Hala Al Gergawi has turned the luxury space on its head and is a trailblazer in her own right. With an innate sense for storytelling and impeccable entrepreneurial skills, she is the founder of the region’s first luxury consultancy firm Tea Before Noon (TBN). With a firm and disruptive approach to brand building, she is making waves for luxury labels the globe over.
What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
I have always been an entrepreneur at heart and by practice even throughout my corporate journey. My approach to building a brand or a product has been always a startup approach, innovative and disruptive. Creating something new whether it be a product or a marketing campaign or a service etc. was always driven by passion and by persistence in succeeding.
How did your childhood/growing up shape your outlook on life and approach to business?
I believe different factors contributed to shaping my career goals and my approach to business. Firstly, growing up surrounded by a family driven by the passion to contribute to the community and to achieve, made it a mission of mine to build a career and a brand that gives back to my community and empowers its talents.
Secondly, leadership is not something you are born with, it is a skill that you can grow from early childhood. I was blessed to be given great opportunities to handle responsibilities, to be independent and to lead throughout my childhood by being part of school scouts, theatre and more. That shaped my personality to become the independent person I am today, taking risks to start my own company, building and leading a team.
Finally, travelling around the world from a young age. It became a tradition for me and my siblings to tour with my parents around the biggest university campuses such as Harvard, Oxford etc. which pushed us to dream big and shape our goals since we were kids. It became a major source of inspiration throughout the years while growing up and I learned with time even during my business travels how to capitalize on those experiences and how to grasp the best out of them to add to my learning journey.
What inspired you to launch Tea Before Noon and ELEVENiSH.com? Can you talk us through both of the concepts?
The name goes way back to 2007 when I decided to publish a directory magazine that would include all the local businesses founded by Emirati women using different mediums such as home delivery, home service and online. I always had this passion for supporting women in my community and local talents, and it was always at the core of everything I do in my career journey.
The story of the name goes back to an old tradition when in every neighbourhood in the Gulf, women used to gather around 11am while their husbands are at work and their lunch was being cooked, to network and update each other on all trends at that time, beauty, fashion and food over tea!
Now that women have become more outgoing and started their entrepreneurial journeys, the Tea Before Noon tradition has become stories that we hear about from our grandmothers and simply this is where the name came from. In 2018, I relaunched TBN as a platform to bring women of the same likes together to enjoy localized branded experiences. The need for human interaction and engaging the consumer in a more curated and personalized experience became a must, especially for luxury brands in this region. This is where Tea Before Noon fills the gap by bridging those two words in various formats.
This is TBN’s mission, to continue to bridge Emirati talents with international brands to maintain a dialogue between creative industries through such initiatives driven by the same cultural values. Being exposed to all these talents, I believe we are ready to become exporters and creators of luxury on an international scale and this is why, in the effort of being the first mover towards this step, I launched ELEVENiSH.com in May 2021. It is an online community and e-commerce platform for niche emerging designers seeking global exposure. Proudly we have today more than 80 designers and brands on board and we continue to thrive with the support of our community.
Would you say you’re more creative or business minded (or both)?
I definitely have both the creative and the business mind – it takes this combo to create something innovative and disruptive and to become a successful entrepreneur. I have always enjoyed interfering in all aspects of the business – this what builds the sense of ownership and leadership that is required to build a successful product or a brand.
What is a philosophy that you live by both in your professional life?
“My network is my net worth” is my philosophy and it applies to all aspects of my life, hence family, friends, colleagues, partners and more are the most important assets that I always invest in maintaining and strengthening. People are your support system and source of inspiration.
What are some of the key lessons you would like people to take from your career?
Problem-solving is one of the main skills that every entrepreneur should master. Walk your own path, innovate, lead, don’t follow. Don’t hesitate when you should act. Experience what you have learned and follow your guts.
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In your opinion, how does the luxury and fashion industry differ in this region to the rest of the world and why is it so important? How will we continue to see the luxury space thrive in the UAE and GCC?
The Middle East is a complicated region for brands to navigate as local customers have a very personalized approach to luxury. Brands know how financially powerful the Arab market is and how much purchasing power people here have, so they’re targeting them in a better and smarter way through localized content.
Localization has been a major strategy of the luxury brands’ direction for the past three years and we are proud at TBN to be the first to disrupt the market this way; we can notice the awareness that is growing on both regional and international offices on the need of localizing their communication and marketing strategies to resonate with their target audience. The difference between brands though varies between how much support and trust they have from their headquarters, what localization means to them i.e. launching a Ramadan capsule collection, creating one-off campaign with an Emirati influencer etc. There are main key factors that affect the success of this strategy, one continuity and consistency, two understanding the target audience in the various markets in the GCC region and profiling them correctly, three associations with the right influential profiles.
This understanding and definition of localization is what differentiates the brands we decide to work with because simply we either do it right all the way or we don’t. Luxury brands will keep thriving in the UAE and GCC, especially those who are following the golden rules:
- Localize right! There is a very thin line from doing it right or going very cliche and offending the target audience.
- Continuity and consistency with your localization strategy. A one-off editorial campaign or event will not guarantee conversions and building loyalty with the target audience
- Capitalize on storytelling – we are a community where storytelling is part of our culture and traditions. Consumers will definitely engage with stories that are real and authentic and they create connection and loyalty on the long term.
- Segment your target audience in the region and curate your launches for the regional calendar and events.
Who are the mentors that have helped you throughout your career?
I always had my mother, siblings and friends as my support system and my mini focus group throughout my career journey.
This is The Entrepreneur Issue – what does being an entrepreneur mean to you?
Being an entrepreneur means you have a clear mission you want to achieve, and you have the persistence and patience to achieve it, and the willingness to take risks. It is a bold step to leave corporate life and start your own business, it is a rough journey with a lot of risks but definitely, a worthy one once you start hitting your milestones.
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