The Interview: Emaan Abbass, founder of KETISH
Emaan Abbass is the founder of KETISH - the new feminine wellness and beauty brand which is seeking to revolutionise the industry via empowering products, expert advice and the creation of a strong and supportive female community.
A former product developer at Huda Beauty, the launch of Abbass's KETISH brand has been made possible by HB Angels - the seed investment fund launched by Huda Beauty’s investments arm HB Investments - to support female entrepreneurs and mission-based start-ups.
In an industry where discovering and buying female wellness products is still considered humiliating by many women, KETISH has been thoughtfully created to cater to women’s needs and desires, whilst empowering them to feel more confident about their own bodies and intimate care challenges.
Here, Abbass speaks exclusively to TheIndustry.fashion about her past, passions and the career whirlwind that has propelled her brand’s founding.
Before we delve into the world of KETISH, could you tell us about your career background to date?
My beauty career began with Sephora US at their San Francisco headquarters where I was a supply chain manager. I have always been a huge beauty junkie and although I was working for what I thought then was my dream company – I mean come on Sephora is one of the biggest beauty retailers in the game - I still was not 100% satisfied.
I always wanted to get out of operational role and to get closer to products because that was and continues to be my true passion.
Back in 2016 I was lucky enough to meet Huda Beauty founder Huda Kattan while I was visiting my sister who lived in Dubai and it was that interaction that sparked the chain reaction that led to where we are today.
I had the opportunity to meet Huda and spend some good time with her and I just fell in love. I left that meeting feeling like ‘this woman is creating magic and I need to be a part of that.’
Shortly after that meeting I reached out to her and asked her for a job and the rest is history really.
Six months later I was packing all my stuff into three suitcases and re-locating from California to Dubai.
When I had pitched my role to her I had pitched a more operational one but when I got there she said ‘no girl you need to be on my product development team, you know beauty, you’re passionate about it and hungry for it and I can’t teach that.’
From the get-go she took a chance on me - she essentially changed my life and then for the following few years I had the unbelievable opportunity of working side by side with Huda and the rest of the team building products from the ground up – a process which really allowed me to get a deep understanding of the beauty industry as a whole.
How did the leap to founding your own brand happen?
Huda had posted a video on her social media back in 2017 where she started talking about the new HB Angels Fund that had been established to support female entrepreneurs and mission-based start-ups.
In that video she referenced her journey with starting a brand, explaining how initially she had struggled to secure the resources and backing and why she now wanted to pay it forward and invest in entrepreneurs.
That story just totally captured my attention and really got me thinking. Deep down I’d always had this idea to start a feminine wellness brand and a lot of that motivation stemmed from my own experiences with feminine intimate wellness.
But it wasn’t until I saw Huda’s video that I was inspired to actually put pen to paper and map it out. It took me some time to get the courage together to approach her – partly because I was her employee but also because my own personal experiences with feminine wellness had been challenging and the idea was very close to my heart. However, I did it, I approached her and now here we are with this incredible brand KETISH!
What factors inspired you to create a feminine wellness brand like KETISH?
Much of the concept's origin dates back to my upbringing. I was born and raised in the US by parents who are immigrants from Egypt so I grew up in a pretty strict Arab/American Muslim home, where the topic of sex and feminine wellness were complete taboos.
My feminine wellness journey dates back to my early 20s when, during a routine trip to the gynecologist, I discovered that I had cancer on my cervix which had been caused by the HPV virus.
It was a very scary experience and I also felt incredibly alone. I felt that I couldn’t really turn to my family because of our culture and upbringing - it was such a taboo for a young unmarried woman to engage in pre-marital sex.
As a result of that fear I chose not to turn to my family and instead face those challenges alone. It really was that experience of becoming more in-tune with my body and having to think in a whole new way about the products that I was using on it that made me hyper- aware of the existing products in that space and I definitely found that there were gaps.
Also, at the time, which was pre-Instagram and much social media, there weren’t really outlets that young women like me could turn to for education, or to lean on a community for support. Having those experiences is what really drove me to create a brand like KETISH.
I not only wanted to create products that were effective and luxurious and powerful, I also really wanted to create a community that women could lean into and learn from and ultimately feel empowered when it came to their feminine and sexual health.
Where does the name KETISH come from?
As I mentioned I have a strong Egyptian background and I was really inspired by elements of that Egyptian heritage when we created the brand. So you’ll see the gold details on the packaging and Egyptian inspired ingredients in some of the formulas.
I also really wanted to ensure that the brand name had ties to that Egyptian culture too. There are so many strong women in Egyptian culture; Cleopatra and Nefertiti to name just two, but when I was researching I came across an Egyptian goddess called Qetesh – the Egyptian goddess of passion, love, sexuality and pleasure.
When I think of a goddess like that, I see a woman who is unapologetically shameless when it comes to loving herself and her body - all things that we want the brand to stand for. So, we took the name Qetesh and made it unique and memorable by adding our spin on it. People often think we did it to rhyme with ‘fetish’ but that’s not it at all.
Why is talking about (and buying) feminine wellness products still such a taboo subject for so many people?
The sad fact is that up until now society has taught us that as women we have to go through many of these situations behind closed doors and in private. There are so many unknowns and assumptions and things that we don’t talk about when it comes to feminine and sexual health issues – so many things that are so heavy, that we as women have to deal with and we are often made to feel embarrassed about or ashamed to share publicly.
In my opinion there is such a power in feeling seen and heard, especially when it comes to issues like this. It could be infertility, PCOS, postpartum depression, there are so many things like this that as women we go through alone and that has to change.
It’s so important that we start normalising those conversations, grow awareness and support each other and that’s what I want KETISH to do: To help women feel seen, heard and supported. That’s the ultimate goal.
What products has the brand launched with?
The KETISH brand covers the whole landscape around feminine and sexual wellness so that includes a wide range of targeted bodycare products, to pleasure focused products and sexual wellness focused products and devices.
We’ve taken a huge amount of time to really understand what the desires of women are and we aim to create products that women need, are excited about and that will help them discover their bodies and become more in-tune with them.
I definitely think the category is expanding, we are seeing more brands entering the space but what we want to do is to take it to the next level.
A lot of those brands and products that we find now are in the pharmacy and the pharmacy is traditionally a place that you go when you are sick or something is wrong.
We want to take feminine wellness and care out of the pharmacy and put it in the places that women shop for pleasure, the places where they go to cheer themselves up when they’re having a bad day.
When I’m having a bad day I go to Sephora or I hop on to Cult Beauty. It’s those spaces that we want to be playing in to really elevate that experience and give women products that they can incorporate into their overall beauty and self-care routines.
Where will the brand be stocked in the UK?
What approach will you take with regards to consumer communications?
Communication is such an important part of the brand. I have had the opportunity to learn from an amazing brand like Huda Beauty that really champions education and community so you’ll definitely see that running through KETISH's DNA and shaping the ways in which we speak to our community.
We’ll be leveraging traditional social channels, so we’ll have an Instagram page that will give us an opportunity to communicate in a real, raw, authentic way. We’ll also have a blog that will live on our e-commerce site and that’s where we will really champion the educational piece.
We’ve had the opportunity to work with a wide range of experts from gynecologists to sex therapists, experts on breath work, the list is endless and it really reflects how emotionally focused the brand is. We’ll also have a Youtube channel where we will really champion story-telling.
As I said earlier, there is so much power in women sharing their real stories and having other women’s connect over experiences. So we’re going to do some really cool things on there and on our other channels.
Please tell us about the support that you have received from HB Angels and what it has enabled you to do?
Their support has been utterly invaluable. I can’t even quantify it. As a former employee of Huda Beauty I had already had the unique opportunity to work alongside Huda and the rest of the Kattan family and seen how they operated – an experience which in itself was invaluable.
However, what HB Investments and HB Angels have done is to give me an incredible foundation of key business pillars that a brand, just starting out, might need to get off its feet, but often doesn’t have the resources for.
From marketing to PR, operations, business strategy, key teams have supported us on everything. HB Angels has really allowed us to operate as a standalone brand that has an entire organisation behind it, helping us to fill in the gaps wherever we’ve needed to. It’s been amazing, incredible.
How much advice has come from Huda Kattan herself?
My relationship with Huda is so special. I feel like she really saw something in me before I saw it myself and she has supported me in ways that I can’t even express.
I go to her directly for advice, not only on the business side, but with products, and with issues to do with being a brand founder. You name it, she’s done it all and is just such a strong mentor. I’m just so grateful for her.
Where would you like to see the KETISH brand one year from now?
We have so many plans! I would say we definitely want to be in those bricks and mortar spaces that we discussed earlier. Those stores and places where women go to feel happy and indulge themselves. That’s so important to me. As I mentioned earlier, throughout my journey I always had to go to the pharmacy for products. I want KETISH to play in those spaces where women go for enjoyment and I want them to feel excited and empowered by seeing our products on the shelf.
Given our strong community focus I would also hope to see that we have created a strong, interactive authentic community of women.