Challenging Societal Beauty Norms: Olew Hair

Image Source: Olew Hair
Image Source: Olew Hair

Finding confidence in 2021 through natural born blessings.

Forbes 30 under 30 “Curlpreneur”, Elinor Davies-Farn of Olew Hair, is on a mission to highlight and restore the self-acceptance of curly hair in the GCC in order to tackle mainstream Eurocentric standards of beauty.

Reefaya Noortaj explores how this young visionary evolved; from mixing ingredients in her home kitchen to now selling products around the world. Read more about Elinor’s inclusive goals in embracing natural curls below.

‘Beauty’ in the era of the Millennials and Generation Z means inclusivity and diversity. The Hair Care industry is estimated to shoot up to 7.5% by 2026 in the Middle East. While MNC giants such as L’Oréal, Unilever, P&G and Henkel are present in the region for distributing commercial hair products to the wider mass, smaller brands are also entering the MENA market. Especially during COVID-19 global lockdowns, beauty and self-care brands have highlighted the importance of self-acceptance. The comeback of cherishing curly hair in the Middle East takes a positive turn on enjoying products meant for this hair type, which could still be difficult to find in a post-colonial era. The brand Olew Hair, founded by Elinor Davies-Farn, follows the natural hair movement and fills the gap of supplying all-natural ingredient hair products for the eco-conscious. Further, recent inclusivity demands in the hair care industry have raised global beauty standards and challenged Western beauty norms, especially in the context of representing various Arab features in mainstream media. 

Elinor is a Welsh entrepreneur and a professional speaker, however, her biggest asset that distinguishes her of late is her haircare brand, Olew Hair, an award-winning haircare brand that specializes in natural, vegan and cruelty-free products specially designed for curly hair types. “After years of straightening my hair, due to the pressure to conform and hating what I looked like naturally, in 2012 I decided to ditch the straighteners, and begin the journey to embrace my natural hair. Olew was born out of frustration at the lack of natural hair care products available for my name. From the beginning, I have made sure that all Olew products are vegan and cruelty-free and only tested on my hair. Originally made from my kitchen in East London, the Olew product range is still proudly made and packaged in the UK,” says Elinor. With her sheer tenacity and ambition for this brand, she set up Olew in 2018 with just 100GBP from her kitchen table in the creative hub of Leyton, East London after being inspired by “The $100 Start-up” by Chris Guillebeau. “I quit my corporate job with BMW/MINI; it did take me six months to get the courage to hand in my notice. I was well paid, got a new car every nine months but never truly settled for it. I was making oil for myself, conditioners and shampoos, and I’d give it to people. Anyway, the reason why I started with 100GBP (500AED) was down to the fact that I wanted to see if the product I made for myself could sell and people liked it. It wasn’t the most professional looking website or bottle, but it did the job to enable people to purchase the product” explains Elinor. Olew has become the latest “Curlpreneur” to capture the curly hair market and during the lockdown in 2020 the brand saw a spike in sales.

"By embracing their hair, just like me, they have found another level of confidence that they did not know existed."

Image Source: Olew Hair
Image Source: Olew Hair

Additionally, Elinor was recently named as a leading 2020 Forbes “30 Under 30” female entrepreneur. Her experience tells us to stay true to our vision and purpose. “Starting a business is not about making money, it is great of course, but remember to stay true to your passion and why you started the business. For me, Olew allows me to help others to embrace their natural hair and provide the confidence to do so. By embracing their hair, just like me, they have found another level of confidence that they did not know existed” says Elinor. 

As Arab representation grows around the world, so does the exposure of different Arab ethnicities; e.g. features are being represented to de-stereotype the “common Arab look”. In 2021, Elinor decided to bring Olew to the UAE/Gulf region as she received organic support and loyalty from the local community. “Beauty is not a trend but who you are and what you project into the world. Everyone is beautiful especially when they embrace their natural selves and become their authentic self. Beauty trends come and go; growing up the epitome of beauty was having straight glossy hair. Embracing who you are will never be a trend and that is why I love what I do,” says Elinor. The core mission of the brand is beyond just offering authenticity and transparency in its products, but to encourage women to embrace and accept their natural features. 

It is no secret that growing a business is challenging, especially when operating in a niche market. Elinor saw an interest in the Middle Eastern demographic and equally a demand from them too, so her confidence grew. “Olew has steadily built a loyal following of women in the Gulf region, who are both eager to embrace their natural hair and share their love of the products through social media and word of mouth. Even during the pandemic and lockdowns, customer orders in the Gulf region [became regular] with more bulk reorders, despite the occasional lengthy postage delays during the pandemic. I was simply driven by our sales and how many were coming from individuals and stockists within the region,” says Elinor. In her eyes, the future of the hair care industry looks brighter than ever in the Middle East. She states that on average a woman in her lifetime spends over 70,000GBP on hair care products so to her, the future is all about natural, cruelty-free products, pushing a narrative of being conscious of the harmful effects of chemicals while embracing their natural beauty.  

Elinor’s journey with Olew Hair led to her self-discovery and not only to fall back in love with her natural hair but also to embrace self-love and acceptance, which ties in perfectly with the recent prominence behind embracing female empowerment in the region. As the regional haircare industry continues to expand to include more niche brands, Olew Hair, among other SME brands, will penetrate the narrative of sustainable products with purpose.

Image Source: Olew hair

About The Editor

Born in Bangladesh and raised in the Middle East, UAE and Bahrain, Reefaya is a postgraduate from The London School of Economics in U.K. and an undergraduate from Sussex University. Reefaya has an immense love for sustainable fashion, social development and art.