- When did you first know that you wanted to become an entrepreneur, and what was the point that really made you go for it?
I believe that becoming an entrepreneur is not really a decision that someone takes, rather it largely depends on how a person is brought up and their education. I am the oldest of four sisters, and my father was my idol growing up. He was a successful business man who had his own company, and I dreamt of being like him since I was a child. I actually never saw myself as an employee, but as someone who had their own business. So, I grew up with that in mind, and I remember that I made my first successful sale deal when I was just 11 years old. My family and I were visiting friends, and they liked my yoyo and asked me to get one for them. I went to the supplier and bought yoyos and added a markup on its price and sold it to them. At 15 years old, I embarked in a similar venture when I found out that Benetton opened in Syria. So, I started going there and buying clothing which I would sell to my friends in Lebanon during an “open door” event in my own house. So the idea of having my own business started out for me at a really young age.
- What was the inspiration behind Darling’s Touch?
My father was a trader of raw material for everything related to fashion accessories, which inspired me to launch my own line of accessories when I was about 20 years old. Back then, I was living in Riyadh, and one day, as I was shopping at Harvey Nichols, I had the idea of pitching my own accessories to them, since I already acquired an experience in doing so. I had branded them “Darling’s accessories”, they accepted and the rest was history. In 2003, I moved back to Beirut and founded my own company. We designed and produced all sorts of fashion accessories. In 2007, I rebranded the company and named it “Darling’s touch” because I wanted to expand it to fashion clothing, and I didn’t want to limit my line of products to accessories. I recruited a company from Dubai to assist me in this move, because I wasn’t yet acquainted with the Lebanese Franchise Association – which I later discovered and became its vice-president of the board.
- What sets Darling’s Touch apart from its local and international competition?
Darling’s touch is a lifestyle, more than anything. It is the cosmopolitan, modern, easygoing yet sophisticated woman. It reflects the image of the fashionable business woman, who loves to stand out with her looks despite being busy at work. It is the outstanding look that a woman seeks, it is a way of life. It is a very special concept, and any woman who wears from Darling’s touch will definitely stand out. It has this unique touch, which adds to her look and personality and presence an elegant touch, allowing her to become an unforgettable sight.
- What is the best and the hardest part about having your own business as a Lebanese woman?
I always say that in Lebanon all business owners are faced with challenges, regardless of their gender. We have been living for years in an atmosphere of imbalance and uncertainty, be it on the economic, political, or social level – all of which impact businesses in Lebanon. This sums up the daily challenge of any Lebanese businessperson. It is really tough to work in Lebanon, and it is difficult for business owners to stay and survive in this country. I always tell myself that I would have been a billionaire in any other country. But, Lebanon holds a special place in my heart; I admire the resilience of my people, it means a lot to me. But we are going through hard times that are really testing this resilience. I really hope things will get better, because life in Lebanon is very special. We should really embrace and protect our lifestyle and culture, especially as entrepreneurs. We should keep fighting for our country, and make it better for the coming generations.
- What advice do you give women who are looking to start their own business?
My advice to anyone who wants to start their own business is that they should love what they do. They should also be patient, because it takes time to prove yourself in the business world. I have been doing it for 18 years, and they have to know that there are at least 10 years of trial and error in any business. They should acquire experience, and adapt to different working styles, different challenges – such as what we are going through because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Right now, how we work has the changed, how we dress has changed. In retail, there is no more demand on fancy clothing and events given the current situation. Instead, people should be agile in order to adapt to the market’s demands and its trends. They should be innovative and creative and keeping up with digital evolution, such as ecommerce. Times are moving fast. Any business person need to know their numbers, their competitors to last in the market.
- What role do you think social media plays for businesses such as Darling’s Touch today?
I believe we live in two worlds today. One is the real world, the other is the virtual world that exists on social networks. The latter can reflect reality, or can be fake. So, the most important thing for a business is to be reflected ethically and authentically on Social Media. At the end of the day, Social Media is a tool for people and businesses to improve their lives, not to fake it. Content should be useful on social networks, and there should be a clear message because today this medium has become the best and most efficient way to market any business. Competition is becoming tougher and ads on these networks are becoming more expensive, but it will remain the best marketing tool for the coming years in my opinion.
- How do you balance your role as President of Women Leaders Council of Lebanon and your business?
I have been an active member in public affairs related to Economy since 2009, when I was vice-president of the Lebanese Franchise Association for almost 9 years. After that, I founded the Women’s Leader Council (WLC). I love public affairs, and I enjoy dealing with people in such a context. I also have a knack for time management, I am really good at it whether on a personal or professional level. I have established my own internal system to organize everything I do, and manage my time. Everybody at home respects this system, and it makes life easier. This system gave me the time to be active in public affairs, and allowed me to sustain my lifestyle.
I love Lebanon, and I believe that we should give back to this country. When I find myself succeeding in doing so, I really feel proud and happy. For instance, the WLC was one of the first institutions to encourage and educate about the need to move Lebanese businesses towards ecommerce during the Covid-19 outbreak. We were also the first to talk about the importance of doing business on social media platforms, such as Facebook Market. All of these things make me feel that I am giving back to the country through the things that I do best, especially that one of the objectives of the WLC is to create an agile community, which is something I seek to achieve alongside all the members of the WLC. This is why I dedicate my own time for public affairs, and I know for a fact that integrity and ethics pay off at the end, even if it takes time.
- What can you tell us about the WLC for people who don’t know about it?
The Women Leaders Council was established in 2018, and it represents women from across all productive sectors. It is the first council to emerge from within the Chamber of Commerce Industry and Agriculture of Beirut and Mount Lebanon (CCIA-BML). Although it is still young, I believe it has already achieved a lot and transformed into a phenomenon and a household name by becoming a platform for women to meet, learn, train together and grow together as Lebanese business women. It’s no secret that Lebanese women’s role in the business world was sort of shy, especially that less than 5% of Lebanese women manage their own companies. So, our job is to empower them and encourage them to create their own business and companies by giving them a voice and more exposure. That is why we launched a call during the Changemaker festival – in which we were partners- for Lebanese women to be the first investors in Lebanese youth, since women have the vision and the mentorship, and the youth are the drivers of the Economy; this will reflect positively on the Economy while creating more job opportunities and contributing to the enlargement of the country’s GDP. We have many activities, we regularly host world-renowned speakers and organize trainings about leadership, technology, etc. Many women benefitted from the council and collaborated with other women they met through it. The WLC the first Economic body to sign an MOU with a ministry. We know women have a central role to play in guiding the public sector and we are preparing for that. Unfortunately, we are going through the worst possible time but we still have hope. At WLC we hope to create more companies headed by women and start to make a change. We want women to reach higher positions and want to help them do that.
- How have Lebanese women’s been affected by the different crises that Lebanon has been going through for the past year?
Times are difficult. Entrepreneurs in Lebanon started feeling the effects of the Economic crisis as early as 2016, it got worse in 2018 and it started in 2019 with the October 17 protest, and the collapse of the Lebanese pound. Then came the Covid-19 outbreak which impacted all businesses, and then also the Beirut explosion on August 4, 2020 dealt the final blow to the Economy. Many women who have businesses and are entrepreneurs were severely hit. We helped by setting up the “Rising Up Fund” to help women entrepreneurs rebuild their shops and businesses. Before the crisis, we were focusing on exports to encourage businesses to export local products and attract foreign currencies to help relaunch the Economy. After the blast, we were more focused on fundraising to help our community, but at the same time we are still working on the newly established network to connect 10,000 Lebanese women to the European and Gulf markets.
- How can the WLC help Lebanese women in such difficult times?
Since the start of the Economic crisis, WLC was solely focused one exporting Lebanese products and services to attract fresh money. Of course, the Covid-19 outbreak impacted all this initiative, which lead us to resort to ecommerce. When everything goes back to normal, we hope to take part in conferences abroad, especially in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, we found that there was an opportunity through ecommerce, so we organized many workshops about it and helped our members get special prices to launch their businesses on ecommerce. We also provide the necessary training for our members to help them promote their businesses on Social Media. We believe that we will overcome all these crises, but we have to be patient. We are looking and seeking to reach a stage where our country is institutions play a central role in our country, and the general interest of the people is a priority, with a clear Economic vision for the future for the greater interest of our nation. This is the trajectory that will empower the heroic private sector in Lebanon.