Three sisters find three paths to entrepreneurial success
"Reduce, reuse, recycle, re-own" is a mantra that has been repeated countless times in the Rowlands household over the last few months. My Ex Wardrobe, a platform for the resale of second-hand clothes, is the latest brainchild from a sister trio who have successfully channelled their passion for creativity into not one, but three, profitable family businesses.
"The most powerful driving force behind our entrepreneurial prowess is doing something that we love," says Sian Rowlands, 29, who is the middle sister in the Dubai-based family who have, one after the other, turned their hobbies into business ideas. "And, if this means being able to offer a wallet-friendly alternative to our customers, even better."
Circus school, drama, sports, music and art. You name it; the Rowlands sisters have tried it.
"Growing up, our parents put a lot of emphasis on the importance of trying out new hobbies," says Teagan Rowlands, 26, who moved to the UAE along with her family in 1991. "We were taught to give everything our best shot and to only quit when we were 100 per cent sure it wasn't for us."
Growing up so close in age, a spirit of healthy competition prevailed between the sisters.
"I have always been hugely competitive and loved setting myself up for a challenge," says Bekky Britton, 31, the eldest of the sisters and mother of Lily, four and one-year-old Finley. "Even at 36 weeks pregnant I would be making sure I could stretch better than anyone else in my yoga class."
The entrepreneurial spirit is deeply rooted in the Rowlands family ethos and has no doubt been the driving force behind their determination to follow their dreams. Their father, a pilot by trade, also runs a Dubai-based solar energy business, SGT Solar, which he set up having researched the lack of energy saving solutions available in the UAE.
"As a family, our business ideas have materialised not only from our hobbies, but also from the idea that if there is something that we are struggling to get hold of ourselves, someone else out there must be feeling the same," says Mrs Britton.
The youngest of the three, Teagan Rowlands, was the first to set up on her own with the launch of Teagan Jewellery, www.teaganjewellery.com, in 2009. "I started small by showcasing my first collection at the ARTE souq in Times Square mall," Miss Rowlands explains. Artisans of the Emirates (ARTE) is a useful tool for budding entrepreneurs as it aims to provide a competitively priced platform to allow local artisans to promote their UAE-made arts and crafts.
An initial business investment of Dh7,500 from her family gave the youngest sister the capital to buy her first batch of design supplies and she also set up her own silver design studio at the back of a friend's house which now forms the hub of Teagan Jewellery.
"Having a creative work environment is certainly worth the investment," says Miss Rowlands. "My latest collection is inspired by Arabic calligraphy and you can find a cute pair of earrings for as little as Dh30 while a handmade solid silver necklace retails at Dh500."
Meanwhile, having quit her job as a sailing instructor at the Dubai Offshore Sailing club to prepare for the birth of her first child in 2007, eldest sibling Mrs Britton found she had plenty of time to indulge in her passion of cooking. Only four weeks into her maternity leave, she set up LilyBakes, www.lilybakes.com - a company specialising in home-made chutney, jam, curd, savoury bites and deserts - with Dh8,000, an amount she quickly recouped through sales.
"Now my business runs predominantly through word of mouth. Each business idea demands a unique marketing strategy and with something as personal as cooking, reputation and successful referrals means everything," says Mrs Britton.
Inspired by her siblings' commercial acumen, middle-sibling Sian Rowland's idea for My Ex Wardrobe snowballed after a long-overdue clear out of her own closet in May.
"A lot of money had gone into my wardrobe and I was determined to find a way to get some return on my investment," says Miss Rowlands. "Unable to find a suitable platform for the resale of second-hand clothes in the UAE I pitched my business plan to my sisters and was delighted when they all jumped on board."
The key to their concept is exclusivity and, according to Miss Rowlands, My Ex Wardrobe puts the trendy back into bargain shopping.
"Starting small we invited friends to our first ladies fashion event in May and followed with a much larger event in July," says Miss Rowlands. "Our clothes are predominantly affordable high-street fashion with occasional vintage and designer gems. At My Ex Wardrobe you can pick up a Reiss top for Dh75 that originally sold for Dh550 or a pair of heels from New Look for Dh69 which is 50 per cent cheaper than the original price."
Finding the right formula is all about trial and error and My Ex Wardrobe has immediate plans to set up a classified website that will also allow members to buy and sell their clothes online. Miss Rowlands believes there is also a market for men's fashion and kids clothing which is something they intend to capitalise on in the future.
The sisters have also found that a successfully crafted and expertly honed marketing and public relations strategy is key to elevating their business to the next level.
"Although we use our company websites as an access point for our clients, we all focus our efforts on utilising social media to engage a wider audience. It allows us to interact with people who otherwise would be unavailable to us and with the growing enthusiasm in the region for networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook, we find this the most cost effective and time sensitive way of getting our message across and marketing our products," says Sian Rowlands.
The sisters agree that working together as a family on their latest venture has been infinitely rewarding and despite sometimes testing their diplomacy skills to the limit, managing a working relationship with each other has brought them even closer together.
"The upside of working together as a family is that feedback will always be honest and heartfelt," says Carolyn Mitchell, a certified NLP Master Practitioner and owner of Dubai-based Blue Sky Life Coaching. "The downside of that heartfelt honesty however is that it has the potential to result in a fireworks display of emotions."
Fireworks or not, the Rowlands sisters have already proved that sticking to what you love could be the ultimate key to success.