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Co-founder of SQUATWOLF Wajdan Gul discusses disrupting the fitness industry and how the UAE supports an entrepreneurial spirit

What do your first 30 minutes of the day look like, your morning routine?

The first 30 minutes of the day are the most important time for me. Directed by the classic Eisenhower decision matrix, I map out a list of things to do based on priority. I schedule what is important and I eventually delegate what’s urgent but doesn’t need my involvement. Before I make a list, I start with a coffee to charge me up, check my calendar for all the scheduled meetings, check business analytics to look at numbers, get my breakfast ready, check for any urgent email or issues which require immediate attention and finally a quick short meeting with the team.

What is the DNA of SQUATWOLF, its core values?

SQUATWOLF is a premium gym wear brand that lives by its core values. We as a brand are on a mission to elevate the human experience through products with insight, innovation and purpose. The key values are to elevate the human experience and push the limits to promote overall excellence, work together in a team to achieve greatness and to act without fear and not be afraid of failure as it’s important to own it and learn from it. Another value is, simplify to amplify and lead the pack with honesty, transparency and integrity. As every product we design flows through our product filters to achieve our goals. The four product filters that we live by is, simplify to amplify, innovate always and keep in mind that sustainability is always important.

SQUATWOLF campaign

You’ve challenged the status quo in the fitness industry – what inspired you to launch in this area and what was missing for you when you saw a gap in the market?

 

When you start following these fitness trainers online you see them wearing a lot of homegrown, community-based activewear brands. Being gym addicts ourselves, we used to order a lot of gym gear from all the international brands. On top of paying for the actual gear, we used to pay heavy international shipping charges, customs duties, taxes and then wait for days to receive the order. If the gear we ordered won’t fit, we had to request an exchange, pay the shipping again and wait for weeks. It was all in all a very tedious process. That’s where it struck us. Why isn’t there a single brand in the Middle East region? It was clear to us that many of the big brands were already offering quality in this region. We set out to challenge the status quo and offer gym gear with high-class quality but most importantly, gear that dominates the style department. We had no experience designing, manufacturing, marketing or selling activewear. All we had was the vision to create the best activewear brand. We started doing research and meeting activewear designers, fabric suppliers, manufacturers, industry experts to learn about the activewear business. Eventually, after eight months of running around, we created our first line with only six styles. We sold out two of them during the pre-order phase. As they say, the rest is history. SQUATWOLF grew exponentially over the following few years, initially in the Middle East, but very quickly on a global scale with teams based in four countries, serving customers and athletes in over 120 countries.

The fit is truly exceptional. How do you ensure this, and did it take multiple revisions to achieve this?

We at SQUATWOLF believe that gym athletes shouldn’t compromise on performance for style or fit. They need gear that accentuates their v-tapered physique. Gear that fits right and is specially made for their athletic-shaped bodies. SQUATWOLF works with gym athletes from different backgrounds to make sure our fit is true to their size and fits perfectly in the right areas and on the right muscles. We call it the true athletic fit. That’s what makes us different from all the brands out there. We spend months getting the fit right for different body types, hence the gear you buy from SQUATWOLF will always fit you seamlessly. Every product that we create has been engineered for active life from fit to stitch to fabric with gym-goers in mind, and to fulfill our vision of what gym wear should be. Born in Dubai, we have enlisted loads of UAE trainers and everyday gym-goers in our local community to help us design our products, select our fabrics and other materials and they have loved every minute of it. We believe that good things come to those who sweat, and that good gym wear should help you feel good and look good while you sweat.

SQUATWOLF Founder

Do you work with production the globe over and how do you balance the time zones?

Yes, we work with factories all across Asia and Europe, our teams are based across four countries with two different weekends. I won’t say it’s not challenging but you learn to make it work. Anam and I work at least 14 hours a day, 6 days a week to make sure we are able to talk to everyone around the world and drive the business forward. We don’t mind it as it’s really fulfilling to see the business growing and most importantly teams in all time zones aligning on a singular vision of creating the best gym wear brand in the world.

What have been the biggest challenges to date since launching and how did you overcome them?

COVID-19 is undoubtedly the biggest challenge that we’ve faced to date, in the last five years of business. The pandemic brought its own ups and downs and has been very fortunate to experience the boom in e-commerce and the activewear industry as a whole in the last two years. However, at the same time, it was very challenging to overcome the supply chain challenges while fulfilling the demand and customer expectations. We executed the following three-point strategy to overcome some of the challenges that COVID brought in. The first step was to diversify our manufacturing sources. To overcome and unforeseen lockdowns and chain disruptions, we increased our factory partners in four different countries. The second step was to deliver high customer expectations without any hiccups. With a seamless customer experience being of utmost importance, we focused on this aspect to be the best there is, in the current market. The third step is to sustain the growth. By exploring new international markets and designing collections around them, we ensured our pieces appeal to a more global audience, especially those in colder countries by working with wholesalers, retailers and distributors around the world.

How has being based in the UAE supported being able to launch a business and why?

Being born and based in the UAE has been one of the biggest factors of success. With over 200 nationalities living in one country, it makes for a melting pot of cultures. A tax-free economy helps re-inject maximum profits back into the business and the health and fitness focus allows Dubai to become a hub of different initiatives such as the Dubai Fitness Challenge.

SQUATWOLF Workout

The UAE encourages and cultivates an environment in which to thrive in business – how have you experienced this?

The UAE government is taking huge steps to facilitate e-commerce businesses in the country. We have been fortunate enough to be a part of those initiatives which include ease of registering businesses, getting bank accounts set up, accessing growth capital, financing facilities and working with GCC countries to ease the expansion of UAE-based businesses in the regional markets.

So much has been achieved in the UAE in 50 years, do you feel this pace and scale of growth is reflected in the businesses based here?

Absolutely. We have been growing more than 100 percent year after year over the last five years and one of the biggest reasons is the homegrown aspect. The growth in the entire business and fitness eco-system of UAE has been tremendous and unparalleled. This and what the UAE government has planned for the next ten years only excites us about the future of this country and our business.

What have been the challenges to building or scaling a business in the region and how did you overcome them?

The cash-on-delivery service is widely used in the region as a mode of payment for e-commerce purchases, it really impacts the cash flow and delivery success rates. We have been working with local ‘buy now pay later’ payment providers to encourage customers to pay with their card but still enjoy the facility of paying later. There were certain challenges regarding working capital and bank finance, which the UAE government is working closely with, especially over the last few months to encourage banks to support e-commerce businesses.

This year we celebrate the UAE’s 50th Anniversary – what makes this region unique to you?

The UAE is unique because of its people and how welcoming it is as a region to those coming from outside. It’s set apart because no idea is too big or too small. The country makes you feel like nothing is impossible. Both the co-founder, Anam and I moved to the UAE in 2014 and started SQUATWOLF in 2016 with no experience in the industry. We now run a multinational business with teams in four countries, customers in over 120 countries and a plan to dominate the gym wear market by 2025. We don’t believe that it could have been done anything else but the UAE and this makes the country unique.

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Images: Supplied