DUBAI: It was five years ago when Waseem Sendi, 35, began growing his beard. Although a coiffed set of whiskers has long been considered fashionable in his native Saudi Arabia, grooming products to tame and perfume his new-found face furniture proved surprisingly hard to come by.
When an order of beard oil from Australia took three weeks to arrive, Sendi caught the whiff of a business opportunity.
“My friend had also ordered some and it never arrived because shipping oil can be difficult,” he recalled in a video interview with Arab News. “We noticed many beard oil companies around the world, so I looked up the Arab equivalent and there were none. Which was shocking to me, because of the association of Arabs and beards.”
So, to tame his wayward bristle, Sendi and his wife Samya Fetyani began concocting their own homemade oils, experimenting with all kinds of ingredients, including cactus, sweet almonds and castor oils — many of which Arabs have used for generations to maintain healthy hair.
“We went over to my grandmother’s, and she would tell us what was good for hair,” Sendi said.
Soon enough, after a bit of research, the couple came across their future business partner, Layal Ismail, a chemical engineer who loved their idea. Over the next six months, Sendi tested 60 samples of his product on the willing chins of volunteers to determine the most popular scents. And that is how the beard care line Diggn’ It was born.
“We had a name, a concept and it was important for us to do it ourselves,” Sendi said. “It started with us coming together in our home kitchen in Jeddah making formulations and going out to try them. Our kitchen always had the smell of oil.”
In the process they created something locally inspired that — perhaps most importantly — did not take weeks to arrive from abroad.
“We produced a traditional-inspired natural Arabian brand,” Sendi said. “We don’t have to import this. Why can’t we build our own male beauty brands? There’s no reason why we can’t and it’s a self-defeating ideology to think we can’t.”
The fragrances they have on offer are very familiar to the Arab region, ranging from musk and oud to rose and amber. Their male-grooming products now encompass oils, brushes, kits, soaps and balms that are free of preservatives and chemicals, making them gentle and eco-friendly.
Sendi says his aim is to help men feel confident in their own skin. “We believe, on a greater scale, that if men are allowed different emotions like beauty and care instead of just anger being the only expression we are allowed, that it’s better for our community, our society and for us as individuals and that’s how we all get better,” he said. “This is the mission of Diggn’ It and the impact we want to have.”
Born in Canada, Sendi and his family moved to Jeddah soon after he finished school. He then returned to study anthropology and religion in Toronto, before hopping to South Korea to teach English for a year. After a stint studying economics in Canada, he worked in a hospital helping children with cancer, a job he found extremely fulfilling.
Two years later, he moved to New York to pursue a master’s in social work and non-profit management, before he married and moved back to the Kingdom in 2013. Disillusionment with the corporate world had set in, however, and a desire to return to Saudi Arabia to serve people had grown.
So what is the appeal of facial hair?
“Beards are a male accessory,” Sendi said. “We can lose a lot of hair on our heads over time, but our beards can grow with us and it’s a real symbol. It carries you and becomes your identity and it has created a community of people.”
Diggn’ It landed its first big break when it was featured on Shark Tank Arabia last year, and officially launched in the UAE last month. “It allows people to be more of who they are and find comfort in who they are,” Sendi said.
Although his wife is now a full-time mother of two, the company continues to grow — not bad for a startup launched with just SAR 5,000 ($1,330) on the table. With two new scents — Smoke & Pine and Citrus — just launched, the team now ships to 26 countries around the world.
“What’s beautiful about entrepreneurship is there’s no friction between you and the market,” Sendi said. “The market doesn’t care about you. It’s a brutal but honest teacher and that’s refreshing.”
He spoke of a general misconception that local brands are not up to par with international standards — a theory he views as self-defeating. “You have to get creative and become a leader if you want to be an entrepreneur,” he said.
“For young Saudis and young people in the region and in the world, it’s a big card game and everybody has their deck. You team up with people who have cards you don’t have — this is very empowering.”
For others to succeed, Sendi would like to see more mentorship, support and understanding around young entrepreneurs, although he thanks technological innovations for a lot of his own success. “We don’t have offices. We do everything digitally,” he said. “It makes us think in a different way.”
In a changing region, the future looks bright. “Whenever an Arab man started growing his beard, the comments were about him being a terrorist and shaving before going to the airport,” Sendi said.
“In some circles today, it’s changed and overall it’s changing. It’s part of the trend. Men are taking more care of themselves.”