Matte lipsticks are all the rage these days, especially since the Kylie lip kit began flying off the shelves last year. There’s just something about a matte finish that upscales even a casual look, am I right, matte squad?
Unfortunately, even the most fly shade of a matte lippie can be hampered by the matte enthusiast’s nemesis—cracked lips. Not exactly a flattering look.
Because of the drying properties of most long-lasting matte colours out there, it’s not often advisable to make the matte your everyday look, but this Malaysian duo came up with a solution that even raked in an award for their efforts.
Co-founded by a pair of siblings, SO.LEK is a homegrown beauty brand born from a place of love.
“Growing up, we have always been exposed and embraced the beauty in our culture, traditions, religions, races, music etc. So when we decided to go for cosmetics, we told ourselves that we would need to have a brand that is filled with Malaysian DNA.”
– Dahlia Nadirah, co-founder of SO.LEK
With that naming sense in mind, the pair launched their product Gincu. It’s only one of the 5 varieties available on their site, but the flagship status of Gincu is clear. The lipcream even won them an award for Best Local Lipstick in Anugerah Jelita.
Gincu offers the types of chic shades favoured by matte enthusiasts, but formulated with olive oil as the main ingredient.
And since it wipes off relatively easily, it is even Wudhu friendly for our Muslim sisters, though it comes with the caveat of having less staying power.
With lipcreams that go out at RM39, reapplying the colour after a meal isn’t too guilt-inducing.
An affordable price point was the very reason that Dahlia wanted to dive into beauty in the first place. During a trip to the Big Apple NYC in 2015, Dahlia found a plethora of high quality, yet affordable cosmetics in their drug stores. She thought that there weren’t too many local cosmetic brands who were focused on lip cremes at the time.
So she asked herself “Why not?” and roped her little brother, Luqman into forming the core duo of the business.
Once she had her little brother in tow, the name and branding came soon after.
“Our late grandmother was an amazing woman. Both of us, but especially I was particularly close to her. Growing up, we would watch her getting ready and she would be all made-up even when she was just at home and had no plans of going out whatsoever. Every single day, she would wear her lipsticks and eyeliner and perfume and be all 100%.”
In a way, forming SO.LEK in the first place was their tribute to their late grandmother. Even their logo was inspired by their late grandmother’s eyeliner bottle, and the pair even touts their eyeliner as one of their main products.
Plus, the name is a little inside joke between the two. When either Dahlia or Luqman annoy each other—as siblings do—they’ll usually say “So? ‘Lek laaa,” (“So? Just relax.”) to diffuse the tension.
They knew exactly the kind of saturated industry that they were jumping into, so the siblings agreed that “the brand has to be one that is full of Malaysian-DNA”.
Everything from marketing, selling in bazaars, designs and even modeling were, as Dahlia said, DIY.
After calling their brand SO.LEK, the naming sense lends easily into their other products. If their lip creams are called Gincu, their Eyeliners are called Celak, while their BB Cushions are named Seri.
On a similar line of thought, Lentik stands for their line of Mascara, while their Blusher cushions are named Mekar.
“Sometimes, we would think, oh man, it’s not always easy to translate English to Bahasa. Like, what do you call ‘blusher’ in Bahasa? Pemerah Pipi? That’s a bit too long! So we’d settled with Mekar.”
They’re probably not the first to develop a matte lip cream for a similar price point (Nyx comes to mind), but the fact that made by Malaysians for Malaysians is still something worth celebrating, because:
Local brands have gotten a bit of a bad rep lately thanks to unscrupulous makeup peddlers distributing cheap poison for a quick buck.
SO.LEK paid close attention to the rules and regulations even during their inception.
“We have a very close communication and relationship with everyone involved with the product. We talk to our manufacturer almost daily to check on the quality of our product. We do regular testing on our samples. If there is a slight defect or flaw, we will immediately mark them as ‘reject’ products. We do not take anything lightly when it comes to the quality of our product,” said Dahlia.
In fact, the pair agree that their main challenge towards building SO.LEK happened in their very beginning: finding a local manufacturer who could mix the formula that they wanted.
And they were insistent on getting a local manufacturer, because they believe in promoting locally-made products, so it took them a good 3 months before they could find the guys for the job.
Thankfully, funding wasn’t an issue. Dahlia and Luqman have their mother to thank as the main investor into SO.LEK’s business, but this was no handout on her end.
Being a savvy businesswoman herself, their main investor found it hard to part with her hard-earned ringgit, so the siblings soon learned to be frugal with their expenses.
It took them more back and forth with samples, business proposals and marketing plans before they could launch their products online in October last year—and this was only after they got the green light from the Ministry of Health. They’re currently KKM approved, and a Halal certification is in the works.
“Every sen that comes in and out, must be presented with black-and-white. Thank God, almost 3 months in after we launched the brand, we managed to pay her off what we owed her to start off this business. We hope to be able to continue to be self-sustained.”
Dahlia and Luqman join any exhibition they lay their eyes on, and spend 12–13 hours straight on their feet to sell and talk about their products, which initially won them their first few loyal customers.
Dahlia came into the business with 7 years in the banking industry previously, and experience in marketing, social media and branding. Luqman—also known as the “pretty-hot SO.LEK guy”—handles all of the sales and finances of the band, while still completing his studies as an engineer.
Even though they only launched last year, the pair are happy to report that their sales have reached six figures, and this is all achieved without appointing any stockists and distributors. Their main current challenge lies in the speedy depletion of their products, all due to their long production process.
“Unfortunately because of the process of getting the raw materials and the timeline, it is taking us quite a while to get our product to be re-stocked. Another challenge is to get followers for our social media accounts.”
“We know that some use a ‘method’ to get followers. But we want to keep it ‘clean’ so we would have to keep on posting posts that are relevant and interesting enough to get our followers. ”
Meanwhile, the pair are also on a hiring drive to appoint stockists and distributors for SO.LEK, which they hope will help them reach the whole nation.
After that? Going global, and expanding their product range of course, not necessarily in that order.