x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Wrapt up in special occasions

The Life: Aysha Butti Al Muheiri started a gift wrapping business four years ago despite facing a blank wall from her family. Her company Wrapt is now expanding overseas.

Aysha Butti Al Muhairi is the chief executive and managing director of the fashion-based gift wrapping and services brand, Wrapt. Razan Alzayani / The National
Aysha Butti Al Muhairi is the chief executive and managing director of the fashion-based gift wrapping and services brand, Wrapt. Razan Alzayani / The National

Step into the Wrapt warehouse in Dubai's industrial area of Al Ghusais, and you will find a sea of boxes crammed with sequins, brocade, ribbons and wrapping paper.

Last week, the creative tables on the ground floor of the gift-wrapping company's facility were strewn with yellow metal coffee pots tied with tassels and sari fabric ready for Ramadan.

"This is where we brainstorm and try the designs," says Aysha Butti Al Muhairi, the founder of Wrapt, gesturing to the space around her.

She oversees operations in the 3,000 square foot warehouse from a smaller office upstairs.

A business centred around gift wrapping hardly sounds scaleable enough to make a splash in the competitive retail marketplace of Dubai. But the Emirati mother-of-three, who set up Wrapt in 2009 as a retail shop, is branching out across the Gulf. The company, which has 26 staff, has expanded to three retail shops in Dubai and has two franchise shops in Doha. Last month she took Wrapt - which earned Dh2 million from just two Dubai retail stores last year - to Kuwait. There are also plans for another franchise in Oman this year.

"I wanted a career in art but I also needed the business side," says Ms Al Muhairi about the inspiration for her company. "I have been an artist all my life but never got professional training."

After finishing college, Ms Al Muhairi joined the Government, with her last job handling media and marketing at the Ministry of Economy and Planning. She resigned in 2007.

For the first 18 months of starting Wrapt, she says no one in her family understood what the business was all about. But she persevered with her plan thanks to her husband's financial support.

"My mother said you are leaving your kids," she says, referring to her mother's concern she would not spend enough time with her children, now aged 10, 11 and 13 if she had her own enterprise to run.

She recalls a trip she took to India with her husband during the early days of the business. They were searching for a small factory that hand-stitches sequins in yards of sari.

The narrow lanes they navigated along began to worry her husband. But when they finally found it and her husband saw women poring over the glittering fabric, "he realised what I was after," Ms Al Muhairi says.

What started out with staff wrapping gifts for clients who brought their boxes and baskets to the team quickly became something much bigger.

In 2010, Ms Al Muhairi started taking wedding orders and later that year opened a corporate division, which handles customised orders of boxes and gift items from companies such as the conglomerate Iffco, Jebel Ali free zone Jafza and Toyota. At times, the orders run into 1,000 to 2,000 pieces. Currently, 80 per cent of her business comes from individual orders, including weddings, and the rest from corporate orders.

The wrapping prices vary with the size of the boxes and type of material, with a yard of ribbon costing anywhere from Dh5 to Dh85 and a sheet of paper from Dh5 to Dh35. The artwork has a fixed price ranging from Dh35 for wrapping a gift using recycled materials to Dh200 for the Barbie wrapping, the most expensive choice, with reams of tissue paper forming intricate layers of the doll's gown that sits atop a box.

The entrepreneur now has exclusive contracts with 235 factories in 17 countries to manufacture Wrapt's boxes, paper, beads, crystals, fabric, tissues and ribbons as well as retail items such as diaries and booklets.

These are usually small facilities with a majority in India, and the rest in places such as Italy and Vietnam, allowing Ms Al Muhairi to form close working relationships with the factories and making them part of the Wrapt family.

It means the businesswoman travels extensively during the buying season, but she restricts these trips to four nights if she is travelling without her children.

"One day more and I become nervous," says the mother in the entrepreneur. "I'd rather be around them because after five-six years they will grow up and leave me."