Indie Beauty Brand Founder Sabeen Zia Opens Indie Beauty Store The Indie Shelf In Philadelphia

When Sabeen Zia, founder of newbie lipstick maker Muskaan, looked around her hometown Philadelphia for a store specializing in indie beauty brands similar to hers, she couldn’t find one. Like any entrepreneur worth with her salt, Zia sensed an opportunity in the absence and decided to open The Indie Shelf, a new shop stocked with up-and-comers in the beauty industry.

The 650-square-foot location in the neighborhood Graduate Hospital houses 30 brands not sold at the local drugstore spanning several beauty categories from men’s to makeup. Among them are Carter + Jane, Ranavat Botanics, True Moringa, She Plants Love, Fluid Fragrances, Organic Bath Co., Aavrani, Province Apothecary, Spela Cosmetics, Sappho, 14e Cosmetics, Habit Cosmetics and Village Common.

“I want to promote small brands that are created by owners like myself. It’s very hard to get into retailers, and I know the process is a lot of work. By putting them in my store, I can help them grow,” says Zia. “I want to help all these great brands get discovered. There aren’t many places here where you can discover them.”

The homey store has a Laura Ashley feel if Laura Ashley were a plugged-in millennial. There’s a wall with graphic color blocking and another with a decorative floral covering, comfortable plush chairs, plants sprinkled throughout and large windows letting light stream in. The interior color scheme features blush, mauve and dark periwinkle, and the exterior of the recently refurbished historical building is navy and gray punctuated by a pink door.

The Indie Shelf
Indie beauty store The Indie Shelf has opened in a 650-square-foot space in the Philadelphia neighborhood Graduate Hospital.

Products sitting on shelves and tables are organized by brand. Zia is closely watching how customers respond to the merchandising and will shift course should the brand-oriented organization not resonate with them. The Indie Shelf picked up a limited number of products from each brand, and Zia communicated with brands to ascertain their bestsellers and the products that might suit the store’s clientele prior to settling on the items she stocked.

Philadelphia newspaper The Inquirer called Graduate Hospital the most gentrified neighborhood in the city. Two decades ago, African-Americans made up 90% of the population, but white professionals moved in and African-Americans today constitute 35% of the residents. Giant Foods has planted its first Heirloom Market small urban format in the area. The entrepreneurial heartbeat is strong in Graduate Hospital, where Zia has lived for three and a half years, and The Indie Shelf joins a budding crop of bars, cafes, retail establishments and more.

“I want to promote small brands that are created by owners like myself. It’s very hard to get into retailers, and I know the process is a lot of work. By putting them in my store, I can help them grow.”

Zia was careful to cultivate The Indie Shelf’s selection from a broad array of brands to speak to the community’s diversity. She says product prices range from $5 to $135 to accommodate various budgets. She stuck to minimum orders—or, if brands were willing, she purchased less than amounts prescribed in minimum order requirements—to test products in the store without spending enormous sums before diving deeper into standout sales performers.

“What has helped me a lot is the brands sending sample sets to try their products. Some of the brands asked me specifically what I wanted to try, and that definitely put them on my radar. Trying is everything,” says Zia. “The fact that a brand took its time and invested in sending me a sample box even if I might not order from it helped me understand the brand and build a relationship with it.”

The Indie Shelf
The Indie Shelf carries 30 indie beauty brands, including Carter + Jane, Sappho, Ranavat Botanics, Habit Cosmetics, Province Apothecary, Aavrani and Fluid Fragrances.

Most of the brands at The Indie Shelf are classified clean beauty brands, but Zia concentrated on indie beauty, not clean beauty in particular. While the store doesn’t have a hard-and-fast rule, she prefers to stay away from brands sold at big retailers such as Sephora and Target. Zia’s brand Muskaan is positioned in the clean beauty segment, and it has cruelty-free, halal and gluten-free certifications. Zia was cognizant of bringing brands into The Indie Shelf that have analagous certifications to satisfy discerning shoppers.

E-commerce could be in The Indie Shelf’s future, but it isn’t currently enabled on the store’s website. Instead, the site will be used to spotlight brand founders. Zia, a cosmetic chemist by training with a resume filled with notable beauty names, including L’Oréal, Colorescience and Blowpro, is preoccupied at the moment with the physical outpost. She’s hoping to recruit staff to provide expert skincare consultations at the store. Attention to the customers’ needs is paramount. “You are not just a number when you shop indie beauty. You can connect with the owner,” says Zia. “As a brand owner, I know how much customers are valued by small indie brands.”

With interest in indie beauty mounting, Zia believes The Indie Shelf’s concept could fit into cities across the country, and she envisions taking it beyond Philadelphia. Wherever the retailer heads, her goal is for it be woven into the fabric of a neighborhood. Zia shares, “I want to customize the brands at the stores depending on the neighborhood and the lifestyle of the people in it.”