Dubai's Arabian Ranches becomes a hotbed for female entrepreneurs
Heard the nursery rhyme Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor? Well how about perfumer, designer, confectioner and jewellery maker?
This is just a flavour of the businesses set up by women in the Arabian Ranches, a luxury gated community on the outskirts of Dubai.
Travel up Umm Suqeim Road towards Bab Al Shams and you will stumble upon an oasis of immaculate villas and neatly manicured gardens.
But despite its relatively isolated location - 20 minutes from the heart of the city - the community, affectionately referred to as "the Ranches" by its residents, is a hub of activity.
Whether it is baby clothes, fashion, cupcakes, furniture, jewellery, or even health and image consultations, residents rarely need to leave their desert enclave thanks to the plethora of small businesses supplying the community's needs. And nearly all of them are run by women.
"There's no need to go to the shops in Dubai; you have your neighbours," says Clementina Kongslund, who set up an online directory of the 40 or so businesses in 2011 called www.ranchesbusinesswomen.com.
Why so many small female-run enterprises have sprung up in one community is easy to understand. Many have husbands in lucrative jobs, allowing them to pursue their hobbies at their leisure.
"They come with their husbands and have children so they cannot necessarily work a nine-to-five job. They turn their hobby of baking, tailoring or jewellery making into a small business," adds Kongslund, who runs her own skincare firm and is planning networking events for the women's group.
"Some of them have licences and some of them sell their goods at community markets where they are licensed to sell that day."
Here is a selection of the female-run enterprises operating in this mainly expat community:
The new age jeweller Briton Laila Lambert, 33, is the founder of www.sparklefairy.com, Dubai's first new-age online boutique. Selling gemstones, crystals with ancient healing properties, handmade jewellery and fairy and angel crafts, Lambert, who has a three-year-old daughter, has been attending craft fairs with her products since moving to the UAE 13 years ago.
Then, in 2011, she decided to take the business to the next level, rebranding as Sparklefairy and launching a new website.
"It helped remove the stereotype label of just a housewife with an idea. Crystals, stones, angels and fairies have been a part of my life since I was very young and to finally focus that passion with a business venture was perfect," says Lambert, who is also a crystal therapist and reiki master.
The former business development manager, who has lived in the ranches for three years, adds: "The community aspect means Sparklefairy has 'the last-minute customer', people who live on the ranches who consider Sparklefairy a last-minute saviour for gifts."
The fashionista Indian Ambeera Kumar, 34, is the founder and creative director of Amara, a ladieswear label featuring traditional handmade chikankari, which means embroidery, from Kumar's home city of Lucknow. The mother of one son, who launched her business last year, says working part time allowed her to explore her passions.
"Being a parent is quite a demanding life in itself but since my son was old enough to attend nursery I've had some spare time to pursue other interests.
"It has given me the opportunity to network and meet people as well as learn how to run a business. It is more of a hobby than a major source of income," adds Kumar, a former IT project manager who has lived in the Ranches since 2007.
"Living here does help because the local demographic includes western expats, a market segment I would like to target."
The Chinese horoscope perfumer Deanna Fries, 54, from Canada, is the founder of Essence of Chi, a unique concept that creates bespoke perfumes based on an individual's Chinese horoscope. Fries, a mother of three, is also a feng shui consultant and the first Chinese horoscope master to attempt to turn the five elements of this ancient science into an essence.
The entrepreneur, who has lived in the Ranches on and off since 2007 and says she wouldn't want to live anywhere else in Dubai, launched her business in November last year, after spending three and a half years researching the raw ingredients needed to create her signature perfumes with a perfumer in France.
"We had to come up with a formula that marries both the world of perfumery and feng shui to create elements and the perfume. No one has ever done this before."
The confectioner Briton Suzanne McDonald, 40, runs Toffee Princess, specialising in handmade, luxury tablet - a fudge-like confectionery. The mother of two teenagers launched her business in 2009 after losing her property position in the credit crunch. After learning how to make tablet from an aunt in her native Scotland, she sold bags of tablet to friends, eventually deciding to create a business from her hobby.
McDonald, who works full time during busy periods such as Christmas, now has hundreds of different flavours and sells at community markets. Her most popular flavours are traditional butter tablet, sticky toffee pudding and camel's milk.
"I couldn't live off the salary, but I don't expect to; the whole idea was to subsidise my husband's salary to give me some spending money," adds McDonald, who moved to the Ranches in 2010.
"When I first moved here from Safa, a more central location, I worried people wouldn't come. But it was actually the best thing for my business."
The furniture retailer Nicaraguan Claudia Granberg, 45, is the managing partner of Objects & Elements, a furniture, accessories and artwork showroom in Al Quoz. The mother of one daughter first launched an accessories business in 2005, expanding to a 6,000 square foot showroom in 2011.
"I saw a niche in the market for a showroom where Dubai residents, homeowners and design professionals could buy unique pieces of furniture and artwork to add the final touches to their projects.
"I have always worked full time since; I registered my first company at the age of 26 in Singapore and ever since have always worked for myself."
Granberg, who first moved into the Ranches in 2006 when there were no street lights and few residents, adds: "The Ranches is a big and small community at the same time, hence a lot of residents from the Ranches know about Objects & Elements."
The colour and image consultant Briton Janet Small, 52, runs House of Colour, an image consultancy that helps customers find the right colours to wear for their skin tone. The former wedding dress shop owner, who has three adult children, opened her studio in her home in 2007 after having her own colours done.
"I am generally busy as most customers find me from recommendation. I not only see new customers but also regular customers who love the clothing ranges I stock," says Small, who has lived in the Ranches for over two years.
"The Ranches ladies group is very strong and encourages ladies to support and help each other. Most of the women I know with a business interest here are from an age group with slightly older children, meaning the parent has more time to commit."
The online kids retailer Briton Donna Tomblin, 39, is the founder of www.sandypants.com, an online store selling children's toys, clothes and accessories. The mother of two sons, four and seven years of age, says the beauty of running her own business is the flexibility to work around her children.
"I work mornings and evenings but can still manage to be there for swimming and tennis lessons in the afternoons plus reading and homework. However, you never switch off and we are always working madly until 10pm on Christmas Eve."
Tomblin, who launched her store in 2010, says living in the Ranches has actually boosted her sales.
"This is a community so people make recommendations particularly if they have good experiences. In addition to our central warehouse, we keep a range of stock here in the Ranches so customers can receive their orders the same day."
The fashion designer Briton Rachel Ohan, 38, is the founder and designer of Voluptu, a fashion brand catering to women of all sizes. The mother of two children, aged five and three, with another on the way has lived in the Ranches for five years, and launched Voluptu in 2008 after becoming frustrated by the limited fashion options for women.
"I know I'm doing a good job when my clients walk out of my studio with their head held high because they've finally found a dress that fits them perfectly," says Ohan, a former media and brand manager whose part-time experiment playing around with designs has turned full-time since opening a studio at Objects & Elements in Al Quoz last month.
"I am in the boutique in the mornings and have a full-time assistant to help out when I'm not around. Afternoons are for my kids unless clients book an appointment with me in the afternoon in the Ranches."
Alice Haine is a senior features writer for The National.
Updated: January 19, 2013 04:00 AM