Dubai: Emirati Sara Al Madani, 35, is a university dropout, yet that has not stopped her from attaining name, fame, and success in the UAE.
“Education and information are available everywhere. Life teaches you other things as well. At the end of the day, it is your own drive, ambition, and perseverance that takes you to success,” says Sara, a serial entrepreneur, blogger, and influencer based in Dubai.
Earning money at the age of 15
Sara Al Madani says she started working when she was just 15.
“My father has always told me that I had a mindset bigger than my age and I would do things differently from other kids. I believe I have lived up to his expectations. At 15, I became an entrepreneur by launching my fashion label that specialised in customised abayas for women,” she recounted how she started it all.
With a father who spotted the difference in his daughter, was it he the one who funded her start-up at the age of 15?
Her response was a quick no.
“I did odd jobs. I took part in public events. I also did some modeling. Over time, I had saved Dh25,000 and I put it all into my business,” Sara said.
“I ran errands for family members, and bought candy from shops and sold it at a higher price to family and friends to make the money. I always had that entrepreneurial spirit. I don’t know from where I got it,” she said.
People said my career and ambitions would end after the birth of my son... But it was actually the opposite for me. When I had my child, he made me want to do more.
Sara Al Madani finished high school at Sharjah American International School. Later, she enrolled herself at the American University of Sharjah where she studied film direction and acting.
“At the end of the second year, I had to make a choice to run my own business or to focus on my university. So I dropped out of college to pursue my dreams.” And the pursuit of her dreams has taken her wherever she is now.
Years later Sara went back and finished her course in cinema at a university in the United States.
“Education is important, but if you have no access to the information you are looking for – it is of no use,” she says.
Sara Al Madani launched her fashion company with a fashion line in her own name. She created outfits for high-profile clients and celebrities including Madonna (when the singer visited the UAE back in 2012) and Stephani McMahon (WWE chief brand officer when she came to Abu Dhabi for the Special Olympics), among others.
Changing the way abayas look
Sara specialised in making custom-made abayas.
“When I was running a business at 16 and I was managing people in their 40s and 50s,” she remembers.
“My fashion company reached international levels. For 20 years, I kept the company alive and then I moved on to other businesses. For me, learning never ends,” she said.
“I never had a background in fashion but I learned a lot about it from observing things around me.”
“I had a vision. I wanted to empower Emirati women by customising abayas to suit their needs and style. It was a big hit.”
“I just changed the way their traditional attire looked,” she says.
In 2013, Sara got married. She got divorced a year later, after her son was born.
“People said my career and ambitions would end after the birth of my son. They said [after that] your life changes, your dreams are stolen, you stop living, you start to merely exist. But it was actually the opposite for me. When I had my child, he made me want to do more. Soon, I started seven companies and ventured into industries that I had no prior knowledge or background.”
Today, all of her companies are turning in a good profit, says Sara.
“It is not at all easy running a business. There are ups and downs. I have shut some businesses as they don’t serve my purpose anymore. New ventures are cropping up and I am always on the lookout for something new and interesting.”
After 2014, Sara diversified her portfolio and emerged as a key figure in different areas including fashion, beauty, and entertainment.
In the same year, she was selected by His Highness Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah as a board member at Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, making her the youngest member on the board. Three years later in 2017, she was selected to be on the board of the UAE SME Council in the Ministry of Economy of Dubai.
Following her success as a young entrepreneur and businesswoman, Sara was picked to inspire women in the UAE to be more active and self-confident to achieve business success. Recognised for her creativity and hard work, she is an honoured speaker at many universities, colleges and institutes, including Skyline University, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi University, Dubai Campus.
“I believe that it is important to be an active member of the community, inspiring the younger generation and continuously sharing knowledge and experience. That is why I took to public speaking, sharing my journey to all who have a dream and want to see it realised.”
In 2014, after her divorce, her company went bankrupt.
“It was a challenging phase of my life. Nothing seemed to be going right. One of the biggest fears of an entrepreneur is his or her business going bankrupt. And here I was going through this. I decided to face my worst fear and rebuilt my path from the scratch. The good thing is that you can learn from your mistakes - and I did not ruin it,” Sara says.
“I told myself that I had to get back on track. I started from zero. So I can start from zero again. Taking risks is not something that scares me anymore,” she says of the new resolve that failure had taught her.
“If you want to succeed, information is everywhere. I googled how to open a restaurant and I started a restaurant. I googled on how to open a tech company and I opened a company. I read a blog once and turned a blogger myself.”
Believe it or not, this is exactly how Sara ended up opening seven companies one after the other.
“The UAE is one of the most friendly nations which supports entrepreneurs in every possible way. There is no excuse for anyone not doing something they really want to venture into,” she says.
Currently Sara Al Madani is heading and managing five companies in UAE.
Social Fish: A marketing, branding and social media consultancy based in Dubai and Los Angeles
Proposal Cupid’s: An events company specialising in proposals, engagements and weddings
HalaHi: The first platform in the region that lets celebrities send personal and unique video messages to their fans
Aleksma: A new concept electric hypercar - this is being developed not launched yet.
Helloo gorgeous: At home beauty services
The Madani family
Madani is the oldest of three children to her parents – father, Abdul Wahab Al Madani and mother, Asma Al Madani. Her father is an aerodynamics engineer and is currently working as a supply chain manager. Her mother Asma worked as a teacher and retired a couple of years ago. Her son Maktoum is five years old and is the apple of her eye.
Her younger sister Hind works for the government while her brother Hamad is an engineer by profession. Her family lives in Sharjah, but she stays in Dubai.
The roots of the Al Madani family said to go back to Saudi Arabia. “My ancestors lived there years ago before the UAE was formed.”
What is success to Madani?
“The older you get, you realise success is not just about doing something you love and making money from it. Remember many rich people in the world are depressed. So it is important to share your wealth with those who need it. When you see their happiness, it is very empowering,” she says.
She said: “Understanding your purpose in life and being clear about it is critical. Letting go of the past, forgiving yourself for putting yourself in situations where you were not comfortable are all feelings important to address. That’s when you start having a relationship with yourself and know exactly what you want.”
Being the lightworker
Sara claims she is a lightworker. “For the uninitiated, a lightworker is someone who transmutes darkness into light. They are often people who have endured some hardship or trauma in their lives and have come to understand that challenges are not meant to break them. Rather, they view such hardships as an opportunity for insight and healing — allowing them to pass their wisdom and experience to others. This is me. I am an educator, a public speaker and I want to transform lives,” she said.
Sara says she has given 198 speeches in the last three years. She adds she may be a millionaire today, but her real millions come from making others happy and changing their lives for the better.
Message for other women
“If you want to be successful, you have to break the chains. Hold your ground. Women are always afraid of what people will think or say. It does not matter, end of the day. You need to pay your bills. If you are down people will not be there for you. So stay strong and avoid listening to people.”
What next? An electric car
Sara is working with her business partners to build a special electric car.
“It’s an electric car that I’m building in Europe with my business partners. We are working with the top engineers and the world-class designers to make this dream come true.”