Business Innovation

What makes it halal?

by Samar Al-Montser

Today, halal business innovations are plenty but what sets them apart is how unique their products are. We interviewed founders of The Mad Optimist, and MAYA cosmetics brand on how and why they began developing their products and what made them halal.

The halal business in cosmetics has become a recent trends in the beauty and healthcare industry. Consumers generally like to know what goes on their skin and what they’re paying for. That’s why three founders of The Mad Optimist, Mohammed M. Mahdi, Mohammed A. Mahdi and Anthony Duncan, began making soaps in their own kitchen in 2012. It’s also why other brands like MAYA cosmetics started producing their very own halal nail polish brand in 2016.

The Mad Optimist

(From left) Founders of The Mad Optimist, Mohammed M. Mahdi, Mohammed A. Mahdi and Anthony Duncan.

Formerly known as the Soapy Soap Company, the all-natural body care company was rebranded as The Mad Optimist brand in 2018. It’s a company that creates vegan and all-natural soaps and other body care products. Its three founders, who went to school together and lived together, one day decided to change the world in their own kitchen together in Indiana in the United States.

It all began when they realised they had run out of soap and decided to google how to make one. That’s when they found out that many of the commercial soaps are derived from non-halal animal fats, even pork fat. ‘This didn’t square with our values, so we decided to make soap with all-natural ingredients and plant-based essential oils,’ Mohammed M. says. It didn’t take long before their kitchen was filled with soap to last a century. They then thought of hashing out their master plan to sell them. ‘We made a radical decision to make our business the prototype of one that puts people first instead of profits,’ he says.

The Mad Optimist’s mission is to create a community of businesses and customers who are dedicated to changing the way business is done with optimism that takes precedence over greed. They offer personalised and customised bar soaps, lip balms, soaks and other body care products. They’re also offering their employees ownership shares in the business and pay an exact equal wage to all employees including themselves while maintaining production quality.

Products by The Mad Optimist

Though they aren’t officially certified as halal, they get documentation from their suppliers to make sure their ingredients are halal and make this information transparent to those who are interested to know. Trust is their underlying principal. ‘We don’t think that the certifiers should replace brand trust and company transparency and integrity,’ he says.

There are other body care companies offering body care products but Mohammed M. says they’d like to see competitors as collaborators instead so they can offer more value to customers. They’re currently focusing on promoting their brand and improving its products. ‘We’re looking into adding other personalised body care products, including liquid soap, bath bombs and deodorant. And that’s just the beginning,’ he said.

The founders themselves make their own soaps in their own ways. ‘I just made a bar with patchouli, clove and lime that smells just like A-1 Steak Sauce to me. That wasn’t really my intention but it is actually a really great bar of soap,’ says Anthony. ‘I made one I call the “Martian bar.”  It is bright green, because it is made with spirulina and it has fir needle, rosemary, and lime in it. It was so great that now all of these ingredients are available on the website,’ Mohammed M. says. ‘I like lavender and tea tree a lot, so I made soap with that and I added rolled oats which are exfoliating and moisturising at the same time’ Mohammed A. says.

MAYA cosmetics

Co-founder of MAYA cosmetics, Javed Younis

Today, one of the most popular halal nail polish producing brands is the cosmetics brand, MAYA. The business started with two friends Javed Younis and Bilal Saeed in 2016 and since then, they’ve partnered with over 150 retailers and distributors in about 30 countries. MAYA is available on social media but surprisingly there are many MAYA social media accounts, FB, IG and Twitter. The reason may be as Javed says, ‘since our launch, there have been dozens of copycat companies.’ Javed and Bilal both work and live in Illinois, United States, It was a fast move that gained traction from customers around the world. ‘One of the questions we get is “how did two guys from the Midwest get involved in nail polish and halal nail polish for that matter”,’ Javed says.

Business isn’t new to Javed. His family had a beauty product company for decades and as a teenage boy he travelled to beauty shows and expos. ‘I was always in front of beauty professionals, abreast of trends in the industry and hot new products; it kept my mind racing and open to new business ideas,’ he says.

His first dabble in the halal market was in 2007 after he had come back from his pilgrimage to Mecca. ‘Part of the journey requires us to spend a couple of nights in the desert with no distractions. It was on this trip that I realised a market for a halal hajj personal care set,’ he says. Within that year, he put together the collection of grooming tools and toiletries that were halal and scent-free and added them into the rest of his beauty products line.

MAYA’s halal nail polish

He evolved with his business partner, Bilal, and worked on numerous projects. ‘Initially we had considered representing a popular Polish-made brand of nail polish and cosmetics but were well aware of its limitations and controversy in the Muslim community. It quickly became apparent that in order to succeed in the halal beauty market we had to custom formulate our own halal and breathable nail polish,’ he says.

The nail polish products are halal in two folds. They don’t contain animal derivatives or alcohol and it is also breathable, making it safe for ablution and Muslim prayers. Besides, their MAYA nail polishes are gluten-free, vegan and healthy. They are halal certified by the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA).

For companies who offer halal products, but are not certified, Javed believes that site inspection is necessary to ensure there’s no cross-contamination with other products. ‘As far as I know, MAYA was the first nail polish company to be shariah-compliant and wudhu friendly,’ he says. Their customer base is made up of 90 per cent Muslims and they are now expanding into several new product lines to continue being a leader in the halal cosmetics trade.


Both MAYA and The Mad Optimist are examples of businesses that are leading the halal market but they are still expanding into mainstream markets in their own ways. Their products are sold and can be purchased on their own websites and MAYA cosmetic distributors can now also be found in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Pakistan. There are more halal cosmetic brands out there but there’s still more room to grow in this creative industry. It’s just a matter of time before the next product becomes attractive enough to a healthy conscious consumer.


Meet like-minded entrepreneurs and explore more business opportunities at this year’s WIEF IdeaLab on 16-17 Oct 2018 at Goa Institute of Management, India. Register, here. 

12 Oct 2018
Last modified: 12 Oct 2018
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