A trip to Turkey and the traditional Turkish baths, called hammams, inspired a Montclair couple to start a skincare business. Saaf Skincare was founded by Deemah and Sinan Belal, Montclair residents with a passion for preserving centuries-old skincare practices from Turkey. Keep reading to learn more about this local skincare brand.
(Photo credit: @saafsoap)
Montclair Girl: Where are you originally from and how did you end up in Montclair?
Deemah Belal: I’m originally from Kenilworth and my husband, Sinan is from Wayne. We moved to Montclair when we got married because we would usually meet up in Montclair when we were dating and absolutely fell in love with the town. In fact, our very first date was at Mesob in Montclair.
MG: What is your favorite aspect about living and working in Montclair?
DB: We love the food, architecture, the activities. It really does feel like a crossroad between NYC and the suburbs.
MG: Tell us all about Saaf Skincare.
DB: We started Saaf Skincare in 2019, after our first international trip as a married couple. We went to Istanbul, Turkey in the summer of 2018. There, we got to experience so much of the incredible food, history, and culture that the ancient city has to offer. One of the most memorable experiences we had was at a Turkish hammam, or a Turkish spa. They’re all over Istanbul. Most of them are at least 200-300 years old, but one of the ones we went to was almost 500 years old. And there are some even older than that.
It was such an incredible experience for us that we wanted to bring that experience back home. Saaf (pronounced: “s-aah-f) means pure in Turkish. We started with these incredibly cold-pressed, Levantine soaps. One thing we noticed after using some of the soaps in Turkey, our skin felt great. Usually, we get dry skin when we break out – but not on this trip.
We then expanded our line of products with peshtemals (Turkish cotton towels), tase (copper bowls), and keses (exfoliating mitts). Everything that we offer is what you would find in a hammam in Turkey. We’re proud to source all of our inventory from local artisans who only specialize in those products. We really want to preserve these centuries-old practices.
MG: How do you come up with the formulas for the soap products?
DB: We don’t come up with any formulas. We let the artisans do what they do best. We’re purveyors of these beautifully crafted products.
MG: What are the most popular products?
DB: Our milk soaps are the most popular by far. People especially love the donkey milk and camel milk soaps. All of our products are tailored to help with specific skincare needs.
MG: What would you say makes your business special?
DB: Even though we are a skincare company in a sea of other skincare companies, we are trying to preserve these ancient practices by bringing them to the Western world. We are bringing an aspect of old-world Eastern culture to modern-day Western society. We’re not innovators of new skincare products.
(Photo credit: @saafsoap)
MG: What’s something about you or your business that people might be surprised to learn about?
DB: Most people are pretty surprised to learn that we’re not Turkish. I’m Palestinian and my husband is Iraqi, and we have a lot of parallels with Turkish culture. We grew up seeing our grandparents use these types of products and we never appreciated the value of them until we were older.
MG: Who or what is your biggest source of inspiration?
DB: Our trip to Istanbul was by far our greatest inspiration. We’re passionate about keeping these traditions alive.
MG: What are your goals?
DB: We are still in the very beginnings of this venture. We’ve really just started doing markets and digital media and hope to expand our presence. Last year was basically a wash for us and many small businesses.
MG: What does a typical day look like for you?
DB: With a nine-month-old, there is no typical day! My husband works from home most of the time. But after we put our baby to sleep and after my husband finishes work we work on the business. We do everything from our apartment.
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MG: What has been the highlight in your career/life so far?
DB: The birth of our son Adam has been the most incredible thing that ever happened to us.
MG: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own business?
DB: Our advice is to just start doing things. It’s great to plan, but don’t get stuck on planning forever. Do. Make mistakes. Learn. Repeat. Also, there will be a lot of setbacks. It’s totally ok. You just have to bounce back.
MG: What is your favorite restaurant in Montclair?
DB: That’s a really tough question. We have so many favorites. It’s really hard to be disappointed by the food in Montclair.
MG: What do you love most about Montclair?
DB: It’s diverse and welcoming. And of course the food.
MG: What is your favorite thing to do in Essex County?
DB: We love hanging out at Eagle Rock Reservation.
MG: Tell us about another business in the area you admire.
DB: We love the Little Seed Farm. Another husband and wife business. I’ve shopped from them and absolutely love their products.