Fashion entrepreneur Sunit Bhatia spent 12 years in banking before setting up her own venture
Money & Me: 'I have two start-ups to manage - my business and my baby'
Sunit Bhatia is the co-founder of Dubai online fashion brand and sales platform Raw Orange. Born in India and raised in Muscat, she moved to Australia to do a degree in commerce, specialising in technology, before joining the banking industry and doing a masters in business systems. After 12 years in banking, business analytics, IT and digital services sectors - reaching management positions in ANZ and Members Equity Bank - she joined her parents in Dubai in 2014. Ms Bhatia, 36, lives in Al Furjan with her husband and their 10-month-old daughter.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
My parents come from very humble backgrounds. They worked very hard to support me, and my younger brother; my tuition and living fees in Australia were paid. My parents were like, ‘we need you to finish your studies, so don’t worry about supporting yourself’. Mum now is a housewife but worked all her life, until I graduated. Then dad said ‘you have to work now, earn your money - understand what hardship is like’. My upbringing led me to think about finance in everything I do. I value money. My parents have been exceptional examples.
What brought you to Dubai?
My whole family was here and I came to start a business. I have a passion for fashion. Even though I was a banker I had a very keen interest, not just in buying clothes for myself but overall understanding of the industry and what kind of start ups are coming; what business models are being adapted, how consumers are responding. I have a very good background in technology, fashion has always been my interest, so I combined that and Raw Orange was born in June 2017.
Why not just continue to climb the banking career ladder?
My dad started an auto parts business in 2009 in Dubai. I’ve seen him go from nothing to turnover of Dh150 million a year trading to 80 countries. I’ve seen his entrepreneurship. I have his blood in me; that entrepreneurial spirit. Had I stayed in Australia I’d have had a very flourishing career, luxurious life. But I made a conscious choice. I didn’t want to get a job (in Dubai). Entrepreneurship is never easy. I’ve seen my dad go through ups and downs, but I was ready; I wanted to start sooner rather than later.
How did you fund the business?
Through personal and family sources. Going forward, as we expand, we’re looking at external investment. For any brand start-up it’s important to partner with the right investor, who understands what we’re doing. There are a lot of online labels and this industry has a lot of potential. For us to scale, to grow and capitalise on that growth, we’re looking at external investment options.
Starting a business and being a new mum must be challenging?
I say it’s two start-ups I’m running at the same time. Fortunately I have a lot of help at home, because we live with my parents. I finish work, rush home and start my mummy job.
How much were you paid in your first job?
My first job was with a bank, paid AUS$48,000 (Dh133,448) a year. I was 24 and started doing my masters part-time, working full-time. I initially got into customer service, to understand the banking industry. I didn’t want to settle for any job. I got a lot of rejections. Because I went through that period, struggling to get a job, when I landed my first it was an amazing feeling. By the time I left Australia my salary was AUS$160,000, but I was paying 48 per cent tax.
Are you a spender or saver?
I save money to invest into my business. I have a savings account. Whatever revenues I have, I reinvest. I’m not a spender; I feel I’m more of an investor - 80 per cent goes back into the business. The rest is for things I want - simple pleasures.
What is your most treasured purchase?
When I got my first salary I bought earrings for my mother and something for my dad. They’ve given me something all their life, now I could give them something, for the first time in my life.
What is your best investment?
My education, because that landed me my job and that job has taught me everything; how to manage a task, leadership, how to analyse things from different aspects before you get into anything. Everything learned in Australia I’m putting into practice here.
Are you wise with money?
I’m getting wiser. When I was younger I was earning well and would spend it all, not just on myself but family and friends. I realise now I’ve got to hang onto it; being a spender is not a good attitude to have, especially if you run a business.
Do you have a philosophy towards money?
It is a necessity, but money isn’t everything. You need money to be happy – it drives a lot of things in life, is an enabler. Without money, you cannot do business.
What has been your key financial milestone?
I was 31 when I moved here. Three or four years before, I started saving because I knew I was going to start a business. I saved AUS$107,000. It was fuel for my dream. It was a personal target; I needed at least that before I came to this country.
Do you prefer using cash or credit card?
Where possible I pay in physical cash or debit card, on a day-to-day basis. I have a couple of credit cards and use them as well. Every month I make sure my bill is paid off.
Do you plan for the future?
Every moment. For my daughter and my business. The next step is to take Raw Orange as a brand to other regions, to sell directly. My big interest is to get into India and Australia. I know the market, I get the consumers there, know what they’re looking for. There’s a huge demand for what we’re doing. It’s going to include men’s and kids (fashion) as well, home wares too. But I’m in no hurry. I want to establish really well in UAE. We’re starting small, sensibly, not trying to do too many things at once. We want to be extremely focused. We have come a long way so far. We have a loyal customer base. It’s growing exponentially.
Why did you decide to enter the crowded fashion market?
I was always fascinated by this business. I did a lot of exploration, what works and what doesn’t, where’s there a gap; one year of research locally and internationally in terms of similar business models, how did they start, what was their journey, what mistakes did they make. We went through a lot of learning. We started manufacturing in the UAE, then started working with and selling through e-labels because they loved our designs. We’re aiming to be ASOS for the Middle East. Now we also buy and sell. Everything is handpicked. I buy from wholesale markets, put my label on and sell. We spend a lot of time understanding next season trends and have suppliers in different parts of the world.