A Is For Aspiration, B Is For Bravery, C Is For Community

BY Maysa Al Rawi / Apr 12 2017 / 18:05 PM

Meet four women making the dream a reality (and doing oodles of good in the process)

A Is For Aspiration, B Is For Bravery, C Is For Community

Scratch the surface of the blue skies and shiny skyscrapers of the GCC and you will reveal an unexpected but very concrete community spirit amongst those who live here. That sense of community, along with an entrepreneurial energy that has become so intrinsic to the region, has driven many women in the UAE, mothers especially, to combine their childhood dreams with a sense of civic duty. Four women talk to Harper’s Bazaar Junior about how they transformed their life-long passions into a business – and tried to improve the lives of those around them in the process, either through promoting healthy eating, education or raising awareness of conflict in the Middle East and around the world.

To manage their time effectively, they possess a relentless vitality and drive that should seem surprising given they have young children to look after. These women however all describe an almost supernatural reserve of get-up-and-go they have acquired simply because they have kids. “I think when you become a mother, you have superhuman powers that were once lying dormant. Every day, I have this adrenaline like it’s is my wedding day,” Lama Jamal, founder of MamaLu Kitchen, tells Bazaar Junior. New parents are often portrayed as half-asleep, face-down into half-drunk coffee cups. But Lyla Dalal AlRawi, who was pregnant with her second child when she set up her company Fruitful Day, disagrees.  “I really think mothers are the most efficient workers, you don’t have time to mess around, schmooze or stop for a chat, you’re there to get your work done,” she says. When asked what pearls of wisdom they would offer to other mothers wanting to start their own business, the answer is unanimous… Just do it!

“Dubai is high energy, people are out and about and open to trying new things, it’s nascent, and you won’t know unless you try,” says Tamam Barhoush Tabari, founder of The Bright Minds Institute. But what about that dirty little word? The one that gathers and rolls, settling over most mothers like a dark storm – guilt spelled with a capital G… It’s synonymous with motherhood, they say. “Guilt? Always! But I was feeling guilty before I was working anyway – even when I was with my kids all the time. I try to embrace it now. I also think it’s important for them to see Mummy is doing something she loves and helping others.” Says Maya Khatoun, founder of Riot. The key to managing it all? As hackneyed as it sounds – balance. On the following pages, these women share the secrets to the ultimate juggling act.

Maya Talih Khatoun, 35 with Zain, 6; Jad, 4; and Sofia, 2

Maya wears: Dress, Dhs2,060, Alice & Olivia at Harvey Nichols - Dubai. Shoes and jewellery, her own.

Zain (right) wears: Jeans, Dhs885; Shirt, Dhs625; Jacket, Dhs1,225, all Dsquared2 at Tryano. Shoes, his own.

Jad (top left) wears: Jeans, Dhs915, Billionaire at Level Kids. Shirt and shoes, his own.

Sofia (bottom left) wears: Dress and shoes, her own.

Clothes and accessories used as props, available at Riothere.com. Chest of drawers, Dhs2,198, Just Kidding. Pouf, Dhs440, Pottery Barn Kids. Mannequin, Pottery Barn Kids. Rail, Dhs595, MarMar Land

With a background working for the United Nations, Maya Talih Khatoun, a writer who grew up in Beirut, has always had an interest in humanitarian work. But it wasn’t until she faced a common sartorial dilemma that she came up with the idea for Riot. “I was getting ready for a night out, and I just thought, I have absolutely nothing to wear. My shocked husband said, ‘How is that possible, it is insane how many unused assets women sit on – you can have hundreds and thousands of dollars just lying around.’ And that’s how the concept came about. That the pieces that hang in your closet have resale value and are assets. In the world of recycling and re-using, we thought, there must be an equitable solution.” As a result, Maya decided to start Riot, an acronym for Reinventing Original Trends, an online consignment store for pre-owned and vintage designer items. Once the seller submits details online, Riot will arrange for a pick-up and then dry clean, style and authenticate the item. The twist? The seller has the option of donating a percentage, or all of the profits to charity, which Riot will match, dirham for dirham. “Our motto is ‘Buy, sell, repeat, maybe even give a little’. I call it soulful shopping and I like to remind people of their civic duty, especially in this part of the world.” Riot is the first start-up in the region to partner with UNHCR (The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). “Via the website, people can select the campaign they want to contribute to. It’s an easy way to give back if you want to. Everything is done online.” Maya has been busy over the last year setting the website up, due to launch this month, and has been involved in every aspect of the business from taking Photoshop courses to learning about internet coding. How does she stay sane? “I love creating something from scratch. Even though I am surviving on very little sleep, I go to bed happy.” Her tips on how to juggle motherhood with work? “The kids are the biggest challenge, giving that emotional attention while you have a thousand things on your mind. It is so hard to detach. It did get to a point where I was so distracted, my six-year-old son said to me, ‘Look at me when you talk to me, don’t look at your phone.’ So now, the weekends are all about my children. Also, when I come home from work, I leave my phone by the door, and I don’t look at it again until the kids are fast asleep.”  

 Lyla Dalal AlRawi, 36 with Mila, 4, and Arya, 1

Lyla wears: Jumpsuit, Dhs1,750, Alice + Olivia at Harvey Nichols - Dubai. Shoes and jewellery, her own.

Mila (far left) wears: Trousers (part of set), Dhs820, Graci at Tryano. Top, Dhs450, Microbe by Miss Grant at Tryano. Shoes, her own.

Aria (with Lyla) wears: Dress, Dhs780, Chloé at Tryano. Shoes, her own.

Wheelbarrow, Dhs495; Fruit trees, Dhs450 and watering can, Dhs99, all Dubai Garden Centre. Grocery set, Dhs280, Baby Souk

Lyla Dalal AlRawi, 36, has always had a passion for food, citing being a chef or a restaurateur as her dream job in another life. But it wasn’t until she had children that her quest to promote healthy eating across the region really began. “The concept came about because my husband and I wanted to have wholesome snacks available in the workplace,” she says. “He used to complain a lot about the lack of options, you feel lazy to go to the closest convenience store and even then, the quality isn’t that great. I used to send fruit in with him every morning.” Lyla also wanted to facilitate access to the same quality of produce for families at home, which led to the creation of Fruitful Day in 2015. Along with four female partners, including Baker and Spice founder Yael Mejia, the company provides seasonal, regional, fresh fruit to offices and homes in Dubai. It currently delivers around 180-200 boxes a week with future plans to expand across the UAE. “The ethos of the company is to deliver fruit that is in-season, which sounds simple but a lot of the stock you see in supermarkets is months old and comes from cold storage.” While the firm tries to provide organic produce when it can, Lyla says the primary focus is on taste. “We would prefer to give you fresh fruit that is in-season and eaten at the time that it’s supposed to be grown, rather than fruit from a farm in France or the US that is grown all year around, yes organically, but when you bite into it, it doesn’t taste of anything. I try all the produce. We like to say each piece is checked three times and we take that really seriously. We have a facility in Dubai Investment Park, and we would really love our clients to come and see what we do, because we want that full transparency.” 

Lyla set the company up while she was pregnant with daughter Arya, with the help of her partner, Marie-Christine Luijckx, who also gave birth around the same time. “There was a sense of solidarity among women – we covered for each other during maternity leave.” Lyla says she was initially reluctant to start work. “After I had my first daughter, Mila, I always wanted to do something but I was held back thinking I have to be there all the time, but for girls especially, I think having a mother that works is inspiring.” And for me-time? “Other than my workouts and Pilates, not really,” she laughs, “but I’m fine with that.” Lyla’s sense of empathy and genuine desire to promote compassion drives her. “You look around and there’s a lot of negativity in the world but then you also see little beautiful things like a kind gesture. That motivates me.”

 Lama Jammal, 35 with Teymur, 2, and twin boys Hany and Layth, 18 months

Lama wears: Jumpsuit, Dhs7,500, Brunello Cuccinelli at Harvey Nichols - Dubai. Watch, Rolex, her own. Jewellery and shoes, her own.

Teymour (centre) wears: Shorts, Dhs380, Kenzo at Tryano. Shoes and shirt, his own. Chef’s hat and oven mitt (part of set), Dhs89, Party Camel.

Hany (left) wears: Jeans, Dhs820; Top, Dhs615; Jacket, Dhs1,680, all Fendi at Tryano. Shoes, his own.

Leith (with Lama) wears: Jeans, Dhs820 and top, Dhs560, both Fendi at Tryano. Shoes, his own.

Kitchen set, stylist’s own

“Ever since I can remember, I have always loved to cook. I wasn’t interested in dolls as a child, I preferred to play with toy kitchens. I used to bake cookies and sell them in my uncle’s hotel,” Lama Jammal tells Bazaar.  The entrepreneur has a background in fashion, running a successful boutique in Beirut before getting married and moving to Dubai. But following a stressful return from delivering her first child in London, she saw an opportunity to turn her true calling into a business. “I came home with a new baby, to a new villa, a new live-in housekeeper and a maternity nurse I had hired from Beirut. I suddenly had strangers in the house that I had to feed. It was Ramadan and my husband was fasting, so I had to cook for him too. I was making moughly (a traditional Arabic dessert served to visitors when a baby is born) and breastfeeding at the same time. Yes, I loved to cook but not at that particular point in my life. I searched for a course to send my housekeeper to so she could help me, and there was nothing. I thought, I have to do this.” The momentum to launch the company came after the birth of her twin boys. “I’m not one of those women that can just strap my baby into a carrier and go about my day. I get flustered – maybe I’m a drama queen. But with the twins, I struggled. I thought to myself, either I’m going be really consumed by it all or I’m going start something that is going bring balance to my life.” 

Lama set up MamaLu, offering healthy, nourishing recipes for the whole family, which she teaches during her cooking classes for nannies and housekeepers. The success of the courses, launched a year ago, then led to her running classes for mothers, at their request. “I was very reluctant to teach mothers. It’s not really that original, but then I have a different style of cooking. From mother to mother, I like to teach dishes that look impressive and tough, but aren’t. I also like to demonstrate different variations of how your kids can eat the same thing as you.” Lama has grand plans to expand. She is collaborating with chic cookware store Tavola and has a cookbook in the pipeline. Her ultimate ambition? “I am so passionate about feeding the next generation. Obesity rates are high in the region and I want to start working on people in our society from a young age, from when they’re babies. I would love to have my own children’s supermarket range, to enter people’s homes in that way and get into their kitchen to improve their lifestyle. I wrote that in my first newsletter, which I kept for posterity, so let’s see, I can dream big, can’t I?’

Tamam Barhoush Tabari, 37 with Marwan, 3, and Kaiya, 2

Tamam wears: Dress, Dhs1,900, Victoria Beckham at Harvey Nichols - Dubai. Shoes and necklace, her own.

Marwan wears: Suit, Dhs1,465; Shirt, Dhs440; Bow-tie, Dhs210, all Paul Smith at Tryano. Shoes, his own.

Kaiya (left) wears: Dress, Dhs995, Microbe by Miss Grant at Tryano. Jacket, Dhs395, Chloé at Tryano. Shoes, her own.

Desk: Seat and table, Dhs280, iFurniture.ae. Chalkboard, Pottery Barn Kids. 

Tamam Barhoush Tabari’s natural philanthropic nature, combined with a passion for education, led to the establishment of The Bright Minds Institute (BMI); creative classes for children aged six months to six years. “I was taking Marwan to classes when he was a baby. They had a very distinctive teaching method based on right brain training and I was upset to discover the centre was shutting down. I got together with the teacher and decided to run the classes somewhere else.” The BMI now counts over 100 students a week, attending 10 classes a day. So, what is brain training? As we get older we tend to use the left side of our brain more; these classes help to stimulate and encourage use of the right side, promoting creativity, improving decision-making abilities, and attention span. In addition to brain training, BMI also teaches cooking, drama, music and Bright Beginnings, a pre-nursery session. It just launched a spring camp and will be holding another one in the summer. The classes currently take place at the Centre for Musical Arts at the Gold and Diamond Park in Dubai but Tamam would love to one day open her own space. “At the moment, I want to focus on keeping classes small so the kids really benefit. I would like to see a natural and organic growth towards a Bright Minds centre but I won’t compromise on the quality of teaching.” Born and raised in the US, Tamam, a graduate of Georgetown Law School, has always been passionate about learning. “Education is so important to my family. When I saw how Marwan was hitting milestones and developing faster than his peers after attending the classes, I really wanted to give children the opportunity to have the same experience.” 

Tamam juggles raising two children in Dubai with running her own business – and a part-time job as a corporate lawyer. “I spent a lot of time training as a lawyer and I don’t want to lose those skills. My working hours are flexible so it’s manageable but my biggest challenge is staying present for the kids when I have to deal with clients and my work as a lawyer. I try to achieve balance by looking at the week as a whole rather than each day. If I am busy working one day, I will make sure to be available for the children the next.” Tamam also recently attended a short course at Harvard University on leadership. “It was so interesting and I met such inspiring people. It made me want to go back to school.”And given her constant desire to learn, it wouldn’t be a surprise if she did. 

The complete article appeared in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of Harper's Bazaar Arabia Junior

Styling by Alexander Manners

Prop styling: Rula Tayara, Sitora Rasulova, and Osheen Abdelwahab

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