Making A Sustainable Style Statement

By Sandhya D'Mello Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Entrepreneur Nisha Varman Shetty, shares her experience founding "The Urban Yogi" which offers a mix of luxury furniture and accessories in the United Arab Emirates. She also has a few tips for budding female business owners. DUBAI

The next time you go out to dine in Dubai, look around and check if the restaurant is adorned by The Urban Yogi products. The start-up firm, which promotes 'Made in UAE' concepts, is pioneered by Nisha Varman Shetty, founder and chief executive officer of The Urban Yogi.

"The brand specializes in sustainability and brings an eclectic mix of home style, luxury furniture and accessories. We are all about promoting locally grown brands and allowing shoppers to find pieces to make their homes unique, while making responsible purchasing decisions," said Shetty.

The collection focuses on quality craftsmanship and low carbon footprint by working with local artisans.

"We are proud to offer a mixture of urban, vintage, ethnic, shabby chic, industrial and French styles to shoppers, wedding lists and interior designers," said Shetty.

The brand has two outlets in Dubai at Times Square and Galeries Lafayette in The Dubai Mall and will undergo further expansion in the second half of 2016 and the first half of 2017.

The Dubai-based brand recently started ­selling its handcrafted, custom-designed tableware to the UAE's ever-growing assortment of eateries.

'Made in UAE' Shetty said: "We work with artisans, whether it is for tableware, project furniture, rugs or carpets. At the beginning of the year, we started looking at the whole 'Made in UAE' movement. We wanted to collaborate a lot more with local artists. Dubai has so many talented artisans from all over the world. So, we are working with six or seven UAE-based potters who are world-class technicians in their trade."

Shetty coordinates with chefs, designing tableware that matches their menu and style of fare. "A lot of firms have come up with enquiries to work with us because they get something customized and very affordable. You will never find the same plate in two different cafes if you work with The Urban Yogi."

Shetty has tapped e-commerce portals such as Tejuri and souq.com to promote the brand's products.

"Our research shows us that consumers in the UAE still prefer to touch and feel their products, especially furniture, instead of buying online. That's why we have always believed in a retail presence in Dubai and amplify that with participation in community markets to drive our brand ethos and awareness. We have also received success in trading over social media channels such as Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp as The Urban Yogi is referred by our customers and liked and shared over social media. Social media has been a big part of our customer acquisition strategy. The UAE is still a transit nation and we feel new patterns emerge every year, so we need to constantly evolve."

The go-getter thinks the UAE is one of the most convenient places in the GCC for a female entrepreneur to start business. "I feel we have such an eclectic mix of dynamic, progressive and visionary women entrepreneurs here because Dubai is fuelled by ambition and trade. SMEs are the essence of the UAE," she said.

The brand will be focused on B2B in the next few years. Its retail presence in Times Square and Galeries Lafayette will also help it to stay connected with the community. Shetty added: "We would like to make corporate social responsibility more accessible to corporations who are acquiring furniture and tableware for their establishments. When you procure from The Urban Yogi, whether its retail or B2B, you are still contributing to the artisan community."

Top tips The recipient of 'The Most Eco-Conscious Brand' by Harpers Bazaar Interiors in 2015 advised women entrepreneurs to do due diligence, research the market thoroughly, write a business plan, rewrite it every six months, not expect things to be easy and always remind oneself that courage is not the absence of fear.

"I remember the early days of The Urban Yogi with such fondness. It was probably the most creative time of my life. I thought of the brand name in 2010 but didn't know what to do with it, but I registered it. When we wanted to re-decorate our home in 2011, I realized a gap for handcrafted, soulful, one-of-a-kind furniture. That was when I envisioned The Urban Yogi as a home decor and a lifestyle brand. The first year was a flurry of activity: traveling for sourcing, finding retail space, brand building, running the retail operation, warehousing and HR. I think no MBA can teach you what you learn from running your own retail store in the UAE's dynamic retail landscape."

When asked about challenges, Shetty said: "Finding and retaining talent is a tough one. We've gone through the same challenges that every SME goes through in this country. So, we have a detailed training program and clear SOPs and constant re-enforcements."

She signed off: "What keeps me going is that the brand has a life of its own. It's no longer just a thought or something that looks good on a business plan. The brand has connected with tens of thousands of people, inspired them to live a sustainable life and gives new hope to artisans all over the world to make beautiful things and live a dignified life."

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