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Women Entrepreneurs – The Rise of the Invisible Innovators

Women entrepreneurs are a rarely seen breed. While the developed world is increasingly becoming a cauldron of women talent, emerging markets line Middle East, China, India and North Africa are yet to join the race…

Women entrepreneurs are a rarely seen breed. While the developed world is increasingly becoming a cauldron of women talent, emerging markets like Middle East, China, India and North Africa are yet to join the race… 

Jeanne Lanvin portraitFrom Jeanne Lanvin, Gabrielle Chanel, the Fendi sisters to Vivienne Westwood, Carolina Herrera and Diane von Fürstenberg, these incredible women entrepreneurs created a revolution in itself. These talented women entrepreneurs were representing their love of feminine style and luxury. Crepe de chine, silk, gabardine, satin, shantung were worn by the famous actresses of last century such as Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn, demonstrating the quintessence of refinement and sophistication. Some of these famous brand names have been taken over by renowned holding families, run mostly by men, under the creative direction of men. It is not a rule, though a verifiable equation.

Although women entrepreneurs around the world experience abundant drawbacks such as inequality, lack of business experience and limited access to financing, the challenges for women entrepreneurs may be more brutal in emerging countries. Regardless of these facts, a small, yet growing segment of women entrepreneurs exists, but the extent of these women’s endeavours are almost unidentifiable due to lasting concerns about maintaining their privacy.

In emerging countries, women are progressing and don’t accept limitations imposed by culture or society. They have shifted from being heads of family to small business owners and CEOs. While women entrepreneurs are a minority in most of the world, their presence in the Middle East and North Africa is much lower. Women entrepreneurs are playing a role in creating new employment opportunities, especially in the luxury business, where they are accumulating probable and justifiable market resources. Hence these new business entrants need to be taught and integrated within the established international benchmarks. For this emerging sector to compete, European standards of professionalism, corporate structure and highly educated workforce need to advance through a consolidated learning process and methodology.

Information is available everywhere, yet, how is this information interpreted and used? There is a need of utilizing accurate communication channels. By using the right tools, this will enable businesses to grow internationally – a foot in Europe and a foot in the Middle East, creating a road map to business success. Hermes, a few weeks ago, had the foresight to create a Chinese name brand under its umbrella to appeal to its Chinese customers, without forgoing its French heritage, hence establishing a new need for excellence and integration.

Reem and Hind Middle eastern designersFor luxury businesses run by women in the Middle East, the equation is to handle and communicate with both geographical entities. Their competitive advantage lies in their ability to enter emerging markets and communicate with brands in Europe. Solutions and success will be provided by true professionals who will be accountable for growth maximization and achieving stakeholder interest.

The luxury market is about influence, where style and quality becomes a guarantee to the purchaser. What makes a brand luxury is the power which people associate with it. Entering the market as a new brand has its difficulties. Doors may open more easily if you are daughter of one of the Beatles such as Stella McCartney. Her achievements as a fashion designer should be inspiring to women and designers as it was passion that stimulated her success and made her an accomplished entrepreneur. Yet, for Ms Everyone, it is a bit more difficult and complex.

Emirati nationals, ambitious and talented fashion designers, sisters Reem and Hind Beljafla created their brand called DAS Abaya’s Collections three years ago. They sold their collections in London’s most prestigious store Harrods. DAS was also represented last month at Dubai Fashion Week. Both entrepreneurs have been awarded businesswoman of the year in 2008 by HH Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid award.

In China, the new phenomena of women entrepreneurs is portrayed by Hung Huang, the media figure, who recently opened her fashion boutique in Beijing called ‘BNC’ (Brand New China). She is a visionary figure who is transforming the fashion scene, as her boutique carries only creations by Chinese designers. With the launch of BNC, Hung has expended her growing business empire, which includes both old and new media, into the burgeoning dragon’s land luxury market.

Ritu Kumar Indian fashion designer luxuryRitu Kumar, the First Lady of the Indian fashion industry, created an individual fashion statement with the recipe of blending tradition and modern to produce works of art. Kumar’s specialty is traditional Indian clothes that depict the textile and embroidery heritage of India, with an Indo-West fusion wear. She has established outlets in all major cities in India. International icons such as Late Princess Diana and Jemima Khan wore her outfits. She also wrote a book, titled ‘Costumes and Textiles of Royal India’ which was published by Christie’s of London. In April 2002, Ritu Kumar launched her new sub brand called Label. She has been awarded many a times by different organizations…too many to list in fact!

In the GCC, women are highly sophisticated and knowledgeable luxury consumers who are extremely well informed about their purchases. They should link these interests into entrepreneurial opportunities to serve the needs of a virgin market, a direct path to the world of luxury and fashion.

A recent study conducted in Saudi Arabia demonstrated that Saudi businesswomen leave around £8bn of resources unused in banks. Regardless of the large volume of investments, too many obstructions block the expansion of more women into the investment field, which force them to keep their funds and capital sleeping in bank accounts.

Also, it is partly due to their reluctance to seek opportunities offered, and a lack of support infrastructures from established institutions. The establishment of women businesses, and diversification into the luxury and retail sector could have a profound impact on the country’s economy; limiting the reliance on imports and increasing domestic consumption. The role of business women in the economy is finally starting to emerge, and as was discussed at the recent World Economic Forum for the Middle East and North Africa, the participation of women in the economy is a key determinant for a productive, stable and innovative economy.

Our task today is to find and provide opportunities to the next generation of women entrepreneurs in the luxury industry, particularly in new emerging markets. These new players have the potential to revolutionize the status quo of new and existing brands, and with the globalization of social media, may find that the luxury world is their oyster.

Russian and Spanish aristocrat, HH Alexandra Orloff, is the CEO and owner of Sacha Orloff Ltd, a consultancy offering services and products in luxury jewellery, watches, and fashion industry. Having worked in numerous prestigious luxury brands, she has enormous expertise in strategy development for luxury brands across emerging markets.