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Balanced Hustler: Meet Sabeen Zia, Owner of The Indie Shelf

10 min read

Being an entrepreneur can seem glamorous. We own our schedules, build our companies based on work we love—and sometimes we can even work beachside. But the glamour is second in command to the hustle. 

The hustle is what really defines the ups and downs of the entrepreneurship journey. And to shed some light on the work it takes to build a business, I’m interviewing fellow entrepreneurs who are ready to get real about their journeys. I’ll ask them how they manage to balance the hustle with the passion of what they do, and they’ll share what they had to overcome to get where they are today. It’s all in service of inspiring, supporting and illuminating the path for you, and we’re calling it the #BalancedHustler.

Sabeen Zia inspires me all around. She’s started not one, but TWO brands in the clean, green beauty industry in the last two years, and she’s already standing out in the market because of her unique take on nontoxic, halal beauty. In just a few short days, she’s launching The Indie Shelf, a Philly-based brick and mortar shop that will curate innovative indie beauty brands. So, how does she manage it all, and keep herself grounded? That’s what we wanted to know too—here’s what she had to say.

Fast Facts: Sabeen Zia

When did you launch The Indie Shelf?

Started working on it a few months ago but it’s been on my mind for the last two years! The official renovation began in December and we hope to open early February.

In one sentence, tell us why you started The Indie Shelf.

After launching Muskaan Makeup, I connected with so many other indie brand owners who have such innovative and unique products and there was no shop focused on indie beauty in Philadelphia—so why not support indie brands and bring it the Philly community?!

How did you get capital to start?

Personal savings—eek!

How many hours a week do you work when you started vs now?

This is a hard question! Being self-employed means you’re on the clock 24/7! Or that’s how I feel lately. The shop plans to be open 6 days a week for 8-9 hours a day. I will most likely be at the shop for most it—especially the first year.

How many employees do you have?

Currently—me, myself, and I! I plan to hire one person with the shop opening and then add one to two more people over the next year. The shop is small and having a good team is obviously crucial so I do want to make sure I find the right people to be part of The Indie Shelf family.

What two business goals do you have for 2019?

To add more global brands to the shelves to support the small businesses from around the world, as well as make them easily accessible to the Philadelphia community!

To create a small, passionate and strong team—two store employees with one assistant manager by the end of 2019.

How Sabeen Balances the Hustle

You started your lipstick brand Muskaan Makeup two years ago. Now you’re opening up a brick & mortar in Philly (The Indie Shelf). Why? And why now?

Why not?! Naturally, it was Muskaan that inaugurated me into the large community that is indie beauty. After networking and building great relationships with other beauty brand founders and creators, I’ve seen first hand the creativity that indie beauty offers and the potential they have.

Having seen such great specialty and indie beauty retail shops opening up in other cities, I wanted a way to support both my local community of Philadelphia and its unique small businesses, as well as the larger community that is indie beauty that has so warmly welcomed me through my journey.

How do you plan to grow both brands simultaneously?

Muskaan already has a growing online presence, which I plan to maintain. The Indie Shelf provides a brick and mortar home for the brand as well as a platform for other indie beauty partners. The Indie Shelf attracts the loyal customer bases of all partner beauty brands, who would also be consumers already interested in, and aware of, the indie beauty industry. This creates a symbiotic marketing relationship involving partner brands, Muskaan, and the Indie Shelf as a brand in itself.

I divide my time between the two brands—creating to do lists and prioritizing them. Currently, The Indie Shelf is taking priority so I can open in time. However, when Muskaan needs attention, I take a break from store needs and switch over to fulfill Muskaan tasks. I plan to hire The Indie Shelf employees that will be responsible enough to run the store on their own so I can still exhibit at beauty shows and continue to grow Muskaan’s exposure.

You started Muskaan recently, and The Indie Shelf is brand new. So a lot of the beginnings are fresh! How did you go from concept to product? How did you actually get started?

Since my introduction into the beauty industry, I’ve wanted to start my own brand. I have a degree in cosmetic science and experience in marketing, product development, formulation and manufacturing. I wanted to take all the experience and put it together in a brand.

Once it was time, I had decided on bringing the popular halal beauty industry to the United States after seeing its success in filling a need in markets from the United Kingdom to South Korea. The market carries a variety of high quality brands so I needed to have some uniqueness to the quality of my products. Halal beauty offers a cleaner, purer, alternative to the chemical and animal-product tainted mainstream corporate industry, allowing it to be enticing for anyone looking for a clean beauty product. Through exhaustive research and certification protocols, I am able to provide a clean beauty product that can be accessible to a wider market, from halal to gluten-free.

I officially confirmed to launch The Indie Shelf project a few months after launching Muskaan Makeup. However, I’ve been working on the curation of brands for a little over a year. I frequently travel and my product junkie self always has me on the search for local products in the cities I’m visiting. Even though online shopping has become the preference, there are still people who miss having access to smelling and applying products in person.

Surrounding cities like New York, Boston and D.C. have the advantage of having storefronts like The Detox Market, Follain and Take Care DC. Philadelphia was lacking this business so I had to jump on it! I started with my budget and outlined estimated costs that included rent, branding, inventory, furniture, employee costs, renovation setup, etc. This changed several times throughout the process and still is changing!

Once I knew what my estimated rental budget was, I started scoping out for spaces to include decent foot traffic and size of space. I wanted something with character, large enough to not crowd the store but small enough to give an intimate feel to set up for an effective shopping experience that would not overwhelm the consumer.

While searching for a space, I worked on finalizing the brand list. I drafted a brand story with requirements to cover every consumer. I chose brands that were unique, effective, innovative and weren’t easy accessible in bigger retailers. Like Muskaan Makeup, where I tried to meet every consumer’s needs, whether it was the formula, packaging or certifications, I also chose brands for the storefront to cover every consumer’s needs. This includes price ranges and product categories. I have locked in brands to include hair care, skincare, cosmetics, fragrances, home, nails, accessories (makeup brushes, foot care, etc.), men’s and even baby care!

Pinterest and Instagram has been my best friend for decor—however, it’s bittersweet! You think you can create the perfect space with unique branding. You can but it won’t be the Pinterest board you put together! After deciding my setup for the store that includes paint, lighting and furniture setup, I hired contractors to assist with small renovations. I got lucky with the space I leased because the owner was already renovating the building and delivered a white space to make changes specific to the business. This was helpful for saving costs and time, and helped me be able to launch the storefront quicker than most. I officially had the keys on December 1, and have set the open date for February 8. It’s definitely time consuming and like any business launch, unexpected things happen, so prepare yourself!

Once you started, how did you get your brand out into the world? Did you try multiple avenues? Or did you try one area and focused on doing that one area really well?

Both Muskaan and The Indie Shelf are both marketed through an online presence and word of mouth. By building a community and networking with other beauty brands and companies that bring beauty brands together, such as Black Chicken from Australia and Berlin Skin from LA, I’m able to organically and genuinely grow my market. I have plans to reach out to local social media pages, bloggers and magazines to introduce The Indie Shelf.

For Muskaan Makeup, I exhibited at several indie beauty or wellness focused shows like the WELL Summit and Indie Beauty Expo. Their teams were kind enough to market the Muskaan Makeup by writing up articles about Muskaan.

I can tell you’ve invested in your packaging, marketing materials and events, from consumer focused events to Expos. What has been the best ROI for you?

Along with the quality of the actual product, I believe a major key in being seen a credible and serious company is how the product is presented to the consumers. Investing in eye-catching packaging along with doing a profession photoshoot helped me stand out in a sea of new indie brands at beauty shows. People would not believe that I launched just a few months ago because of my presentation. I’ve exhibited at expos with an attendance ranging from 100 to 8,000. The best ROI has been exhibiting at the smaller, intimate expos! I made the most sales at a local holiday market and the WELL Summit!!

Sabeen’s Advice for Entrepreneurs

What’s something you want to leave our readers with?

How lonely [entrepreneurship] can get! You love being your own boss, but sometimes you wish you had a team to interact with and discuss projects with. Hiring third party resources are great, but it’s not always the same.

I would highly recommend joining online platforms that include fellow business owners that are going through the same journey. Networking in person is always great but you don’t always have the time or money to attend events. Online is nice because you get instant access to people in the same industry or journey.

I am on the Beauty Founders Facebook page, where fellow brand owners ask questions and discuss problems or success with their businesses. It’s great to read through the page and learn that you’re not alone on the struggles of your business!

What is your number one piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs?

Don’t be scared to ask for help. It’s something I definitely need to work on. Your business is your baby but you can ask for assistance because you’ll need it! And don’t forget to sleep. Note to self…

What does being a #BalancedHustler mean to you?

Being a #BalancedHustler means to be able to seriously invest yourself into your brand without being completely consumed by it. Your passion should never become your chore, and avoiding this can be incredibly difficult. By remaining in touch with the world and the life you have outside of the business, you ultimately remain in touch with everyday consumers.

This ensures that your creativity and innovation remains fully charged and beneficial to your brands and missions. Create lists that also include you workout, lunch time, and a 15-minute break. Set a reminder on your phone for those breaks so your phone beeps obnoxiously to take a break and refresh! Also… as hard as this is, make Sunday your no phone day. Monday will feel so much better!

Want more inspiro from female entrepreneurs? Check out our full #BalancedHustler series.

About The Author

Gianne Doherty

Gianne Doherty

Gianne Doherty is an inspirational and educational speaker, clean beauty advocate, co-founder of Organic Bath Co. and founder of WELL Summit. You can find her on Instagram @wellsummit and @giannedoherty. Her weekly series, Balanced Hustler, on WELL Insiders is a deep dive into entrepreneurship.

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