Insight: Sabeen Zia
the thoughtful curator behind Philly’s first independent beauty shop
It was a morning like any other, I was drinking coffee and quickly scrolling through Instagram stories, when a headline and accompanying story caught my eye. A woman had opened a store in Gray’s Ferry that sold only independent beauty brands. I immediately turned into the heart eyes emoji. The article interviewed the lovely Sabeen, detailing her new shop “The Indie Shelf”, and I knew immediately I had to check it out for myself.
I ended up reaching out, and after chatting back and forth, decided to go peep the shop and chat with Sabeen in person. I was blown away by the selection, and Sabeen’s incredibly welcoming energy. Walking in, her shop just felt like walking into the beautiful candy store of beauty. I’m hyper-focused on color, it’s generally the first thing I notice about a new space as I’m entering, and I loved the pinks, blues, and pops of fresh greens that were dappled around the tiny shop. A burning candle smelled truly delicious, the bright floral wallpaper stole my heart, and I knew immediately that this little pop-of-pink shop was very special. It covers all of the bases- if you want to have a treat yourself moment, if you need a gift for a friend, or simply want to test out an organic lip tint in person, this little unicorn of a shop is one I would highly recommend supporting if you’re in the Philadelphia area.
Sabeen sent me home with a treasure chest of samples to try, and I’m still making my way through the pile. Everything she selected was unique and thoughtful., and her knowledge of skincare and beauty products had me googly eyed with interest. Go check it out for yourself, I know you’ll find just the right thing.
the insight series
featuring Sabeen Zia
THE INSIGHT SERIES IS AN ONGOING SERIES OF INTERVIEWS,
FEATURING SOME LOVELY LADIES THAT I’VE PHOTOGRAPHED,
WHO TOOK THE TIME TO CHAT & SHARE SOME INSIGHT.
JG: First of all, I just have to say your shop is the most beautiful breath of fresh air. As someone who went organic with my skincare, and loves supporting small brands, it truly just feels like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s so welcoming and has the best vibe as you step through the door. What inspired you to officially open up shop?
Sabeen: You are too sweet. I am so glad you feel that way - because that's exactly how I wanted someone to feel when they walked in! I launched my own cosmetic brand online last year. I know the journey of building a small brand the obstacles of getting into retail stores. I wanted to create a space for unique brands creating effective products and support them. I also wanted to bring these great brands to the Philadelphia community - who are so loyal to local businesses and love supporting small businesses. I would travel to different states (and countries!) and find these unique shops with products you could never touch, smell, or play with because they're not easily available or online only. I wanted our neighbors to come in and see these brands themselves!
JG: You have a diverse background working in beauty. Tell me a bit about yourself, and what led you on the path of all things makeup and skincare?
Sabeen: Oh man, any time I answer a question like this - I feel old! It's been a long journey but TOTALLY worth it! I couldn't be more thankful for all the good, and the bad, that I had to go through to get here. Okay, here goes!
I've been so lucky to have the opportunities that I've had in the in my professional career. I had recently graduated with a B.S in Toxicology and moved to Houston with my family. I found a job at a peptide lab (boring, right?!). The schedule was 6 am to 3 pm and since I didn't know many people, I took a part time job at Sephora. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school but just didn't know what I wanted to do my masters in. I LOVED working at Sephora. I was laid off at the peptide lab (blessing in disguise!) and moved to full time at Sephora. I didn't want to waste my bachelor's degree so I started to search for majors that would link beauty to science. And there it was - Cosmetic Science at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, NJ. I applied and was accepted, so I left Sephora and worked for L'Oreal as a haircare chemist full time while going to graduate school full time. L’Oreal was a great place to start because you learn about the formulation process of products.
I moved back to Houston and found a job in the manufacturing department with a mineral makeup company called Colorescience. After that, I went to another small brand haircare lab and worked in manufacturing and the lab for a bit. They acquired a NY brand called Blowpro and that's when they gave me the opportunity to be in product development and marketing. I was lucky to have all these opportunities because it gave me the chance to learn about the process - from product development to formulations to market.
Some employers would put that against me saying I'm not experienced in one area, rather just all over the place. I take it as a blessing because it allowed me to not only launch a brand, but now also a shop. I'm still learning though, and have a lot to learn!
JG: You’re shop is brand. spankin’. new. and so well curated! Tell me, what have this first months of business been like? What has surprised you? Any funny moments?
Sabeen: The first months have been wonderful! Everyone that has visited the shop so far as been nothing but excited and supportive. It makes me so happy and motivated to keep going. I knew people would like the shop but I did not expect such enthusiasm that I have received. I also didn't expect so much social media coverage so quickly! My followers are growing by the day and Philly Mag just published a second write up for The Indie Shelf - I can't be grateful enough for their support!
Funny moments were definitely when I had a few men stop by the week of Valentine's Day scrambling to put something together! I wanted to open before Valentine's Day so....I could save their day! Mission accomplished!
Another funny moment… I had a girl walk in, and then walk out with a travel size shampoo - without paying! It's not funny but it is. Can't please them all!
JG: Your selection is incredible. I could have spent hours peeping everything on the shelves.
What influenced your shift to supporting independent beauty companies as opposed to the mainstream? How do you go about discovering new brands?
Sabeen: As I mentioned before, I have my own indie beauty brand, Muskaan Makeup and know how hard is to get into retail. I am also not trying to complete with bigger retailers in the city. I wanted to carry a curation of unique products for anyone to make available for Philadelphians and support these innovative brands that need some well deserved attention. Indie brands produce small batch products, pay extra attention to details in their brand and customers, and many are also available to answer all your questions. I try my best to educate and guide clients with the products their looking for. But if I cannot answer something for them, I can shoot an email to the brand owner to get the right answer! Not sure if I can do that with a corporate CEO... Some of the brands were discovered through my travels, some through relationships created at trade shows when I was exhibiting for Muskaan. Others reached out to me and provided me with generous samples to test their products out.
JG: Your shop is a unicorn in the beauty world, specific to Philadelphia. There isn’t anything else like this around!
Although I lived in Philly for 5 years before we moved across the bridge, I have never been all that familiar with Grays Ferry.
What drew you to opening up shop in this neighborhood specifically?
Sabeen: Great question! Well, first off - I live super close so it's a great commute for me. Anyone that has known me since college knows I've never had such a short commute! I looked at many places closer to Rittenhouse and Old City. However, I had seen this current space when it was available for sale. When I showed interest, it had already been sold but then there was commercial lease sign up.
My husband and I debated for a while if it was the best spot to open The Indie Shelf because of the foot traffic. Then, one day I noticed there was no lease sign up and it made me SO sad because I thought someone had leased it already. After a few days, I decided to double check and I'm so glad I did because it was still available! Those few days where I thought it wasn't made me so upset so I knew that this was what I wanted, and it's been the best decision ever!
The foot traffic has definitely increased because of Heirloom Market as well as the Amazon pick up center, which brings in people from other neighborhoods to walk by. But most importantly, the neighborhood is so excited we're open that they're always coming in for themselves or for gifts! Being in a busier more commercial area is great for foot traffic but then you lose the loyal and familiar faces that come in to support you.
If we were on Walnut Street or Old City, we'd have a great amount of tourists and window shoppers but Grays Ferry brings in the friendliest and supportive people. My goal is to remember everyone's name - EEEK! one day!
JG: Any products or fun projects coming up that we should know about?
Sabeen: For The Indie Shelf, I'll definitely be doing small workshops and events - keep an eye out for that! With Muskaan, we're out of stock but will be back soon! Back with not just the four shades I launched, with but an additional new shade and improved formula.
JG: What are some of your favorite indie products that you recommend to customers?
Sabeen: Oh, this is a hard question! Because I brought in all my favorite products - Everyone' skin, scent, body is different so their recommendations are different. I've tried it ALL. (yes, I have a slight problem but I turned it into a profession).
I LOVE masking so anything that really deep cleans and hydrates - I love it. I also like face mists - it's great for any point in your skincare regimen - before moisturizing, after makeup, after the gym - or just because! My favorite is the Ranavat Jasmine Toner.
Dr. Alkaitis is a new brand that I am bringing in and I'm obsessed with their cleanser and masks. Their cleanser deep cleans without overdrawing the skin so I'll definitely be recommending that to customers once it's in.
SUNSCREEN! Been obsessed with SeriouslyFab's spray sunscreen that is used to REAPPLY over your MAKEUP!! People tend to forget that they have reapply sunscreen but yes, it's hard when your makeup is looking flawless. This company created a zinc based sunscreen that sets and protects your skin without a white cast or messing up that makeup!
JG: The question you know I have to ask… your daily skincare and makeup rituals… lay it on me!
Sabeen: Oh boy, you're going to laugh! I've been testing out a lot of products but this is my current regimen. Here we go!
• Cleanse: Dr. Alkaitis Cleanser with Fyve Bamboo
• Tone: Ranavat Jasmine Toner
• Treat: Rohr Remedy Vit C serum
• Moisturize: Graydon Skincare -The Putty Moisturizer
• Sunscreen: VivaioDays SPF 30
three times per week: Aavrani Glow Exfoliator
once per week: Dr. Alkaitis Flower Mask
once per week: Aster & Bay Match + Honey Mask
• Cleanse: Rohr Remedy Cleanser - takes off ALL my makeup in one wash #getit
• Tone: Berlin Skin Geranium + Rose Toner
• Treat: Selia Goji berry serum
• Moisturize: between Carter and Jane Everything Oil and Organic Bath Co Night Balm
Eye Cream: Heliotrope Eye Gel
• Primer: Graydon Face Glow or Heir Ateilier Face Primer
• Eye Primer: Heir Ateiler Eye Primer
• Concealer: Sappho concealer in Medium
• Foundation: Everyday - 14e Sheer Tint (for more coverage - Sappho Foundation)
• Eye/Cheek: Manasi7 all over color in Chamosiee or Ikura
• Eyes: Between Manasi7 & Sappho mascara with Battington Lashes's Eye Lash Curler
• Eyeliner: ABLE Cosmetics liquid eye liner
• Lip: Muskaan Makeup - burkini beach day is my daily
thank you so much for sharing your insight, Sabeen!