Dubai: It is not all about lights, colours and fireworks, not even about carnivals and dance shows, it is also not only about luring tourists, shopping and winning fancy cars. Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF), the region's largest shopping and tourism extravaganza, is much more than these. The event has established itself as an incubator for Emirati women entrepreneurs bidding to support their families and, in the process, contribute to the national economy.

"We had always made it a point to organise events that cater to women and teenage girls who want to depend on themselves and fulfill their ambitions," Laila Suhail, chief executive of DSF, told Gulf news in an interview.

"This segment of the community has always struggled to showcase their talents, and we at DEPE [Dubai Events and Promotions Establishment] gave many of them the chance to do so through our events in DSF and Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS) too — whether their talents were in fashion, art, cooking, we always created events to embrace them," she said.

Young Emiratis Umm Rashid, Umm Khalifa and Ayesha Al Mur are examples of entrepreneurs who have succeeded in not only setting up small businesses but are now in the process of promoting their own patents in design and products.

"Thanks to the DSF for providing support to start up businesses which helped me start my entrepreneurial venture," Umm Rashid said.

Umm Rashid, 34, started a fashion design business with her sister eight years ago during the DSF.

"We are two Emirati women who have the talent, ambition and determination to become successful in business. However, we were waiting for the proper time and the right opportunity to invest further," she said.

"It was very difficult to start my business without the DSF. It was a great chance to gain the name and fame we have achieved since we started our business with this global event in 2002. No one had heard about our designs until the DSF came and gave us that big brand name M&A Abaia Art."

The DSF has helped the duo to get off the ground through setting up kiosks in Global Village and World Trade Centre to display their designs.

"In addition to this, we had free participation in fashion shows throughout the festival and the publicity we got from advertisements and interviews we had in different media channels," she said.

"The DSF is our window to our fame and publicity."

It offered her a platform at a reduced cost to give startup business a boost with exposure to a wide customer base, she said.

The two sisters went on to become serious businesswomen after years of hard work and constant support from the DSF. From 50 different designs of abayas in 2002, their business has grown to a a large showroom in Mirdif with thousands of abayas on display at the moment.

M&A Abaya Art products are priced between Dh800 and Dh3,000.

Umm Rashid recalls, "My sister and I were not looking to make profit out of our business, initially. We were trying to proove ourselves as productive women in our society. We are members of a well-to-do family and we were not asking so much in return from this business. Our aim is to prove that Emarati woman can contribute to the growth of our economy," she said.

Business advice

The initiative launched by the festival in 1996 has enhanced the role of Emirati women in the world of business and has also helped them support their families, she remarked.

"If you think you are ready to start an enterprise having the right idea and your own business plan, take a moment to go to the DSF and look around. It will give you the change to be a successful entrepreneur," she added.

"Since we became one of the famous abaya designers in the UAE with our brand becoming big in the market, the DSF management told us that we will be able to continue in our own without their help," she said.

A good part of M&A Abaya Art business profit goes to social and charitable activities in Dubai, she said.

"We are very loyal to the DSF and will be thankful to them forever."

Many people are given to believe that Emirati women lead a lavish life with no interest in work or even a thought to participate in social and economic growth. However, the DSF came to change this image, says Umm Khalifa, a perfumer.

The DSF has helped in shaping the talents of Emirati women entrepreneurs and develop future corporate leaders. This will in turn improve the image of the UAE nationals in general and Emarati women in particular, she said.

"The DSF took me back to work after spending years as a housewife. Before getting married, I had managed a small e-commerce project from my parents' house, but left everything to become a wife and mother of four.

"The DSF reignited the potential and lured me back to the world of business," she added.

"I am not the only such example in the DSF. The event has launched tens of businesswomen and helped to create new ventures," she said.

The DSF initiative focuses on increasing the number of Emirati women and enhancing their contributions to the economy. Such a national programme has helped Emirati women to become business leaders or work to support their families from homes.

Work-life balance

Umm Khalifa added that DSF aims at maintaining a balance between work and home responsibilities. It provides unique opportunities for women in training and work.

Talking about her success with perfumes, she said, "I inherited this skill from my grandmother whom I used to help with mixing perfumes from original fragrances."

After graduating in Business Administration from the Higher Colleges of Technologies in 2000, Umm Khalifa got married, which took her away from her hobby.

"In 2005 and with the DSF help I started my business from home," she said.

"Today, I have my brand name ‘Um Khalifa Perfumes' and my business flourished and grew not only in Dubai but the UAE."

Umm Khalifa is continuously receiving orders from perfume shops.

Her perfume ranges from Dh50 to Dh350, she added: "Anyone whatever his financial situation, can buy my products."

One of her famous products is ‘Land and Property Perfume', from which she produced 1,000 pieces to be distributed by the Properties and Land Department on the 50 anniversary of the organisation.

"One of the real problems facing Emirati women in their careers is how to balance work and family life. Therefore another main objective of the DSF initiaiteve was to pave the way for women's participation and career growth at work.

Aisha Al Mur, another Emirati entrepreneur, used the DSF as a platform to promote her accessories business.

"DSF offers a unique chance for women to grow. It supports their commitment towards personal developments, Aisha said.

"The festival creates an environment to drive women's contribution to the society at large."

She said this global event has facilitated her business since she was offered an outlet to display her products for only Dh5,000 at the Global Village. "The rate is minimal and can not be found anywhere in the Emirates," she said.

Aisha makes accessories from crystal. She manufactures earings, braclets nakelaces and other accessories of her own designs. Her products have become quite famous amongst UAE and expatriates women for their uniqueness and beauty.

Through DSF, Aisha could get free advertising and publicity for her new brand name ‘Crystallise Moi'.

"What a great chance the DSF has offered to me!," she said, "People form UAE and all over the world buy my products from my kiosk in the Global Village."

Aisha, who now heads a two-year old business, had took up the hobby of making accessories from crystal when she was 10 years old. "The opportunities that DSF gave me in training and work were very helpful for me in creating a very skilled workforce and developing decision-making roles and increasing my confidence and self-awareness."

Have your say
Are you an entrepreneur? Did you face any difficulties while starting up your business? Do you know of any schemes that could be offered to help entrepreneurs start their business? Tell us.