The Life: Christopher Karam is a man working in a woman's world. He may feel completely comfortable with his place in it, but others are not as at ease." /> The Life: Christopher Karam is a man working in a woman's world. He may feel completely comfortable with his place in it, but others are not as at ease." /> The Life: Christopher Karam is a man working in a woman's world. He may feel completely comfortable with his place in it, but others are not as at ease.">

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hristopher Karam moved to Dubai in 2003 to start Gulf Mode and has opened five K-Lynn shops since. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Jeffrey E Biteng Staff Photographer
hristopher Karam moved to Dubai in 2003 to start Gulf Mode and has opened five K-Lynn shops since. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

K-Lynn is an undercover business

The Life: Christopher Karam is a man working in a woman's world. He may feel completely comfortable with his place in it, but others are not as at ease.

It started out as a way to solve a problem.

In the 1980s, Christopher Kara, his father Sami and mother Kaylyn, lived in Lebanon, which was then still in the grip of civil war.

His father promised his American-born wife, Kaylyn, she could return to her homeland at any time. But the cost of a ticket would put a major strain on his finances.

"It happened that near her house [in the United States] was an exhibition for lingerie," says Mr Karam, who now lives in Dubai.

"He told her, 'Great, go to the exhibition, buy a few pieces, come back here and we will sell them and make up for the cost of the ticket,'" he adds.

She brought back five dressing gowns on that first trip in 1988, all of which sold almost immediately. It remained a way to pay for Mrs Karam's flights until they got their first big break in 1992 - the offer of a small stand at the ABC department store in Beirut.

Sami spent his life savings on stock, which sold out in less than a week and K-Lynn, a multi-lingerie brand store, was born.

"Being a family business my father would encourage me,and I use the word encourage very lightly, to work with him every summer. It wasn't really an option for me. I had to be there," Christopher says.

Nonetheless, he was happy to do it and spent a summer when he was 14 years old sticking barcodes on 40,000 items in K-Lynn's warehouse.

After studying business at the American University of Beirut, Mr Karam was planning on continuing with his education.

"My father said, 'OK, great, we're happy that you want to do your master's. What will you do after?'" he says. He told his father he wanted to expand the business. When Sami pointed out they had Lebanon covered, Christopher replied saying he planned to expand outside the country and Dubai was the obvious answer.

They decided to visit together to check it out.

"The opportunities were falling from the sky, practically, and all [anyone] had to do was reach up and grab one. It was too difficult for me to say no to," Christopher says.

He moved to the emirate in 2003 and has steadily built his own business, Gulf Mode, which operates five K-Lynn shops in Dubai and Al Ain, with one on the way in Abu Dhabi.

People may assume working in a woman's world would make his job harder but that is not the case.

"Believe it or not, most of the people I meet when I'm buying are men," he says. "Men are the owners of the businesses and men give the directions to the designers," he adds.

Designers tend to follow the fashion trends and he is guided by feedback from the shops when buying. Experience tells him if a particular item will be popular. But just because he is comfortable working with women's lingerie, it does not mean everyone else is.

"When I first started my business all I had was a shop. I didn't have an office. I didn't have a warehouse. I didn't have anything," he says.

As the shop was very busy, he suggested to one female buyer they meet in a coffee shop near the K-Lynn boutique in the Mall of the Emirates.

"I held up the bra and I could see she was getting uncomfortable. She said, 'You're really comfortable around this merchandise.' I said, 'Yes, to me it's the product that I'm selling. I don't look at it and imagine someone is going to be wearing this bra.'

"It's just the business that I'm in and the business that I grew up in. The only answer I can give is that it came naturally," he adds.

gduncan@thenational.ae

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