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Waxing Lyrical With Kurdish Men’s Grooming Entrepreneur

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The first thing people notice about Omer Nihad is his beard. Even before he grew it out, it feels as if it was inextricably linked to his sense of self as he tells his story to Yalla over coffee in his native Erbil.

Nihad is a member of a growing Erbil scene that can be found on Instagram under hashtags such as #DapperKurd #HawlerMensFashion and #MrErbil. The clothes are a little too tailored and the appearance a little too scrubbed to be labelled ‘hipster’, but there is a hint of the similar appreciation of the unusual about it. A lot of the men have immaculately cared-for beards.

While Nihad credits fashions far afield for the rise of beards in Iraq – “It all started in 2013 I guess, when George Clooney and some others appeared at the Oscars with a very full beard,” he says – he kept his well-trimmed, tackling it once or twice a week. But he let his routine slide during a trip to London in late 2014, and when he returned people complimented his fuller look.

Not everyone was happy though.  “My parents kept saying ‘Please shave it!’ They said it didn’t look nice and the stereotype about the beard, that it looks like a terrorist or something. At that time the situation was not that good, we had checkpoints everywhere, they [my parents] were worrying about checkpoints. So, I didn’t listen to that stuff, and at the checkpoints I never had any problems.” In fact, he says, it has since become something of a talking point when he travels. Peshmerga have pulled them over, telling Nihad and his bearded companions, “Please pull over, we just want to know you, you’re something different!”

Several months after his first trip, he returned to London and looked around some barbershops. He saw a gap in the market in Iraq for a branded barber’s experience, products that people would recognise and trust. He points to the branding on his coffee mug. “For example you see it here. The scissors, the combs are not their own product. I did a lot of research, I asked around, so when I came back, I said why don’t I do something like that here, even though I’m not a barber. My beard was an opportunity for me to start that I think.”

Having graduated from American University of Iraq, Sulamaniayh with a minor in Business Administration to compliment his Information Technology major, Nihad understood that he should start with just one or two products. “When I came back [from London] two of my friends asked if I had any extra beard oil. So I thought, ‘Why don’t I make my own beard oil?’ It’s not that difficult, I don’t need a factory.”

Because of the economic crisis, Nihad was able to take some time off from his job at the Erbil Stock Exchange. He did his research, created a logo and set about testing recipes using carrier oils such as argan or jojoba which are beneficial for the hair and skin, and essential oils to perfume the product. Everything had to be ordered from overseas, from the ingredients right down to the 30 ml bottles. With seven recipes prepared, he got his hairy friends to test them and deliver their verdicts.

With a recipe chosen, the logo designed and the name ‘Rishn’ (‘Bearded’ in Kurdish) decided upon, the young entrepreneur put his marketing plan into action. A series of advertising photographs were taken, and a Facebook page set up. By analysing the visits to the page, Nahid has found that people are looking at Rishn from Baghdad, Diyala, even Mosul. “One of my friends was laughing about that,” he grins.

The Rishn range has expanded to include moustache wax, combs and scissors, and if you want to give the beardy in your life a present, you can find them all at www.rishn.co

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