November 03, 2014 12:00 AM | by Mia Jafari
Getting to the Business of Fashion
For the past four years, I have run my own fashion label, Mia Jafari, designing limited edition digital prints on scarves and dresses. I came from the UK to Dubai a month ago, and have since spent my time in Dubai indulging myself: trotting around 5-star hotels, attending all the fashion events, and lounging at the best pool bars Dubai has to offer; I like to think that I was getting used to the city; or rather, helping the city get used to me. I decided enough was enough and it was time I got down to the exciting task of designing and building my business in a completely new way, in a completely new land.
Starting a business in London was fairly straightforward, you only need one thing and lots of it; moola, dough, dosh, capital, money. Here however, there exists only one true currency: networking. It’s about who you know, and more importantly, who knows you. What better place to start than by joining the community at Impact Hub Dubai. Here in the Hub, I could really learn about this great city of Dubai, have access to their impressive networks and share my skills and experience of running a design business with other like-minded souls.
The Impact Hub welcomed me with open arms and I instantly felt the warm glow of a community of fellow can-do entrepreneurs in-the-rising. My first port of call was the Emirati Launchpad, a pre-incubation program designated exclusively for Emirati entrepreneurs, and the first of its kind. I participated in the inaugural workshop, a session on storytelling and its origins. There, I was given the opportunity to meet members of this thriving and inspiring community. One such member was Shuaib Alkaff, a local Emirati who works as an executive in market surveillance for the Abu Dhabi government. We discussed in detail his plans to launch a beauty app in the UAE that discloses the nearest beauty salons within a mile radius of you. Because let’s be honest ladies, you never know when you need one in a rush. And this is why you’ve got to love Dubai: a city where you will meet many successful men and women who refuse to play it safe, choosing instead to risk it all to follow their passion for creating something new in their country.
After the initial excitement of meeting so many inspiring Emiratis, we were addressed by our enigmatic and charismatic speaker Rabih El Khodr from Standup! Communications who started off by telling us his own story of how he got into public speaking: two years ago, frustrated in his job, he experienced a bolt of lightning, ‘I should do what I do best - motivate people through public speaking’. Simple, but how many of us dare risk our safety nets in the pursuit of our version of happiness? Whilst Rabih’s presentation focused on how as designers/entrepreneurs we must be able to tell and sell our story, what I really felt from Rabih and other participants in the workshop was their energy and desire to cultivate change. This was the basis of all their stories. We were all here in this one place, at this one time, to make a change in our lives and the lives of others.
As Rabih led the discussion, I pondered over my own decisions, my own experiences, and my own business. Whilst I absolutely love what I do; from travelling the world, to finding inspiration, to perfecting the final photo-shoot that best captures my model’s look and style; the idea of running a fashion business, dealing with manufacturers, managing taxes, sales, marketing and PR has very little to do with fashion and everything to do with business. What’s wrong with this you may ask? Well as the Rabih brilliantly simplified it, ‘we all go into enterprise because of our passions’ and my passion has never been business. So in many ways, I have felt like I have failed in my original endeavor – to be a designer. I may have have been featured in all major fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar and have seen my designs sold in designer shops like S*uce in Dubai and Debut in New York, but I have constantly felt myself weighed down with the incessant practicalities of business and have had little space to experience creative growth.
Yet being here, now, in Dubai with such people around me, all who want to create something and knowing that it’s only through business that they can do so has made me reevaluate my own mindset. The energy in the room was contagious, exhilarating even, and the first change I know I must make is my mindset. Business can be creative rather than the ugly surplus a creative designer has to endure. Being a designer, creating in our studio is isolating, but being an entrepreneur is more than bringing our designs to the attention of buyers and consumers, it is about creating a brand, a legacy, something that has life in itself, and ultimately something that brining in profits. I am rejuvenated.
Here in this community, I have found something that I never expected to find, that I am not alone – we are all here with the desire to cultivate change. And what this community has taught me is that I don’t have to be alone, and that as designers and entrepreneurs coming together to share our stories, ideas, dreams, fears and doubts; our individual passions are strengthened in the face of daily turbulences that life throws in our way. We can’t go through our journey alone, we need a community, a fraternity; “no man is an Island,” they say, we need lots of little islands, made up of like-minded people that support us, perk us up over a cup of coffee or suggest new ideas and opportunities...
And that’s what every designer needs along her way and what the Impact Hub does best.