Launching a business during a global pandemic was always going to be a challenge. But it was one that OJAR Founder Sheikha Hind Bahwan was prepared to take on.
The Omani entrepreneur presented her unique perfume brand to the world last year and it has already shown great success. Built on the concept of bringing together fragrances from the East and West, OJAR was created to highlight the new generation of perfume and the ways it can be worn today. Centered around six core ingredients: Oud, Rose, Frankincense, Honey, Sandalwood, and Musk, the initial collection consists of 18 individual fragrances that bring together these six elements in a number of different ways. Partnering with renowned Swiss perfume house Givaudan, the unisex fragrances are of the highest quality and created using traditional perfumery methods to ensure their excellence. The hero product of the brand is the “Absolute”. This is an alcohol-free perfume oil, a 20ml travel-friendly format. The perfume is 25% concentrated and long-lasting. The bottle elevates the perfume oil landscape with a never before seen cap that features a roll-on and a glass stick applicator.
When founding her fragrance company, Sheikha Hind Bahwan wanted to create more than just a brand. She wanted to evoke a lifestyle and present products that would really touch the emotions of the wearer. Already a successful entrepreneur with a number of businesses, she wanted to work on something that brings together her true passion for perfume and her drive for business. Here we find out more about the future of OJAR and the biggest challenges faced so far.
You launched your perfume brand during a global pandemic – what were the biggest challenges you faced?
I don’t think we could have launched OJAR at a more difficult time. We faced manufacturing and supply-chain disruptions, the retail market all but collapsed, which meant that with perfume being a sensory product, the e-commerce route to market for a new brand was hugely difficult and reaching the consumer was incredibly challenging. I am very fortunate to have an outstanding team and we rapidly adapted our approach to focus on building brand awareness through creative consumer engagement, excellent social media campaigns and various print and online publications. Despite all the hurdles that we have had to overcome, I couldn’t be happier with the consumer feedback that we have received and we look forward to bringing more exciting and innovative products to the market in 2021.
What is a lesson you have learnt from this year and is there anything you would do differently?
Where do you start? 2020 was an unprecedented year that taught us so much; anguish, grief, resilience, hope, gratitude, positivity, the extraordinary power of science and how interconnected we are as a global society. There will always be lessons to take note of but as an entrepreneur, I have always relentlessly focused on innovating and adapting to situations in order to find a solution and identify the next opportunity.
What first inspired your interest in perfume?
It was a combination of several elements which are all closely intertwined. Whilst the perfume industry has been entrenched in Omani culture for several centuries, especially in my home city of Sur, it was my mother who first nurtured my love for perfume when I was a child. Since then, I have always been fascinated by the world of perfumery and its rituals. The heritage and culture of Oman, with its vibrant contrasts, the warmth of its people, unique ingredients, architecture, materials and colours have all been important influences and inspirations for OJAR.
What makes OJAR unique?
OJAR’s philosophy is to encourage perfume lovers to experiment and create their own unique scents and express how they feel through perfume. As a new brand, OJAR has to be bold. Quality, creativity and innovation are at the heart of the company. While creating OJAR I ensured that I only worked with industry leaders who shared my vision. Givaudan, the world’s leading fragrance company, formulated the fragrances and a team of highly professional creative directors, designers, engineers, photographers and music composers developed the packaging and marketing material that has given the brand a certain uniqueness. Innovation is at the core of the brand. The unique perfume oil bottle which features a cap with dual dispensers; a roll-on applicator and a glass stick applicator is an industry first.
What is the message you want to spread with the brand?
Be bold and experiment. Create your own fragrance signature by blending the six main ingredients of the OJAR collection; Oud, Frankincense, Rose, Honey, Sandalwood and Musk. Embrace culture, bridge tradition with modernity. Explore and celebrate the positive well-being of perfumery.
Fragrance is a very important part of life in the Middle East – what does fragrance mean to you and why do you think women in the region are so fond of it?
Perfumes and ingredients for perfumes have been ingrained in Middle Eastern culture for centuries. In the Middle East perfumes are a lifestyle, not an accessory. They are associated with one of the most intense forms of emotion; they evoke memories, trigger feelings and create powerful impressions. Perfume is a signature that you take with you wherever you go. Both men and women from the region express their personality, individuality and creativity through perfume.
What are your favourite ingredients?
I love all the ingredients in the OJAR collection. My preference changes depending on how I feel, what I am doing, what I am wearing or where I am going.
Tell us a little about your favourite perfumes from the collection?
I love them all! As mentioned, we have six main ingredients; Oud, Frankincense, Rose, Honey, Sandalwood and Musk. From these ingredients, we created a collection of 18 unique fragrances that have a very eclectic olfactive profile that will appeal to a broad audience. The collection has been specially created to encourage experimentation and layering. OJAR gives a multitude of possibilities for customers to create their unique signature scent.
The “Absolute” is something very unique to your brand – why did you decide to include this in your offering?
The OJAR Absolute collection was an opportunity for me to create a perfume experience and design a bottle that suited the different lifestyle aspects and needs of the OJAR consumer from travel, to business, family and leisure. To achieve this, we had to not only develop fragrances that allow for a multitude of possibilities but also design a unique perfume bottle that was aesthetically pleasing, that uniquely bridges modernity with functionality and is powerfully recognisable through its contemporary combination of the colour blue, coloured glass and metal. This was an incredibly challenging process but I am delighted by the feedback that we have received on the Absolute.
How do you think your heritage and upbringing has inspired what you do today?
My parents and my home country of Oman are my enduring influences. My family is from the ancient seafaring Omani city of Sur where trading and travel is in the DNA. My mother instilled in me the importance of family values and tradition, whilst I am blessed to have been able to learn from my father, Sheikh Suhail Bahwan as he grew his businesses. The combination of these influences, along with the experiences and the people I have met on my travels have shaped my outlook and perspectives.
In this issue we are talking about women’s empowerment – what does it mean to you for women to feel empowered today?
Today women from the region are shattering stereotypes and you see successful women in all sectors and walks of life. I am a passionate advocate for education and equal opportunities. I hope that any success that I may have had may inspire more women to feel empowered to become entrepreneurs.
As a female business owner, what is the biggest challenge you face?
There has been a myriad of events over the last two decades that have challenged, disrupted and impacted my businesses; the dotcom bubble in the early 2000s, the global financial crisis in 2009, the various oil price crashes, the renewable energy revolution and of course, the very difficult pandemic that we are experiencing at the moment. I have tried to use each one of these events as an inflexion point to adjust and adapt my businesses to meet the evolving scenarios and hopefully do so with a successful result.
In your experience how do you think women in the region have become more fearless and adventurous when it comes to pursuing their passions?
We are living in a modern society, where women are highly educated, have great ambition and have demonstrated tremendous capability in all walks of life. Thankfully, today there is significantly more representation of women in leadership roles, be it government, business, medicine, academia, media or sport. With these numerous female role models, more and more women will see themselves as future leaders which will have a self-perpetuating impact and the benefits will be felt across the region and the world.
What advice would you give to any women who want to follow their dreams?
Go for it. Don’t look back!
What would you still like to achieve that you haven’t done yet?
As an entrepreneur, I have a passion for creating businesses and this is something that I thoroughly enjoy and I hope I will be able to continue to do so for many more years.
You must also remember that the OJAR journey has only just commenced. I am incredibly excited about the prospects and new product launches that we will bring to market later this year. Watch this space!
What is the motto that you live by?
Be positive and never give up!
Who or what inspires you the most?
My parents and Oman have been my guiding inspirations but I would also add travel to this as I truly believe that travel is an education in itself and is an incredible way to learn, discover and appreciate the different cultures of the world that we live in. When I set out to create OJAR, it was very important that I developed a brand that reflected what I learned and experienced from my travels; a brand that was universal, authentic, a marriage of fragrances, rituals and styles from across the globe that bridge tradition with modernity, whilst remaining true to the heritage and culture of Oman and the Middle East.
Where would you like to see OJAR five years from now?
I would like to see OJAR as the standard for fragrance layering and the reference for innovation in the fragrance industry. Hopefully, every perfume lover will have created their own OJAR Absolute signature fragrance too!
What is the scent you wear every day?
I select a fragrance to wear depending on my mood, situation and the message I would like to convey. The OJAR collection has been specifically created to encourage experimentation and layering. OJAR allows a multitude of possibilities for consumers to create their own unique signature scent.
What is your first memory of fragrance?
I have so many memories of the different fragrances and aromas of Oman from when I was a child. If I was to pinpoint a particular aroma it would have to be the burning of Luban and oud in our home.