Dubai: For a society so taken up with looking their best at all times, Fathia Ahmad's decision to venture into the beauty and personal care business did have its share of detractors.
Fathia, the CEO of Heritage for Henna, is promoting local heritage among tourists by introducing a new range of high-end henna boutiques. But it was no easy task. "I started in 2002 with the idea to sell henna to tourists — initially everyone said no, they said it wasn't a feasible business," said Fathia.
But 28 outlets later under the Heritage for Henna banner, there are few who question her choice of business any more.
A housewife whose time was occupied with housework and bringing up her three sons, Fathia had the vision to take henna and its application as a beauty tool beyond the domestic salons frequented by locals to an international arena by targeting a tourist clientele.
"Most tourists visiting Dubai want to take souvenirs back with them such as traditional items from the country," said Fathia. "Heritage for Henna offers a souvenir that lasts several days."
To transfer her vision into a sound business model, Fathia sought advice from the Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Establishment for Small and Medium Enterprises. Even there, it was suggested this was not a viable business idea.
Determined to see her vision through, Fathia set up the first outlet with her own funds. "I started with Jumeirah Beach Hotel, I spoke to the management who liked my idea. They supported me by giving me a modest tent in which to offer henna services. As soon as I had finished setting up, three customers immediately came in and had their henna done. The first day itself I had a lot of business which gave me the confidence to continue with my plan."
Fathia went on to open two more outlets in shopping malls. She returned to the Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Establishment to ask for more funding. "On the same day they granted me funding and gave me an office in Emirates Tower."
Looking back, Fathia insists the going was not as easy as it may seem now.
"In the beginning it was hard — I had to balance bringing up my family with trying to find the funding and launching the business myself. I took my sons with me every day to work."
Initially, Fathia's customer base was tourists. "We focused on launching shops in five-star hotels and big malls with a high tourist footfall. Initially we tied ourselves to traditional areas such as Souq Madinat and Souq Al Bahar. Now we have outlets in areas as the Meydan hotel."
With the opening of the mall outlets, the client demographics have expanded to include locals as well.
As the shop's name states, Heritage for Henna aims to promote a traditional form of beauty care and revitalise it to suit modern tastes. Setting herself apart from other local stores, Fathia offers a range of classical and contemporary designs.
"We have several models for design — Moroccan, Arabic and Indian," Fathia said.
"There are also designs in Chinese and Japanese languages."
Heritage for Henna is not above keeping secrets. The company closely guards the exact ingredients of its henna mixture.
Fathia Ahmad also owns farmland on which she has been able to cultivate unique henna shrubs. "We have our own natural ingredients that we mix ourselves to give it a unique colour," she said.
Heritage for Henna is currently finalizing franchisee deals in Europe and looking to open the first international outlet in Harrods, London.