After years of not seeing themselves represented in brand campaigns, Pakistani sisters, Aleena, Aleezah, and Naseeha Khan decided to launch their own 100% cruelty-free and vegan beauty brand, CTZN Cosmetics. Their goal was to create a line of nude lipstick for every skin tone. The 25-shade collection was a labor of love meant to fill the lack of inclusivity with shade rages, particularly pertaining to nude lip formulas.
After noting that the average beauty consumer has been conditioned to think “nude” is beige, the sisters not only wanted to create products they themselves weren’t finding but they also aimed to change the industry’s standards.
“As South Asians, we felt that our demographic was underrepresented within the beauty industry — from actual product formulations lacking the correct undertone to match our skin tones and darker lip pigments to hardly seeing Pakistani, Indian, or even Middle Eastern models in campaigns,” they tell thirteen lune. “It makes you feel like you are less valuable to the exact same industry that you are excitedly supporting with your sales — it essentially feels like a one-way relationship.”
Naseesha is a certified makeup artist, who for a while had been considering launching her own beauty brand. Everything finally started coming together when the three sisters recognized how many of their friends of color shared the sentiment of exclusion from the beauty industry.
“The conversation then evolved when we realized it is not just women of color who felt ignored by the beauty industry. Men who wear makeup feel completely unwelcome,” the sisters tell us. “We set out to create an inclusive, genderless brand focused on empowering all citizens of the world to feel seen. Our larger mission is to enhance cultural awareness through beauty, and you will see a lot more to come in that space. For starters, we create a segment called the CULTUTORIAL (culture + makeup tutorial) where you can learn about someone’s culture while they do their makeup routine. In a time where division feels overwhelmingly prevalent, travel is limited and there seems to only be disapproval channeled towards people who are not culturally aware enough — we are here to provide an actual solution.”
The brand’s philosophy is rooted in that beauty should be fun. CTZN’s founders also believe that it’s the beauty industry’s responsibility to enable all makeup consumers to feel that their needs are equally met.
“There is no room for one group of individuals to feel less valued than another,” they add. “Our mission is to keep that in mind with every move we make.”
Get to Know – Aleena, Aleezah, and Naseeha Khan
Where are you from originally? Where do you live now?
We are originally Pakistani, born in Los Angeles, raised in Dubai, currently living between Dubai and London. Can you guess where the CTZN of the World ethos came from?
What were some of your first memories of beauty growing up? What are some early beauty influences?
Naseeha: I grew up watching makeup tutorials on YouTube, begging my sisters to let me do their makeup. I then got certified at Los Angeles Makeup School, then joined a beauty concierge app in London during my time as a college student, as a makeup artist, working on clients with a range of skin tones.
Location definitely plays a huge part in someone’s beauty influence — when I was 7, we moved from Los Angeles to Dubai, where the style of makeup is a lot heavier coverage, more accentuated. Think heavy contour, dramatic lashes. Spending my formative years in the middle east definitely instilled a passion for a more snatched makeup look rather than a minimal approach. My sisters have completely different preferences though, which is what makes beauty so much fun.
What does self-care look like in your life?
Aleena: Podcasts and bubble baths! On a serious note, the highest form of self-care is the ability to set a boundary in order to put your needs first. The power of saying no to a social plan, for example, if what I really need that day is to rest (basically another excuse for a podcast during a bubble bath)!
What inspires you most about the beauty landscape and industry today?
Aleezeh: The willingness to change. The commitment beauty brands and beauty influencers have shown towards taking accountability for areas they can do better. Also I am extremely inspired by the bold, raw nature of Gen-Z beauty lovers. They are going to push us all to own our truths more and more. So excited to see what they create and develop in the years to come.
What has been the biggest challenge in starting your business?
Honestly, getting as many people around the world to find out about CTZN! We know once consumers meet us, hear about our ethos, touch and feel our product — they always fall in love with the brand. That’s why we have done so well at pop-ups and events. But as a primarily digital brand, the challenge has been to ensure the heart and soul of the brand is translated through our online content which is harder than it sounds.
What has been the biggest win thus far?
The 2 Allure Best of Beauty awards without a doubt! Our NUDIVERSAL Lip Duo in the shade Stockholm won Best Neutral Lipstick for Dark Skin Tone just four months after we launched CTZN! Then last year we won Best Neutral Lipstick a second year in a row and this time for Medium Skin Tone. The goal is to win best nude for fair skin tone this year because we genuinely know we have the perfect shade for each category.
What would you like to see more of in the beauty industry when it comes to diversity and inclusivity?
Diverse teams behind the scenes! If you’re not hiring a team with mixed ages, races, ethnicities and sexualities — you are not able to see matters from multiple perspectives. Cancel culture stemming from groups of people feeling offended by a brand’s actions would be vastly minimized if brands took the time to hire individuals from completely different backgrounds to the founders. We need to be running our core content and concepts by individuals from varied backgrounds to ensure we stray away from groupthink.