As Saudi Arabia seeks to move away from its dependence on oil and diversify its economy, entrepreneurship is being brought to the forefront of the country’s strategic economic planning. Mona Alhariri met with WAFAA ALGHALAYINI a business owner to find out how she started, how she grew her company and how she see the future.
Can you tell us something about your academic and career background?
I was educated between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United States. I attended high school in Alexandria in Egypt, returned to Saudi Arabia where I earned a bachelors’ degree in English literature and then travelled to the United States to do a masters’ degree in education at the University of Southern California. My thesis focused on handicapped children in Saudi Arabia. Back home, I began my career in antiques and opened a gallery called “Tradition”. I was buying antique furniture and other valuables from auction houses and private collections in Europe, America and elsewhere and bringing them back to Saudi Arabia to sell to local collectors.
I actually chose antiques because it involved a lot of traveling which I love. I also recognized there was a good niche market for antiques in Saudi Arabia. I even held my own auction one time. It was very successful.
How did you start your fashion business?
I moved into the fashion business fifteen years after I started my antique business. I became interested in fashion as a teenager and even travelled to the United States to take some courses. I think my eye for fashion and my early career as a model for the likes of Donna Karen whom I helped develop her brand was very useful. I signed a franchise with designer,Tara Jarmon, and opened my “Montale” boutiques in Jeddah Riyadh and Khobar. The brand soon gained a following and today I can say we are one of the leading fashion boutiques in Saudi Arabia.
To what do you attribute your success?
Well, more than anything else I attribute my success to God who has helped and supported me every step of the way. After that, I have to thank my family, my daughter and my friends who were all very supportive. In terms of my approach to business, I’m a person who prefers to start small and then grow. I don’t like to take risks. In both businesses- antiques and fashion -I began with small collections and then when I saw how successful they were I began to grow the business.
Are you thinking of going internationally with your fashion brand?
Yes, definitely It’s one of my dreams to go international. I dream of having other franchises and boutiques everywhere. I’d also like to provide services to the fashion industry for which I believe there is a demand and I’m currently working on several ideas.
Yes,I am. One organization,for example, needed a bus and I arranged an exhibition to raise the funds. All of us were extremely happy. I’d really like to do more of that and I hope my work doesn’t distract me from doing similar things.
Vision 2030 is offering more than we could have hoped for. We are driving today which we never thought would happen. Some women are attending schools to train as pilots. These are very positive developments. I think there will be remarkable opportunities for Saudi Arabia and specifically for Saudi women. Climbing the ladder that many us were afraid to start, can now be done with confidence. Internationally as a country, we’re starting to be perceived differently.
What would you say to Saudi women who are considering going into business?
I would say “go for it”Don’t give up on your dream – whatever it is. With faith, determination,passion, and love for what you do, you can get there. I’d also like to advise women going into business that they should pay careful attention to business contracts and documents. It will save you a lot of headache and protect and facilitate your work. You should take your work seriously and act professionally. That’s the road to success. Finally, don’t be afraid of failure. If you fail at times, get up and move on. You will get there one day. Lastly, love yourself, love your job and love everybody around you. Stay positive and avoid negativity.