Born into a Pakistani family, she speaks with the humility and tone one would expect from a daughter raised in our culture. A short conversation with her, however, proves that she is anything but stereotypical. She speaks with confidence of a successful entrepreneur, as she explains the background of her makeup and skin care brand, Entice Cosmetics. The brand turns four this year and sells everything from lipstick to moisturizer.
It’s creator, Rabbia Sohail, began her career in medicine and is still practicing regularly. Somehow, she still finds the time to put all her love into her business which she is clearly passionate about. She still isn’t sure where her decision to become a doctor came from. As a child, she remembers dreaming about becoming a doctor, but much of the actual decision may have been borne out of parental expectations. South Asian culture is complicated enough about career choices. Passion and dreams matter less than status and income level. We all grow up with limited choices: pre-med, engineering, business. And if you’re really rebellious (or, to older people, just a girl biding her time until her wedding), humanities.
Rabbia doesn’t regret her decision though. It’s hard to make it in the medical field – the time and energy you give to the study of it is a huge investment. She found herself enjoying the profession. It wasn’t until her fourth year of study that she realized there was something more out there that was calling to her. She wanted to do something more on the side. Something she could share with the rest of the world.
Once she decided to start a small business, all that was left was to find a niche that went unfulfilled in the market. That’s where Entice Cosmetics was born. As a medical professional, Rabbia had the knowledge to truly be able to understand the ingredients that went into beauty products. She knew that health and beauty was a very profitable sector for business and creating truly cruelty-free, paraben free cosmetics with the best ingredients would be a valuable contribution to the industry. Since she was catering to women in Pakistan, this was no easy task.
Rabbia is a London native. It doesn’t take long to realize she has spent time abroad because her English accent gives it away. But she saw potential in the Pakistani market. Women were willing to pay a lot of money for trusted brands from outside the country. When she started, most international brands weren’t specifically catering to the women in Pakistan. Online resellers were everywhere but the quality and reliability of such businesses is always under question. Pakistani women needed a reliable and trustworthy source of cosmetics that provided the same quality as top international brands.
“I felt really lonely in the first two years. I only had two friends that I made throughout the journey… I would have been so much healthier and happier if people had given support.”
Self-starting a business is hard. Starting a business as a woman is even harder. The backlash was twofold. It started with her own family. Going from the perfect Desi doctor daughter to what basically amounts to a makeup seller is a huge step down in status. Her parents tried to talk her out of it fearing.
she would fail. She recalls her parents’ reactions, “I remember coming to my parents and they were like, “Please talk to us about it.”… [but] they would say “Just leave it. Just forget about it.” Those few years in the beginning were the most difficult . She managed to hold on to a few close friends but her support system largely fell out of place. It was lonely and discouraging. Rabbia talks about her parents with the kind of love that shows how close they were before that point. She still felt the sting of those unhappy years without her family to turn to.
That wasn’t her only obstacle to getting her business going. Working on starting a business as a woman is a tough job. Most of the people she had to work with were men who didn’t take a woman seriously. It was tricky to get manufacturers to do their job right and on time because they were always looking for shortcuts. It was worse in Pakistan than other countries. Pakistani men fought back against a female presence. The culture was too strong to break away from. She found herself needing to take shortcuts too. “I have staff who are male and I have to get them to deal with people because otherwise there’s no way around it,” she says.
In addition, Pakistani manufacturers often cut corners, neglecting using quality ingredients in the factory but she could always tell when something was off. Dealing with the dishonesty and unnecessary red tape was another roadblock to a successful business. She eventually had to find manufacturers abroad that were easier to work with.
“… I always reach out to help people who are starting up or want to start up or if anyone asks me anything. I immediately jump in to help because that’s what I missed when I was growing or when I was starting out.”
Even though her brand of skincare and makeup is well established now, her vision for the brand is far from over. She’s planning on adding a third sub-brand to her store soon and no matter how much we wanted to know, she insisted it had to be a surprise. Just as we started anticipating the new addition, she proved there truly was no end to her ambition. She wants to take the brand international at some point in the future, although the logistics might take some time.
The most exciting part? She hopes to open a physical store in Pakistan one day. Rabbia seems to balance it all so smoothly so we had to ask. What is it that keeps her going? Well, coffee of course. She admits to being an absolute addict, consuming four to five cups a day. If you follow her on social media, you already know this. Her appeal is obvious: she’s relatable, genuine, and glamorous all at once.
If Rabbia is anything, it’s dedicated, “ I think I’m very resilient. I don’t take no for an answer, whether it is in my professional or personal life. If someone says I can’t do it, I am gonna prove them wrong.” She was confident in her abilities and she did prove them wrong. She credits her persistence and the power of prayer to her achievements, “I feel like prayer guides you in a way. I do believe that if you work really hard, god won’t disappoint you.”
“There’s a lot of issues when you first start a business. You go in to loss and you have to be prepared for that.”
As far as any budding entrepreneurs and dreamers looking to make it in the business world, she has some advice. Start small, with one or two products and expand once you have the money. Make advertising your friend and don’t be afraid to spend money on influencers and bloggers – whatever gets your products traction on the internet. And perhaps most importantly, don’t give up. There will be obstacles and all kinds of reasons and justifications to turn back but Rabbia has one final piece of advice for start-ups: “Keep going and don’t give up, [you] will get there in the end.”