Ingie Chalhoub is a trailblazer when it comes to business and luxury. Responsible for launching the very first Chanel boutique in the region, she has carved out an impeccable career.
So, what’s her secret to success? “My success lies in understanding the importance of bridging the gap between the East and West,” she plainly says.
As a true innovator and disruptor, Emirates Woman sat down with the Founder and Managing Director of Etoile Group to learn more about her business acumen and what exactly inspired her to become an entrepreneur.
Your career spans four decades. What’s the key to success?
I believe that the key to success is understanding who your customers are. You must deeply dive into what your customer base wants and aspires for. Being close to your clients will allow you to connect with them on several touchpoints and reach them in unique and effective ways. Clients start seeing you and your business as a cornerstone in their life journey and inevitably become loyal clients. When I first started my business, brands would approach the GCC market very arrogantly, saying, ‘This is how we do it in Europe, so this is how it will be done here. They did not consider what the market wanted. Over the years and with several successes, this business mentality has completely altered. Today, I have brands approaching me to collaborate on capsule collections for certain occasions like Ramadan and Eid. My success lies in understanding the importance of bridging the gap between the East and West.
How did your childhood/growing up shape your outlook on life and approach to business?
I attribute my business acumen and work ethic to my mother. She instilled in me the importance of perseverance and hard work. These values helped shape and prepare me for the evolving business climate. After raising us, my mother decided to enter the fashion realm and showed me the way. Together we launched the first Chanel couture boutique in Kuwait. We did everything in our first shop alone. I learned by being on the field and I really believe that there is nothing like being in touch with your clients and suppliers. We worked hard to understand and attend to our client’s needs and expectations and made sure that our clients felt comfortable, appreciated and well attended to. We applied customer relationship management (CRM) from day one. Then the Gulf War happened and we lost everything! My business stopped. Everything stopped, merchandise couldn’t get past customs, banks closed and I was forced to start from scratch. Money comes and goes and I have learned this by getting things done the hard way. I, however, adopted from my mother her perseverance and finding the force within to go after what I want. Those qualities allowed me to be agile and built my stamina to adhere to the ever-changing business states.
“Making myself known in a society where people did not understand why I worked so hard was no easy task.”
What are some of the key lessons you would like people to take from your career?
I call my career highlights the school of life. I have learned something valuable at each cornerstone which reversely helped mould me personally and professionally. The first highlight was inarguably Chanel! Not only did it open doors for me to work with other luxury brands, but most importantly, it is where I learned everything about fashion. It exposed me to the world of cuts, fits, couture and intricacies of the industry. The second highlight was around 1988 during the Kuwait crisis when I had to rebuild and relocate my business to Dubai. Then the third – and the real learning curve – was bringing brands such as Ralph Lauren and Tods to a new territory. These experiences shaped my greatest career highlight; an opportunity to give the fashion industry a bit of my own creativity through my own brand – Ingie Paris; an international brand that offers a bridge between East and West.
Would you agree the UAE really is pioneering women in business and other organisations?
The UAE indeed is a haven for entrepreneurs. I personally refer to Dubai as the home and land of all promises! During the Gulf War, I had an option to either quit my business or find another avenue. I rebuilt my Chanel boutique in the UAE after Kuwait and subsequentially began to expand into different arenas. Thus, the UAE resembles new beginnings and vast opportunities for me. I believe that women in any given industry have the power to pave their way to success, rather than following a path that has already been set for them. When I started in this industry, particularly with Etoile ‘La Boutique, it was seen as very much a man’s world. Making myself known in a society where people did not understand why I worked so hard was no easy task. These preconceptions of who people expected me to be rather than who I desired to be propelled me to want to achieve success on my own merit.
Would you say you’re more creative or business minded (or both)?
I had to wear both chapeaus throughout my career. To run a successful business, you must have a bit of creativity to think out of the norm, take risks and believe in the vision that you have for your business. That said, creativity alone cannot fuel a business. You must understand the ins and outs of the trade, have a clear perspective on the trends, evolve with the business environment, continue to cater to your client’s needs, and incorporate technology to make your business more efficient all while keeping your financials intact.
What is a philosophy that you live by in your professional life?
I have several philosophies that I live by in my professional life, yet the two most important ones are: making my clients my key focus and having a resilient attitude. When it comes to my clients, I am constantly aware of the importance of catering to their needs and wants and personalizing their client experience making them feel unique and special! I have also learned the importance of having a robust attitude coupled with the faith to go after my dreams and aspirations no matter the situation.
As well as being a businesswoman, you’re also an avid philanthropist. What causes have you been involved in over the years?
I have played an active role in philanthropy because I am an avid believer in the promise and importance of giving back to the community. I try to constantly inspire my own children to do the same. If everyone gives back to one child, we will be living in a better world. For me, it’s something that I’ve always been conscious of. Since I got married, Patrick and I have sponsored many different organisations and over the years, we have sponsored 120 children directly, and this is be- sides all the other work we do on a bigger level like the school we have worked on in the south of Lebanon – and as much as we talk about it, it is never enough. Solutions should be found on all levels if not our own level. When you create awareness, people start questioning it. Everyone can try something themselves – sometimes it is the little things, not just the financials, that can make a difference.
Do you have any mentors or guides who have helped you throughout your career?
My career has been influenced and shaped by several mentors and counselors, all of whom left a mark on both my professional and personal growth. I however owe a lot of my success to my late parents. My parents thankfully exposed me to French culture and the desire to encourage French savoir-faire and promote excellence in everything that I do.
This is The Entrepreneur Issue – what does being an entrepreneur mean to you?
It’s simply who I am: a woman, a wife, a mother, a businesswoman and a creator. That in a nutshell is me!
September’s – The Entrepreneur Issue – Download Now
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