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Teens don't have to trade in their sneakers, jeans and tattoos for formal wear to make a success of a business idea. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

“Small businesses are the backbone of the economy...”

It’s an adage bordering on cliché. Yet, clichés become so for a reason. Small businesses provide entrepreneurial opportunities, create jobs and promote competition, making them integral to economies. The UAE, too, has recognised this, evident in the Ministry of Economy’s plans to support SMEs through training sessions, conferences and exhibitions.

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SMEs operate in almost all industries, and the UAE’s support for youth in particular has prompted more teenagers to enter this sphere, with one market in particular standing out.

An instant magnet

E-commerce is growing rapidly, owing its success to a high digital penetration. UAE residents are among the Top 10 globally for time spent online and features a high “tech-native” population, with millennials and Gen Z comprising a collective 45 per cent of the population. As a member of this set, I am witness to the fusion of consumer culture with tech innovation and leading to an abundance of digital marketplaces.

This prevalence has permeated into all kinds of sectors, from groceries to electronics, and especially to fashion. Recently, a fashion movement inclined towards streetwear has risen to be as popular as traditional trends, prompting younger demographics to become an important consumer base. This, in tandem with continuous growth and development of social media, has given birth to “flipping”. It involves obtaining in-demand consumer goods to resell at a mark-up.

Go with pre-owned

An example of this potential is a group of Dubai-based students who I went to school with. They founded FlexxDXB in 2017, a ecommerce business revolving around the sale of sought-after apparel. FlexxDXB was born out of poor experiences its co-founders had with other regional vendors... and a hunger to monetise their interest.

They were encouraged by an opportune upward trend in sneaker resale prices (such as the coveted Yeezy V2s, which saw an average 26.22 per cent rise across models in 2017 according to German lifestyle blog Highsnobiety). The company uses paid advertisement posts on Instagram, Facebook, Google and YouTube to expand its consumer base, and in tandem with their website, they have managed to seamlessly enter e-commerce.

They have been able to take advantage of opportunities in the UAE such as Sole DXB (an annual lifestyle festival held in Dubai Design District), as masses flock to witness renowned artists like the Wu-Tang Clan, as well as browse exhibitions by Saint-Laurent, Alexander McQueen and Burberry. With social media being what it is, combined with the general fashion-conscious nature of the populace, FlexxDXB reaps the rewards in the form of 35-50 per cent profit margins.

This is especially impressive considering the breadth of competition they face, from bigger names like Namshi to smaller, local competitors like SneakerDXB (another student-run apparel ecommerce business).

FlexxDXB is an example of the innovative spirit nurtured in the UAE, as well as a sign of the times, signalling a shift towards a greater emphasis on smaller e-commerce businesses (run by teens). And indicative of how they can take a professional initiative before even leaving school, learning crucial skills in management, finance and networking.

Fertile soil

The UAE is especially conducive to these ventures, with a profusion of free zones and support programs to support entrepreneurs. Teenagers can, and should, take advantage of this just as those at FlexxDXB did. As this type of business becomes more commonplace, teen-run e-commerce is inevitably going to expand beyond the fashion industry, into categories as courier, catering and tutor services. The latter has already begun to see some growth since coronavirus forced schools to close.

The possibilities are limitless. The one certainty is that the archetypes of teenagers unfit for the professional world is fading into archaism.

- Omar Lakhani is a Dubai-based high school graduate.