Growing up in Hollister, a small town south of the Bay Area in California, Emaan Abbass was one of the only Muslim girls. Her parents, immigrants from Egypt, were very strict. “My dad was literally the president of the mosque,” she says. “I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup, my entire family came to prom with me to chaperone, and I wasn’t allowed to take sex education with the rest of my seventh-grade classmates. I always felt different.”
Indeed, there are few things about Abbass’ upbringing that would suggest she’d become the founder of a new luxury feminine and sexual wellness brand—other than the name, Ketish, which is derived from Qetesh, the ancient Egyptian goddess of sexuality and pleasure.
“Sex was considered a taboo topic in my household,” Abbass says. “But that secrecy actually backfired because it made me even more curious. It was like the forbidden fruit.” Her curiosity, coupled with a diagnosis of cervical cancer from HPV (the most common sexually transmitted infection) when she was 21, inspired Abbass to start her company.
“I couldn’t turn to my family because pre-marital sex was essentially prohibited, so I started doing research and discovered huge gaps in the market,” she says. Although many companies sell body-safe products for women, few are owned by women of color.
At the time, Abbass had her foot in the beauty industry door, working at Sephora as a supply chain manager. But she wanted to get closer to the products. In 2016, while traveling in Dubai, she met Huda Kattan, founder of Huda Beauty.
“I fell in love,” Abbass says. “She was creating magic and I wanted to be part of it.”
Six months later, she had a job with Huda Beauty, moved to Dubai and began creating products from the ground up.
Soon after that, Kattan announced a new venture: Huda Beauty Angels, a business initiative that invests in female entrepreneurs. And Abbass decided to go for it. She approached Kattan with her business plan for Ketish, and the rest is cooch-istory.
In August 2021, the brand launched its first product, “The Quickie” ($27 for 20), an intimate wipe for your vulva, though it can be used all over your body, that Ketish says is rich in probiotic enzymes and made with 99% natural ingredients—plus, they are individually wrapped so you can easily throw a few in your purse or gym bag.
The Ketish website also boasts positive messages and empowering images of women in their underwear, with a full “coochiology” section dedicated to educating women about “what really goes on down there.”
“I want to help women. I want to change women’s lives. I want to normalize the conversations around these important topics,” Abbass says.
It may have been an 8,000-mile journey from Hollister to Dubai, and an even longer journey from a girl who was forbidden to take sex education to the founder of a sexual wellness brand, but it made Abbass the powerful woman she is today: a proud descendent of Nefertiti and Tupac (as stated on her Instagram). “It’s about accepting yourself,” Abbass says. “And showing up for all the other fearless females.”
Here are her top three tips for young entrepreneurs:
- Know your purpose. “It’s what makes you stronger,” she says. Homing in on what’s most important to you can help you survive sleepless nights, pitfalls and other aspects of the grind.
- Have a rationale for your decision-making process. Every entrepreneur—hell, every human—has times when they wonder if they’re really doing the right thing. Try to understand how and why you arrived at specific decisions. Doing so can help you course correct and determine what to do differently next time. “You’re never going to make the right call every single time,” Abbass says. “You are going to mess up.” She believes failure can be a gift.
- Ask questions. “I have a great team that I lean on, and I ask them questions all the time,” she says. Even her girlfriends are part of the equation—they give her their direct and honest opinions about her company’s products. Investors help, too. Abbass considers beauty mogul Kattan and her sister/business partner, Mona Kattan, great advisors. “Huda and Mona help and guide me,” Abbass says. “But they also let me f*&k up.”
Twanna A. Hines is an award-winning sexual health educator and founder of the creative enterprise “Funky Brown Chick.” She has written for The Guardian, Fast Company, NBC News and more.
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