Beauty And The Middle East

BY Maddison Glendinning / Feb 2 2017 / 20:13 PM

Unlike the protagonists in storybooks, Paria Ghorashi Rafi didn’t have a fairy godmother to make her dreams come true. Instead, she fought her way to the top of the beauty game with unwavering grit and a healthy dose of glamour

Beauty And The Middle East
ITP Images

Determined. Detailed. Dedicated. These are the three words by which Paria Ghorashi Rafi, the 39-year-old Iranian CEO of Dubai-based, luxury at-home beauty service BlowOut&Go, operates both in a personal and professional sense. “If I am starting something, even if it’s the smallest thing, I have to finish it,” she tells Bazaar as we sit down to chat in our offices. As we start to talk, we notice that whilst Paria is incredibly successful, she is entirely without ego, which is no mean feat when you consider that BlowOut&Go, the company she co-founded with her husband Ali Rafi in 2015, has experienced enormous prosperity in its first two years of business. Oh, and she’s also a mother to four-year-old Sofia. To say the woman is busy is somewhat of an understatement, but Paria takes everything in her stride.

The couple founded the business after the birth of Sofia when Paria saw a gap in the market. “Before I fell pregnant, I was a busy businesswoman, and always had to make sure I looked good. Then when I became a mother, it became a little more challenging as there was no time for that. I saw a gap in the market in Dubai and realised nothing like BlowOut&Go, where people can come to your house and pamper you, existed. Women are expected to look good all the time, so I thought that if I could remove the headache, even just for one woman that it was important to do.”

The budding entrepreneur drew upon her vast years of experience in the fashion industry in Europe, and in particular Scandinavia which she describes as being “more advanced”, to create the business model; and as it turns out, there was a lot more than just one woman who wanted in on the services that Paria was offering. Whilst she couldn’t disclose official figures in relation to turnover and profit margins, she did share that the company’s revenue had quadrupled in its second year of business. There are plans to expand beyond the UAE this year, with Qatar and Iran firmly in her sights, followed by Saudi Arabia in 2018. Paria says they are still working out the logistics of the latter (“for example, it would need to be all-female stylists”) but are also fuelled by ambition thanks to minority stakes in the company having just been purchased by a Saudi conglomerate. 

Paria wear Jacket, Dhs6,295; Trousers, Dhs2,890, both Roland Mouret

Since the launch, Paria says she’s found tremendous support from other women in the region. “Women here support each other, more than you think they do. I’ve had a huge amount of women supporting me which I am thankful for.” She also credits the city of Dubai’s progressive attitude towards working women. “I think a lot of people think that women in this region have no power, but it’s actually the opposite. So many companies have women behind them here, and I always tell myself, if they can do it, I can do it, and I want to do it. It gives me hope.”

However, Paria candidly admits that balancing a booming business with motherhood has not been without its challenges. “When you become a mother you have these guilty feelings that you’re not using your time enough to be with your child, but at the same time, you have a life, a career. For me, personally, I believe that when I come back home after a day of work, I spend more time with my child than if I had been at home with her all day. Unfortunately the word ‘selfish’ gets used a lot when talking about working mothers or mothers who want to look after themselves, but it shouldn’t be. There are so many demands placed on mothers that I think it’s important to spend some time to yourself so that you don’t forget who you are.”

The company, which currently employs around 70 people, has since rebranded as B&G Group to encapsulate all of its offerings. This includes BlowOut&Go, as well as the B&G Academy, which aims to educate stylists and make-up artists on everything from conduct, to contouring and curling, and B&G Studio where clients can get their hair and make-up done and have professional photographs taken. Paria credits the development of the Studio to the rise of the ‘glam squad’ often seen on our social media feeds. “These days women want to feel like they are VIPs and celebrities. So why not make them feel like they are? These services are not just for supermodels, they’re for every woman.”

It’s also important to Paria to help educate the women of the region on looking beyond current trends and the countless beauty bloggers they encounter on social media. “Part of the reason I find this region so fascinating is because it needs a lot of education when it comes to the beauty industry. With Instagram, women who didn’t know anything about make-up suddenly learned and became beauty bloggers. They promote products that could be totally wrong for your skin type or tone but people watch these videos and think, ‘oh if she can do that, so can I.’” Paria believes this has lead to a cookie-cutter beauty look here in the region. “Unfortunately here in the Middle East, I feel like beauty has become a sort of factory. Every woman has the same eyebrows, the same type of plastic surgery, and they all look the same because they think it’s fashionable. They don’t question, ‘is this good for me? Does this suit my face shape?’ They just do it because everyone else is. That’s why I’m passionate about bringing global educators over from the West, who have 10+ years of experience and really understand skin for example, to help educate people about what actually suits them.”

Paria wears Top, Dhs1,405, Mother Of Pearl at BySymphony. Trousers, Dhs2,890, Roland Mouret. Trainers, Dhs1,480, Coach

When it comes to day-to-day operations, Paria says she’s a hands-on CEO and regularly accompanies her various employees for a day to see what they deal with. “One day I’ll be a driver, another I’ll go to a booking and assist the make-up artist. By being out in the field with them I can better understand the difficulties they face and then find solutions.”  For example, Paria discovered her stylists were having difficulty navigating Dubai’s traffic as well as parking and reaching their appointments on time in places like Dubai Marina. Her solution? Sending them out to jobs with a driver to minimise delays and checking the traffic before a booking is accepted to ensure a stylist can make the agreed upon time. Furthermore, the company is currently in the process of developing its own technology (with the help of no less than 15 consultants) to help better manage the booking process.

Busy times for the business include Friday mornings “for the expat brunch crowd” and Friday evenings “when a lot of Emirati women need make-up done before going to an event.” Ramadan is a peak time for the company due to Iftars, and the everyday pressure to look presentable has also helped the business’ popularity. “Women in this region tend to take very good care of themselves and are very occupied with making sure they look their best,” Paria tells Bazaar.

Throughout the lifespan of the company, Paria has come to notice trends among her 25,000-strong clientele, who she says are mostly “Emiratis, Persians, Indians and Britons.” She explains, “The Emiratis tend to book a lot of hair styling because they have longer, thicker hair which is more difficult for them to style. They don’t book make-up as they know so much about it. The Western clients are the complete opposite. As their hair tends to be lighter and easier to fix, they’re used to doing it themselves. Plus, often in the West you don’t go to a salon unless you need a cut! So they book our make-up services because they don’t know how to do it themselves and want to look different.”

There are scenarios in which Paria finds herself that are unique to the Middle East, like the time she was called to do hair and make-up as a woman’s water broke. “This woman called us to ask if we went to hospitals to do hair, and then suddenly in the middle of the conversation, she said, ‘Oh my gosh, my water just broke. But I want to have a team do my hair and make-up for the first picture of my child and I.’ We were panicking on the phone like, ‘Please go to the hospital because your water just broke!’ She was so calm. She wanted the team to be there after she’d given birth so that they could do her hair and make-up so she looked perfect for the picture. I have given birth and I was like, give that woman a medal for being able to think about beauty through the pain!” Paria recalls, laughing. And it turns out that hospitals are becoming more and more popular for bookings, thanks to local customs around families visiting after the birth of a child and the all-important first photos.

The royal families of Ajman, Sharjah and Dubai are among BlowOut&Go’s elite roster of clients (the UK’s Princess Beatrice has also employed their services), so too are regional stars like Diala Makki, Bazaar columnist Carla DiBello and Ladies Of London’s Caroline Stanbury. There are also several high-profile repeat clients. “Tommy Hilfiger’s wife Dee books with us every time she’s in town. And Tamara Ecclestone, even though she has her own brand Show Beauty that is similar to us, has booked us every time she’s been here. I love it because for someone like Tamara, who is that huge and doing something similar, to come to us is a reward.”

Paria wears Dress, Dhs8,800, Valentino at Ounass.com. Shoes, Paria's own. 

When it comes to her own routine, Paria explains, “I often go without any make-up, but my hair needs to look good! If your hair looks good, you’re ready to go.” Though she admits that even she can’t get an appointment with her own company at times. “It’s happened three times!” she exclaims, laughing. “I’ve had to go to a salon and have my hair done because they don’t have time for me anymore!”

Staycations are her favourite way to unwind away from her hectic schedule – “because we’re all together but are able to do our own thing” – and they frequent the One&Only often enough that her daughter has developed quite an attachment to the hotel. “She calls it her holiday home. She seriously thinks it’s our vacation house!”

Whether in her role as a mother, a CEO or educator, there’s a fearlessness in Paria’s approach to life in general. When asked what her ultimate goal for the company is, she replies, “Take over the world,” without skipping a beat, adding that she’d like BlowOut&Go to become the Starbucks of the beauty world. She attributes her no holds barred, boss attitude to advice her parents gave her from a young age: “Don’t be scared of failure. Just because you are a girl does not mean you are less.” An anthem for all women for the year ahead if ever there was one.

Paria's Key Pieces

My favourite designer is... Elie Saab, because I feel happy and confident in his dresses.

My most treasured sartorial item... The shoes I wore to my engagement.

On my to-buy list for next season... Is more of Rolad Mouret's tweed collection!

Dress, Dhs8,475, Elie Saab at Boutique 1. Shoes, Dhs3,750, Manolo Blahnik. Top, Dhs4,608, Roland Mouret.