Welcome to the Emirates Woman weekly series ‘How I got my job as…’ where we speak to some incredible wellness, fashion and beauty entrepreneurs and businesswomen both based in the UAE and globally to find out about their career paths that led them to where they are now; what their daily routines look like; the advice they’d give to those starting out; and the hurdles they’ve had to overcome.

This week, we speak to Biljana Markova, founder and CEO of Clean Rebel – a Dubai-based eco-luxury beauty brand with a line of clean skincare products formulated with high-performing ingredients that is anything but surface-level.

What was your favourite subject at school?

I’ve always been good in languages and social sciences, like history and political science. Later on, I graduated with an M.A. in International Affairs with specialization in energy and environment from Columbia University in New York. I also have a communications background. I always really enjoyed studying and being in an academic environment, because it’s so enriching to learn from not only your professors, but also from fellow classmates. If I have the chance, I’d love to do my PhD one day.

What was your first job?

My first job was an internship with the United Nations in Geneva. Back then, I my dream was to work in international organizations and work on climate change policy, sustainable development and environmental issues. Later on, I also interned at the UN in New York, where I landed my first paid job at the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). I worked on environmental issues within the organization, and I loved it!

What eventually brought you to Dubai?

In 2016, I went on a cruise with my mom, and we had a stop in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. It’s the first time I had been to the GCC region, and I absolutely loved it. I told myself, I’m going to move here one day and so I started looking for jobs. A year later, I was working at the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in Abu Dhabi as a Programme Officer in Governance and Strategic Management and Executive Direction. A few years later during COVID, I decided to move to Dubai. I love living here and I consider Dubai my home; I guess I really am an Emirates Woman!

I could have established Clean Rebel in Europe or in the US, but I made a conscious decision to start the business here. Dubai is incredibly open and supportive of startups and big ideas, and the government is so innovative and forward looking. I knew this is the right home for Clean Rebel as well.

What inspired you to launch Clean Rebel?

I lived in Los Angeles for many years when I was in college, and a clean diet and lifestyle were just part of the culture there. I realized the importance of using products that are not only effective but also safe and sustainable. Whatever you put on your skin gets absorbed into your bloodstream and so clean cosmetics are just as essential as eating organic. But I was also looking for products that were luxurious, that had the right scent and feel. And at that time, that didn’t yet exist. I didn’t want to compromise on anything and I thought to myself that I could actually make a much better product than what was out there. This realization inspired me to create Clean Rebel, a brand that embodies my commitment to effective, clean, ethical, and luxurious skincare.


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What are the key elements of your role?

As Founder and CEO, my most important job is to have a clear vision of where I want Clean Rebel to go as a brand and as a company in the short and long term. For me, everything starts out with this goal, and I work backwards taking strategic decisions that will help Clean Rebel get there. It’s also my job to hire the right people that will help the brand develop in the direction we intend it to.


Biljana Markova, founder and CEO of Clean Rebel

Everyone that I work with is hand-picked by me. We have an incredible team of people that work on different aspects of the business, be it branding, the website, product development and formulation, packaging, social media, design and everything else. They treat Clean Rebel as their own and they are experts in their field, which are the most important traits I look for when I hire someone. Clean Rebel would not exist without the incredible people that have contributed to its success; I’m in awe everyday of what they create and I pay attention to their advice. I also have to ensure that all of Clean Rebel’s partners represent our values, that they conduct their business in the same way we would. We are an ethics-driven company and I want everyone that we do business with to lead in that way.

I believe it’s my job to inspire everyone around me with the vision for Clean Rebel, and make sure I properly communicate this vision. I make an effort to show up as the best version of myself every day for the brand and for my team and everyone we work with, that’s my duty. In one way or another I’m the face of the company and so I make sure I always embody Clean Rebel’s values.

Talk us through your daily routine.

The most important thing in life for me is quality sleep. It sets the tone for my whole day and I really believe – my life! I make sure I get my 8 hours in, no matter what. I never schedule any meetings before 11am in case I need to sleep in and I also have my morning rituals that I don’t want to skip. I like to start my day with internal work, meaning things like meditation and gratitude practices. Internal hygiene is just as important as washing your face or brushing your teeth as you want to show up as your best self every day for others. I love Dr Joe Dispenza, one of the most incredible meditation teachers in the world and I also like Vishen Lakhiani’s 6-phase meditation as it sets the right tone for the day. I do love my coffee and matcha, and I generally I like to eat super clean and I use a lot of high-quality supplements. Playing with my dogs every morning also raises my energy levels much higher, just looking at them makes me happy.

My day usually consists of providing feedback to a lot of people, and holding meetings with different team members and partners. That could include my chemists, our laboratory, my social media manager or website designer, or our packaging partners or my photographer. Every day is different and based on what is required of me that day. Right now, we are very concerned about business development so I have a lot of meetings pertaining to increasing brand awareness and partnering up with the right distributors, may it be online or in physical locations. I love developing new products so I like to discuss them with my chemists and laboratory and also experiment in my own kitchen.

I always devote some time each day to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the clean beauty industry and any news pertaining to cosmetics. I also dedicate at least an hour for learning, which could be listening to podcasts or taking courses – I love Mindvalley, which is the primary platform I use. I want to grow every single day. For self-care, I visit Dr Maria at my favorite holistic clinic Maison Santé here in Dubai often for things like lymphatic drainage and light therapy. I also love going to the spa with my husband for couples massages regularly. I love Pilates and it’s the only type of exercise I do besides walking my three dogs daily. My daily skincare routine is quite simple – I use Clean Rebel’s Essence Collection and I like to give myself face massages, which I find extremely effective and relaxing.

“It’s been a dream of mine in the making for probably 20 years… It was mostly the fear of leaving the familiarity of a secure “job” and a career I had invested so much time and effort in.”

What advice do you have for anyone looking to follow in the same footsteps?

It took me a long time to get to a point where I was brave enough to create my own brand. It’s been a dream of mine in the making for probably 20 years. It wasn’t that I lacked the vision or ideas. It was mostly the fear of leaving the familiarity of a secure “job” and a career I had invested so much time and effort in. In a way, it was also a fear of disappointing my parents and of course, a fear of failure. Although these are legitimate feelings, it’s really important that we step out of our comfort zone and what’s familiar in order to become who we want to be. Statistically speaking, most people are broke, miserable and they hate their jobs. If you want to be different, you must do something different.

When we are young, we oftentimes confuse what we want with what our parents or society told us we wanted. For the longest time, I was convinced that I wanted a secure job in government and that I didn’t want to be an entrepreneur. Even though I really liked working for the UN, I knew inherently that there was something more out there for me. My soul kept nudging me over the years telling me that I was bigger than this (we all are). I can tell you that no matter what happens, the experience of creating Clean Rebel has been the most rewarding journey for me. And it has all been worth it.


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You have to know that no matter what, you are always “enough” as a person. We are born good enough, we are born magnificent. So my advice to everyone, especially young people and young women, would be to follow your heart. Follow your soul’s desire because that’s your purpose. Believe me, it’s the only way to happiness. What you think and feel and do must be in alignment. I read a long time ago a quote about that heaven and hell are right here on earth. Heaven is when you live in alignment with your soul and purpose. And hell is to live without it. I really believe this is true!

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?

Every person is a unique iteration in the world. There is no one else like you. No matter how many times something has been done, there is no one else in the world that can do it quite like you do. If Beyoncé had decided that there were already too many girl groups in the world, we wouldn’t have Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé. If Oprah had decided that there are too many talk show hosts already, we would have never had Oprah. So be brave, follow your purpose and show the world who you are. (This is a paraphrased quote from Marie Forleo, one of the best business coaches in the world.)

And what is the worst?

“You have to make sure you have a secure job.” Let me tell you, a secure job doesn’t exist. The only way to “secure” your job is to be your own boss. Because then everything depends on you. Yes, it can be scary. But it is the most rewarding job in the world – at least for me.

What has been the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

The absolute biggest challenge I had to overcome is my own mindset. I still work on my mindset every day. Like any other person, I sometimes feel doubt, fear, and I put some sort of arbitrary limitations on myself. Mindset is everything. If you think small, you will remain small. If you think big, you will be that. I consciously work on expanding my idea of what is possible for me to be limitless, because this is the truth. We are unlimited beings, and we have the universe in us. We are not a body with a soul. We are a soul with a body. Our soul is as big as the universe itself! And so always remember, no challenge that you may face is bigger than you. And there are no limitations, only endless possibilities. If you look at the most famous people in history, you will see that this is true. They are no different than you. Not at all. Now go out with that mindset and see what happens.

What are your goals for the future?

I actually have spent a lot of time thinking about and outlining what my goals are in life, which I don’t think many people do. It’s important to ask yourself what you want, so that you can start aligning your day-to-day decisions with where you want to go. For myself personally, I like to continue improving in all aspects of my life continuously, whether that’s my health, my mindset, my spirituality, my marriage, and of course, I want to take Clean Rebel to the next level.  I envision us expanding the product line into other self-care products and eventually reaching a regional and global audience and becoming a leader in the clean beauty industry. Our goal is to continue innovating and setting new standards for clean, effective, ethical and sustainable skincare and self-care products. We also aim to increase our philanthropic efforts, supporting more animal causes as well as women’s causes. Ultimately, I see Clean Rebel not just as a skincare brand, but as a movement towards a more conscious and compassionate approach to beauty and to those around us. I truly want to leave a lasting impact in the world, which is why I set out to create Clean Rebel in the first place. I look forward to steering Clean Rebel into the future and seeing it unfold its full potential.

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