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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Money & Me: 'My artisan group, ArtE, is a way to top up your finances'

Miriam Walsh, the Dubai resident behind the community market group, says some entrepreneurs now use the concept as a springboard to a proper business 

Miriam Walsh, founder and organiser of ArtE, set up the concept to fill her spare time as a stay-at-home mum. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Miriam Walsh, founder and organiser of ArtE, set up the concept to fill her spare time as a stay-at-home mum. Chris Whiteoak / The National

As a founder, owner and organiser of ArtE, Miriam Walsh, knows plenty about turning creative talent into income. The group, founded in 2005, brings together UAE artisans for regular handmade crafts and art markets at Times Square Centre, Wafi Mall and Mercato Mall in Dubai, and in Ras al Khaimah. Born in Amsterdam, Mrs Walsh, 57, lived in the Netherlands for 23 years before moving to the UK to set-up home with husband Stephen, an HR director. Now living in Jumeirah, the mother-of-two discusses her money mindset.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

My mother would say ‘you pay for a service immediately’. Everything cash, done upfront. My parents moved to a place called Haarlem, in the Netherlands and set-up an off licence. They started with nothing and turned it into a million guilder (pre-Euro Dutch currency) business eventually, through hard work, devotion, dedication. My dad would invite customers for a glass of something to build a foundation for a business relationship based on friends and being social. I see myself doing that with ArtE; I make a connection with people and the business follows.

What led to you living in the UAE?

When our daughter Josie turned one we decided we needed financial change. We did the classic thing in England; had a house, a baby, moved to a bigger place. I stopped working and suddenly we had one income, double mortgage and another mouth to feed. We lived off £50 (Dh246) a week in 1989. It was tight. Stephen was offered a job with BP, so in 1990 we rented out our house in Cambridge and moved to Dubai. Josie is now a stunt coordinator in the movie industry in Cape Town.

What prompted you to co-found ArtE in 2005?

By then we had two children. I wanted to be a stay-at-home mum and started looking at how I could fill my day using my creativity, doing the ancient art of wool felt work to make fashion items, and which I now apply to making collectible tree decorations. We went to markets organised by clubs and schools. It often did not work out for us; there were always cheaper imported products. A friend suggested we set up our own, so we created a market so that we could focus the media and customers on the quality of handmade. We also, as vendors, got the marketing and PR we needed, and excluded re-sellers (of imports). Today ArtE is a base where sellers go to top up their finances. People came to the market initially for creativity and then those who were getting it right started to earn money. It was cottage industry, but we see this changing; we’re targeted by entrepreneurs, start-ups, or makers who have a business and want to test new products. ArtE is a good benchmark before they invest in production. It’s an affordable shop window. People are bouncing off each other for ideas and inspiration.

Have ArtE artisans gone on to find commercial success?

We’ve seen a number of vendors, artists as well, approached by established businesses, either hotels or tourist shops, boutiques. They’ve taken products from vendors and put them in shops. We had a lady who started at ArtE and ran her own boutique for 10 years. We see people using ArtE as a springboard into a proper business.

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How much were you paid in your first job?

It was in my mum and dad’s store and I would earn 25 guilders (Dh40) for my Saturday. I started earning my first money when I was 16.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I spend money very slowly. And I am a saver. I see something that I would like, but can take months before I buy it. The feeling has to be right. I save all year and suddenly spend. If I need clothes for work, I go to a nice shop and buy a few pieces that will last me a couple of years.

Where do you save?

We save via a financial adviser. We also save in a bank savings account.

What is your philosophy towards money?

It’s a means to solve a need. Everything costs money. I don’t really have a philosophy for it. I don’t spend money to receive money – there are people who say ‘be lavish, the energy has to flow’. I don’t. For me, I need money to live. It’s simply a necessity.

What is your most cherished purchase?

Taking Josie (now 28), Justin, my son, now 25 and a personal trainer, and Stephen for dinner at Johnny Rockets - and I paid from my first Dubai earnings. That was 20 years ago and probably my most precious moment connected to money. I’ve had proper jobs in Holland and England. With the babies I had a break and then got a part-time job, as a nursery school administrator.

Do you prefer paying in cash or by credit card?

Everything is done in cash – 95 per cent physical cash, five per cent debit card. If I’ve got Dh500 in my wallet; I like to see how long it will last. It gives me a feeling of control, how I am spending my money and lets me assess when I should stay at home and not spend.

What has been your best investment?

A Citroen Dolly, a French car we bought in Cambridge 35 years ago. We store it in a garage in Holland and it’s on the road when I’m in Europe. Recently it has been refurbished, well worth it because this car is now worth about Dh50,000. I bought it for £4,000 (Dh19,700) as a passion – you can take the back seat out and have a picnic and roll the roof back.

How has past employment influenced your current role?

I trained as a personal assistant, administrator and secretary for high-level directors and chairmen. From college I went into temporary employment; short-term contracts via an agency to go to stockbrokers, senior management. I liked serving the people I worked for - I didn’t want to be chairman, I wanted to work with the chairman to be successful. That feeds into running ArtE as I’m supplying a platform to people for them to be successful, so they can flourish and grow. I’ve good contracts with malls; we’ve always had good relationships with our locations.

What do you regret spending money on?

I bought a Christmas tree yesterday for a project that’s not going to happen and wasted Dh450. That hurts. I hate spending on something I end up not using or wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. When I’ve bought things for a particular purpose and the purpose didn’t mature … I find that tough to swallow.

Do you plan for the future?

I try to save as much as I can. Am I successful? No. I have good intentions. Every lead I have for the market, I work at. I work for the future, back in Europe.

What would you raid your savings for?

My savings have to be at least a coin for the telephone on the street so I can phone home or enough money to get a ticket home. That money I will always have available. The only expense I’m prepared to make right now is to invest in my children’s education. That’s an investment.

Ms Walsh at an ArtE market in Wafi Mall, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Ms Walsh at an ArtE market in Wafi Mall, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National