Asghar Akhtar Khan, a Pepsi co-heir and an alumnus of Boston University, has turned a new leaf as an entrepreneur.
In 2019, though he had entered the $10.5 billion organic skincare market with ex-celebrity designer Ollia Tzarina, a Greek-born-Russian designer, who is known for red carpet outfits of Beyoncé Knowles and Kendall Jenner, his business acumen and entrepreneurial skills are on show following the launch of VITA Eternity in the UAE on June 10.
VITA, which means life in Latin, Eternity seeks to tap the organic skincare market in the country and beyond. “Data shows that the skincare industry in the UAE has generated $1.2 billion in sales, of which 24 per cent accounted for online sales alone. We’re also conscious of our price points, which are highly competitive,” he says.
Credibility, he claims, is his biggest capital.
Outside of his entrepreneurial pursuits, Khan is a fitness freak.
“After a hard day’s work, I usually like to read articles online or watch edutainment documentaries and movies. However, the best way to unwind is a 50-minute workout as it strikes a happy blend of physical and mental wellness throughout the week,” he says.
Khan also admits that he owes his success to his parents, “who served as mentors to inculcate discipline, integrity and keep the faith going”.
He was fortunate enough to travel around the world during his childhood. “It’s fascinating how much you can learn and remember at a tender age by experiencing new cultures in various geographies,” he says.
Today, Khan hopes to emerge as a dominant player in the skincare market segment in the UAE.
“We’d like to expand our footprints to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Qatar as both these countries have a high per capita income and purchasing power on the lines of the UAE. I’m bullish about the beauty and cosmetics sector in the UAE alone, which is expected to grow at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 4 per cent over a five-year period and generate a revenue of up to $150 per person,” he adds.
Khan explains the primary factors that are driving the discernible growth. “There has been a perceptible generational change as younger consumers penetrate the market, who are highly tech-savvy, aided and abetted by social media platforms and e-commerce. Besides, from a macro-economy point of view, the UAE is poised to experience strong GDP (gross domestic products) growth, driven by large consumer spending, rising real estate demand, effective healthcare policies, incentivised work visa offerings, high tourist footfall and effective law and order enforcement,” he says.
His business acumen is grounded in his experience in banking and finance. “I’ve put in place a robust business plan to create high-quality products, which are naturally attractive in a competitive market. I’m laying emphasis on lifestyle products, which are largely durable in nature,” he adds.
What made him make the paradigm shift to the beauty industry from investment banking? “I spent a lot of time researching various sectors and industries during my stint with the investment banking sector. I conducted due diligence regarding sectoral financial metrics and future growth prospects,” says Khan, who has an innate idea of the skincare and beauty industry because of its tremendous popularity in his native Pakistan.
“My research showed that the beauty industry and organic skincare is in great demand. I’d often describe it as a sector that promises exceptional potential for growth and development. Eventually, after concluding my career as a banker, I began to collaborate with different individuals and then decided to create powerful products which stand out in the industry,” he adds.
Earlier, Khan had spotted an opportunity to enter the European market in 2019, and a brand called Bio Lab Exotique was launched. “My previous co-founder was based in London, and we were off to a dream debut. The entertainment industry in Europe, the United Kingdom and Hollywood fashion moguls and celebrities endorsed our brands to the hilt,” Khan says.
But unfortunately, Covid-19 pandemic struck in March, and the devastating contagion changed the world for the next two years.
As luck would have it, a few weeks before the few Covid-19 cases were starting to get reported in Europe, Khan and his partner opted for a brick-and-mortar strategy and opened a retail boutique in the French Riviera.
“The weather is warm, and customer footfall is traditionally high in the south of France, as we looked at scaling our operations in France and beyond in the EU (European Union),” he adds.
But Covid-19 disrupted his ambitious business plans.
Khan started looking at the UAE during the Covid-19-enforced lockdowns that had impacted manufacturing and retail in a big way.
“I started thinking about Dubai since the UAE’s response to Covid-19 was exemplary. The nation was among the three countries that had an exceptional strategy to deal with the pandemic — from containment to vaccination — and ensured continuity in business and safe travels,” he says.
The raging viral outbreak prompted Khan to dabble in e-commerce and look beyond the EU and virgin markets such as the Middle East.
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