Dubai's Mumpreneurs Balance Style With Savvy

BY Harper's Bazaar Arabia / May 31 2016 / 18:56 PM

From home interiors to fashion design, these mothers are raising the bar in the style stakes while inspiring other #MumBosses with their child-focused enterprises

Dubai's Mumpreneurs Balance Style With Savvy
Dubai's Mumpreneurs Balance Style With Savvy

Something changes when you have a baby, well, many things change, but for a lot of new mothers, an entrepreneurial spirit they never knew existed is fired up. From becoming more ambitious in their pre-baby roles, to seeing opportunities in a new way, start-up businesses are often juggled with bottles, playdates and parent-teacher conferences to dazzling effect. One such new mother-turned-entrepreneur, Olivia Corsi of Dubai-based children’s interiors store Caramel & Sun, tells Harper’s Bazaar Junior, “Becoming a mum is definitely a life-changing experience that can lead to reconsidering priorities and reorganising one’s life, and Dubai is an energetic city that allows entrepreneurial dreams. I can’t speak for all mums but that is definitely what happened to me.” 

Each of the businesses founded by the women profiled here is built around children; with a fashion buyer recognising the need for stylish maternitywear, a business graduate wanting to bring a cool new line of accessories to the marketplace, a stylist creating inspiring kid’s rooms, and more. Juggling isn’t easy, but the pay-off for forging your own way can be huge, as Linda Dekkers, aka interiors stylist Live Loud Girl, explains, “If you have your own business, you are switched on 24/7. There has never been a moment where I put up my feet thinking there was nothing left to do. However, the hard work does pay off. For me, as long as I can still spend time with the family, have a girls’ night out and go for a run, I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.”

And it’s not just family and business that need to be balanced – how about that sense of personal identity and style? While sky-high stillettos may need to be eschewed for flats while running around, or white sofas swapped out for grey to hide gummy handprints, these women still embody their own look, the epitome of artfully marrying two worlds, from diaper to designer.

Here, five of the region’s most entrepreneurial women share why they started out, how they manage it all and the importance of staying true to yourself through everything...

Maha Gorton | 32 | English/Egyptian | Founder of Little Farasha

Maha Gorton wears: Top, Dhs2,850, Balenciaga at BySymphony

Business owner and mother of three (including twins), Maha Gorton tells Harper’s Bazaar Junior, “It’s a constant balancing act and there are times when one side outweighs the other. The family always comes first, and when I’m really busy with work I keep reminding myself that it’s quality not quantity that matters. I have amazing and supportive family and friends, and that helps so much.” Maha’s business is Little Farasha, which initially started as a kids’ accessories brand best known for its keffiyeh dribble bibs, then in May 2015 Maha launched the brand’s first full kidswear collection. “It started out of a need for things for my own children, and I love seeing kids and mummies out and about in my creations,” she says. “It’s incredibly inspiring to see so many young women starting up their own businesses and being given the platform to follow their passions. It’s brilliant that the UAE has business licences available just for Emirati women. The market is definitely being supported in the right direction.” On who she admires, Maha explains, “My husband [film director Ali Mostafa] is such an inspiration. He has broken down barriers in the UAE film industry and followed his dream. He reminds me that nothing is impossible. I’m also a huge fan of Dumyé and The Happy Box; both are amazing concepts, and from the start [the founders] have remained strong and true to their brands”.  Born in Dubai and raised in the Middle East before going to boarding school and university in England, Maha settled back in Dubai permanently when she married 11 years ago and the family lives in Jumeirah, where she can be equally creative. Of her style at home, she says, “We have made a lot of our own furniture, but my favourite pieces are our Knoll dining table that has been in the family since the 1970s and an Ocean Sole giraffe that is made out of recycled flip flops in Kenya. For accessories I love Jo Malone candles and fresh flowers.”

Olivia Corsi | 33 | French | Founder of Caramel & Sun

Olivia Corsi wears: Top, Dhs1,470, Emporio Armani at BySymphony

A charming store opened in Mercato Mall last year, full of oh-so Instagrammable products, from quirky stationery to pastel-hued pieces for nurseries. Started by mum-of-two Olivia Corsi and her business partner Paul Vittecoq, a furniture designer, Caramel & Sun offers offbeat nostalgia for children of all ages. Olivia says, “We sell a unique selection of niche European brands specialising in furniture for children, and a selection of items by talented local designers. I like neo-vintage pieces that appeal to children and their parents; I hand-pick everything, and I love it.” The former marketing manager tells Bazaar, “I was lucky to be brought up in a creative environment that developed my passion for design. In 2013, when Stella was born, I realised that I would be unable to recreate for her the same kind of inspiring universe that my mum had created for me as a child, that would allow her to develop her personality and creativity. A year ago I teamed up with Paul – a longtime friend and daring entrepreneur – and gathered a couple of partners to create Caramel & Sun. And here we are! What I really like in our venture is its friendship dimension. It’s a great friend’s project.” On balancing it all, Olivia explains, “I am very lucky to have a very supportive husband, who has been encouraging me since day one. Caramel & Sun is more than just a shop; it really became a tribe where we are all working as friends to support each other. We are so lucky in Dubai with all the help we are receiving from what I call the ‘super nannies’.” And what does being an entrepreneur mean to her? “Being passionate, flexible, not counting the hours, and being as positive as possible even during tough periods, especially when you are working in retail! Always believe in what you do. I found Dubai very dynamic with entrepreneurship in general, and more and more with women. To any aspiring entrepreneurs I’d say, don’t be stopped by the money. Put your ideas on a piece of paper as a start, put some figures behind it and step by step make it happen. There is room for everyone in Dubai and we shouldn’t be restrained by our neighbours. Competition is healthy.”

Maren Gerber | 36 | German | Founder of MarMarLand

Maren Gerber wears: Top, Dhs1,060, MSGM at BySymphony

After a two-year stint in Singapore, Maren Gerber returned to Dubai in 2014 with her family. A former operations manager in the construction industry, she tapped into her creative side after having her children, now two and four, explaining, “I was always interested in interior design. I love to have nice things around me. My style used to be very minimalistic but, of course, with little toddlers running around, I had to make a few changes to our interior. I refused to put ugly, plastic toys in my living room or teddy bear and princess bedding in my kids’ rooms, so I started to search for products that are stylish, of high quality, preferably organic, and fun for both kids and adults.” The result was, an enchanting online store where shoppers can find whimsical products, from wall decals to hanging chairs, plus gifts and essentials. With the practicalities of running a business in mind, simplicity is key to Maren’s personal style. “I like clothes that are easy to wear; such as dresses and jumpsuits that you just put on and you are ready – I am not a mix and match type of person. I often wear silk trousers or jeans with a plain white top, then add a nice bag and flat shoes; I like COS and Zara for everyday clothes, and Saint Laurent and Chanel for handbags.” Of her entrepreneurial spirit, Maren tells Junior, “Being an entrepreneur means that I can be more creative and follow my own ideas and instincts, but it also means that I need to understand all fields of the business from accounting, HR and PR to logistics and, of course, sales. And if something goes wrong I don’t have anybody to blame other than myself. I think generally there is not much support for start-ups in the UAE, for both female and male entrepreneurs. It would be great if small start-ups could be more encouraged.”

Linda Dekkers | 36 | Dutch | Founder of Live Loud Girl

Linda Dekkers wears: Top, Dhs3,150, Balenciaga at BySmphony. Trousers, Dhs5,995, Martin Grant at Boutique 1

Linda Dekkers and her family (husband and two boys aged four and six) moved to Dubai three years ago from New York, where she worked in marketing and first had the idea for As both a stylist and a blogger, she says, “Moving around the globe pushed my boundaries. It gave me inspiration to develop, connect and create. And now I am one of those lucky ones that can say that my passion is my full-time job. Interior styling was always my biggest love and my home was my biggest ongoing project. My previous jobs have taught me to be commercial, professional and efficient. Being an entrepreneur is a totally different ball game. I have learned more in one year of Live Loud Girl than in all my previous jobs combined”. She has grown the blog into brand styling, visual merchandising, photoshoots and events but it’s the interior styling that Linda finds the most rewarding. She tells Junior, “Having a client giving you the ‘wow!’ when you deliver a job is the best part.” On balancing it all, she says, “Like with any working parent, that happens like every other never. My days can be filled with finding the perfect item for a room styling to driving to Ikea five times. Luckily I also have afternoons with the boys on the beach with ice cream. It’s all work hard, play hard, love hard.” To anyone wanting to launch their own business, Linda says, “Start! Now is as good a day as any other. You do not need to have a detailed business plan and swanky office, you just need an idea, lots of passion and dedication. Do not be afraid to speak to others. Exchange thoughts, help each other out, network, and have lots of coffees with people that inspire you. And most of all, don’t forget to have fun! 

Roshni Shewakramani | 35 | Indian | Founder of Smitten

Roshni Shewakramani wears: Dress, Dhs3,935, Adam Lippes at Boutique 1

“It started with the passion to provide high-quality maternitywear in this booming metropolis of ours. As I started visiting specialised trade fairs, and being a mum of two, getting into children’s fashion was a natural progression,” Roshni Shewakramani tells Junior. Her womenswear, maternity and babywear boutique Smitten is now the go-to for the region’s most stylish mamas-to-be, selling international labels from LA to Spain, with stores in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. A graduate from the London College of Fashion, Roshni is still a keen globetrotter, saying, “I think travel is so important. Visiting Pitti Bimbo in Florence, and Playtime Paris are a must to see the sheer scale of the business of kidswear, but it’s also so rewarding when I meet clients who have shopped at my stores regularly, and come by to update their children’s wardrobe.” One of the most recognisable faces in retail, her style must translate from her home, to the boutiques, to events. Roshni describes her look as “extremely monochrome. I prefer clean cuts with a bit of a boho vibe thrown in. I adore Sandro for all my staples, Atos Lombardini and Pinko do the cutest jumpsuits and dresses, while Ayesha Depala has the most unusual and feminine silhouettes.” On balancing family life and the business, she tells Junior, “I have a wonderful team, and kudos to them for making it easier for me. I did realise a couple of years into the business that the art of delegation is key to the balance between home and work. I admire my friend Saima Khan, founder of Cheeky Monkeys play areas, because her positivity and vision is contagious.” When discussing female entrepreneurs in the UAE, Roshni adds, “It’s growing at this phenomenal speed, making the UAE this inspiring, cutting edge economy where anything is possible. To anyone setting out... Research, think outside of the box and create something unique that stands out and is true to your personality.”

– Helen Farmer