on their skin. It’s sad that an everyday beauty product can cause major health issues, from skin irritation and pigmentation to hormonal disorders, neurotoxicity and even cancer! Moreover, people don’t quite comprehend what ‘certified organic’ actually means.
What do you mean?
Myra: Consumers think organic’ is synonymous to ‘natural’. Just because something is grown in your garden, it doesn’t make it organic. Certified organic status involves a lengthy, expensive and rigorous process. We have to spend a tremendous amount of time, resources and effort in educating consumers on how to read labels, make better and informed choices, and know what certified organic actually means.
How did you identify the products you wanted?
Rema: We take into account market trends and customer needs. After realising a significant gap in the market for certified organic and natural products, we launched Conatural starting with basic skin and hair care products, and later expanded.
Myra: We started off with only seven products in our range. We expanded after the increase in customer demand.
Tell us about the products in the range…
Myra: We offer a variety of products. These are organic soaps, facial moisturisers, body butter, body scrub, organic facial oils, SLS-free shampoo and conditioner, hair oils, eyelashes, massage oils, pillow mist and essential oils.
What have been the most popular products?
Rema: We have different products that are popular amongst different age groups. Our hair care range does particularly well among all ages and genders.
Why hasn’t something like this come out of Pakistan before?
Rema: Perhaps because people were not aware of the harmful effects of chemical-based products. They didn’t understand what certified organic really meant. Ever since we launched Conatural, it has been our aim to educate our customers regarding safe beauty products and the real meaning of certified organic. We’ve come a long way towards spreading awareness.
Do you think people often don’t know about the damage of chemical-based products?
Rema: An average customer is not very aware of the harmful effects of chemical-based products. There are so many people who don’t know what’s inside their products, as they don’t read labels.
What are the main benefits of natural products?
Myra: Natural and organic products are devoid of harmful chemicals, artificial colours, plastics (silicones) and carcinogenic preservatives, so are less likely to cause skin irritation. Besides being good for the skin, they’re earth-friendly, safe for the environment and cruelty-free. They’re naturally fragranced with plant botanicals or essential oils instead of chemicals. Natural and organic remedies have been effective for centuries and continue to be so.
What advice would you give those looking for natural products?
Myra: I would advise them to read the labels of the products. Make sure the products they are using are actually natural and free from toxic chemicals.
What are your favourite products?
Myra: The Skin Renew: Organic Age Defying Cream is my favourite. It has effective anti-aging properties.
Rema: It’s essential to use products that complement your skin type to maximise their effectiveness. I always choose natural formulations. For spring/summer, it’s important to keep your skin hydrated while using sunscreen to protect it from excessive exposure. At the onset of summer, I add yogurt, rosewater, and Conatural’s Saffron Complexion Builder to my skincare regimen. I leave this gel-like formulation in the fridge and apply it twice a day. I spray rosewater as a toner after washing my face. The instant glow facemask is mixed with yogurt and leaves my skin exfoliated and hydrated, and creates a perfect primer base for applying make-up.
What about products for men?
Rema: Our activated charcoal detox bar, intense growth hair oil, hair repair shampoo and hair repair conditioner are most popular among men. I would definitely recommend the activated charcoal detox bar, which is an organic soap for men with oily skin. Also, men who want thick, strong hair should give our hair care products a try.
Can you give us some beauty tips?
Myra: Water is your best friend! Aim to drink around twenty glasses a day to keep your skin looking radiant and hydrated.
Rema: Summer can get hard on the hair, especially with rising temperature, humidity and perspiration. I opt for my homemade formulation with olive oil, hot water, rosemary, sage and fenugreek seeds as a natural remedy to keep my hair shiny and reduce shedding. Once or twice a week, I use Conatural Intense Growth Hair Oil on my scalp and Intense Luster Hair Oil on my mane.
What is the secret of building up a successful business?
Myra: My top five rules for success are always be open to change, never stop hustling, build a dream team, learn how to retain your best customers and remain innovative.
What is the best and worst thing about working with your sister?
Myra: After working for 13 years in a corporate environment, I don’t have to worry about being politically correct with my younger sister, which is great.
Rema: Myra runs the day-to-day business and is very goal-oriented. There is great comfort in knowing that she will always be focused and driven. But she sometimes wants to get things done very quickly!
Myra: (Laughs) I feel I have to play older sister at work too and constantly push her.
How do you get around any work disagreements?
Rema: We can be completely open with each other and get over squabbles immediately because we end up having to discuss something every few hours. In fact we have a habit of discussing everything with each other, whether it’s work-related or personal. We just pick up the phone and call, leaving very little room for the other person to stay annoyed for long.
The theme for International Women’s Day last month was Press For Progress. What do you think can be done to progress women’s rights?
Myra: Increase access to education for all girls globally. We need to manage pay discrepancies between men and women. The inclusion of women on boards or executive positions still remains low, which needs to change.
Rema: Raising female aspirations. If society changes what it thinks about what women and girls can be and can do, female rights would progress rapidly and smoothly.
What inspires you?
Rema: People who are worldly and have a lot of value to add in a conversation inspire me. Travel also inspires me greatly. While at the UN, I travelled extensively in Pakistan, to northern areas like Swat and to interior Sindh. Both are poles apart with fascinating people, cultures and traditions. It pushed my learning curve for my country. And of course, overseas travel including the culture of cities is always stimulating.
Myra: Being around passionate people from all walks of life really gets me going. In terms of an inspirational personality, it would be my late great mother-in-law Asma Jahangir. She was our mother, mentor and an indomitable force of nature. Her bravery and laughter will never cease to inspire me. I also find travelling to be incredibly inspiring. I spent my twenties travelling the world and it really changed me. This quote by Mirium Beard sums it up nicely: “Travel is more than seeing the sights; It is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living”.
- Visit www.conatural.co.uk to find out more