Elinor Davies-Farn launched Olew Hair in 2018 out of frustration over the lack of natural care products for curly hair.
She started the business in her kitchen on a budget of £ 100 ($ 137.85), leaving a lucrative role at BMW and Mini which included selling cars to football, rugby and golf stars.
The Welsh-born entrepreneur moved to Dubai in February to further develop Olew – the Welsh word for oil – and encourage more GCC women to embrace their natural curls.
Ms Davies-Farn, 30, is engaged to a lawyer and lives in downtown Dubai.
Has your financial outlook been shaped by your education?
I grew up in Aberystwyth, West Wales. There is no freeway, no shopping center about two and a half hours away. My family had a car dealership, something my great-grandfather started. Mom was always thinking about making money. She did mobile hairdressing, sold clothes, and then moved into the family business.
In the countryside, people never liked to go into debt or pay on their finances. It had a huge influence on how I started my business; I never had any funding. Now I am starting to understand that maybe I should be more open to investing.
What was your first trading experience?
I saw how hard my parents worked and I was never one of those kids who wanted the very latest Gameboy or sneakers. I never cared about anything hardware or pocket money, but I was expected to work. After school, I would fold bills, put them in envelopes, take them to the post office, or take cash when people got gas.
When I was 15, I had a stall in one of the local markets. I went to a wholesaler with the money I had saved and had a summer selling jewelry, rather than going to Magaluf (Spain).
How much did your first job pay?
Aged 12 to 13, I worked in a cafe on Saturdays. It paid £ 10 for the day, plus tips. Then I worked in a gift shop on Sundays. When I was a little younger I made and sold greeting cards to people (visiting the house) or did a little shop, did manicures and pedicures.
How was Olew born?
Even though I liked selling and talking to people, I had pretty low self-esteem because I didn’t have sleek, shiny hair. For years, I straightened it to death and I was still never happy because it was not my natural state. My biggest goal in starting Olew was to share this post; that you are beautiful in your skin, just kiss your natural hair.
It took about six months to have the courage to hand over my notice (at BMW / Mini). I was paid well, I had a new car every nine months, but I was like, “I don’t really want to do this for the rest of my life.” I made oil for myself, conditioners and shampoos, and I gave them to people. I quit my job in 2018 and on the first day at home I was like, “I didn’t sell a bottle, what was I thinking?”
I started with just £ 100, created my own labels, did the whole process. It wasn’t the most professional website or bottle out there, but I did social media so I didn’t pay for the marketing. I sold 100 bottles, then thousands a month.
What brought you to the United Arab Emirates?
I wanted to stretch out. I’ve had so many resellers and individuals buying, even though I’ve never done anything here to promote my brand. There was definitely a market and I thought if I came and pushed it we were going to get a bigger market share. So it was in the back of my mind and then my partner got an email from a recruiter asking if he would be interested in a job in Abu Dhabi… everything started to line up and that prompted us to to come.
Are you a saver or a spendthrift?
Even more economical at heart and I understand that you have to invest in yourself. When moving here, I opted for a slightly more expensive apartment. Before, I would have chosen the cheapest, but I realized that if I swam in the morning, I would be happier and more productive. I am not a materialist. I actually hate shopping, but investing in myself is better than just saving money.
How to grow your cash flow?
A savings account and sometimes stocks and a little crypto every now and then. I also see my business as a huge savings bank which is my retirement fund. My next five to ten year plan is not just to have hair products, Olew has huge potential for other companies within her. I bet on myself, reinvested and never took a salary until last year.
What are your best investments?
The first would be our apartment in London, as it gave me the freedom to start my business. It was my warehouse, my warehouse, my office.
I had saved enough to live another six months, to pay off the mortgage if I quit my job. And then, of course, the £ 100 I put into my business… cheaper than brunch.
What does money mean to you?
Freedom from nine to five. The money gave me the opportunity to work the hours I want, to do a lot more things and to be flexible. If I hadn’t had the money, I would never have been able to afford a lot of money. I was able to travel first class on British Airways in Kenya, one of my most expensive expenses. Or go to Rio, on my bucket list, Cuba and the Seychelles. Money does not make you happy, but the experiences it allows make me happy, rather than material things.
I saw how hard my parents worked and I was never one of those kids who wanted the very latest Gameboy or sneakers.
Elinor Davies-Farn, founder of Olew Hair
Are you reasonable with the money?
Certainly, even in Dubai. It’s easy to go to brunches all the time, to spend a lot of money. Before I arrived, we were doing research; we have Let’s DXB (discount app) and The Entertainer. I’m looking for happy hours – I don’t want to spend too much.
For our wedding, I don’t want the big reception and the three-course meal. Spending £ 20,000 in a day… that’s not me. I prefer to put it in my business.
How has the pandemic affected your start-up?
My whole thing is to put the products in it, to let it dry, to enjoy life. Once we got into lockdown I think people’s eyes opened to what really matters and spending hours doing your hair and makeup or fingernails every week isn’t it. most important aspect of your life, like having time to enjoy your family. That’s why we’ve seen sales soar. Women were really like, “Why am I taking all this time to get ready in the morning … let me kiss my natural hair.” It really helped me.
Are you planning your financial future?
Mainly through my business and when it goes well I can invest in real estate. When I retire, I don’t think there will be any retirement, so I guess I’m relying on myself.
My dream would be, when I grow up, to invest in another company, to give them advice; finding people to invest in that gives me money and a good thing to do because I don’t think I could retire and do nothing.
Update: September 9, 2021, 6:30 a.m.