Welcome to the Emirates Woman weekly series ‘How I got my job as…’ where we speak to some incredible 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 chat with Nesa Rassouli, founder and CEO of NOMAD, a homegrown UAE clothing brand which launched last year. Having grown up in the UAE, Rassouli built the brand from the ground up, paying tribute to the nomadic heritage of the region, hence the name. “I wanted to blend this traditional interpretation with the modern expat identity that is really true to UAE as an international hub and represent the opportunities that are given to women – which is why we are female-owned and run,” she explains.
Emirates Woman sat down with Rassouli to find out what inspired her to enter the fashion space and what the future holds for NOMAD in the Middle East and beyond.
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What was your favourite subject at school?
Drama, Dance, and Media Studies – anything that allowed me to be creative and would push me to get out of my comfort zone!
What was your first job?
My first job was working at a children’s event company. It was really fun, but taught me a lot about operations, organization, administrative work and customer service. Even though it was my first job, it taught me to manage stress in an environment where there was high expectations to cater for specific preferences and also not let stress affect the clients’ expectations and create a fun atmosphere. It is actually what has inspired me to make our new line of kids’ wear!
What brought you to Dubai?
I’ve been here since I was three months old! My family moved out here when I was a baby, and I could just never bring myself to leave. I went to school and university here and of course, it only felt right to create a business that would be homegrown out of the UAE.
What inspired you to enter the fashion space?
Building a fashion brand has been a pipe dream of mine since I was 9 years old. My room was full of fashion books, I would spend hours and hours reading fashion magazines, but I could never find the courage to take the leap. There were always roadblocks: I couldn’t draw, I didn’t go to fashion school, anything, and everything I could think of would get in the way. Over the last few years, witnessing countless brands being built out of the UAE, I realized that all those hurdles were only there because I put them there. So, with a little bit of courage, a LOT of love and support from the people around me and knowing that I couldn’t spend another year of my life pass me by, I quit my job in the fitness industry and dove headfirst into building NOMAD.
Talk us through the concept of NOMAD.
The concept of NOMAD was inspired by the beauty and culture of the UAE’s nomadic heritage. What we can really learn from nomadic communities such as Bedouins are that they are super resilient, sustainable, and learn how to live beautifully without a trace. I really wanted to capture this lifestyle in the brand and resonate with many of us living between cultures, or ‘third culture kids’ who are international, constantly on the move and calling a place which they are not originally from their home.
I wanted to blend this traditional interpretation with the modern expat identity that is really true to UAE as an international hub and represent the opportunities that are given to women – which is why we are female-owned and run. Giving back to the community is also an important part of NOMAD, where family is more than blood, but expands to community, where anyone is welcome. This is what I learned from growing up in Dubai. I wanted to give women a piece of home no matter where they go.
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What sets the fashion industry in this region apart from other places in the world?
The beauty of working in the fashion space in the GCC is that as a woman in this community, the support is likely unparalleled to what you would receive anywhere else in the world. In the UAE especially, the community love to support homegrown brands and particularly female-owned start-ups. The opportunity to diversify your brand is also endless. We have been able to design styles for women of all different tastes and backgrounds, with UAE being a melting pot for different cultures and nationalities- the possibilities for producing different designs are endless! From designing bikinis to abayas, it opens a world of opportunity for NOMAD.
What are the key elements of your role?
Every element of the business is a key element for me. With NOMAD being a start-up in its infancy, I like to be quite involved in every aspect of the brand on a daily basis. Whether it is customer care, product development, logistics, operations or social media – you name it, I’m getting involved with it. I believe that a successful business needs care and attention in every single department and aspect. Overall, I think the key element is the balancing act of giving equal attention to each segment of the business.
Talk us through your daily routine.
That’s a tough one! In terms of what I get done on a daily basis, I could have my entire week mapped out by the hour but the fun of running a business is that it is pretty much guaranteed there will be about 100 spanners in the works and as an entrepreneur, you have to be ok with straying from a set routine and learning to pivot.
I do have my three daily non-negotiables: FIRST: Coffee, of course, and some mindfulness: journal, listen to some positive affirmations, or sometimes just sit in silence and take in a few moments of peace. Second: check in with my team, make sure everyone is on track and doing okay and ready to take on the day! Last but certainly not least: Hit the gym- this is my hour for me to regroup, get in some endorphins and let out any stress.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to follow in the same footsteps?
You’ll know it’s meant for you if you can’t stop thinking about it, and if you can’t stop thinking about it, don’t be afraid to jump. You will learn, you will grow, and you will thrive. If you believe in your vision enough, the universe will hear you and everything you manifest will come to fruition in its course. You also don’t need to have a huge team to have a great team- start small, and look for like-minded people who are ready to excel at their skill set. But to get started, it is really important to speak to experts in the field or seasoned professionals who have had their successes and failings that can help formulate an action plan for your own business. The best advice I was given was not to necessarily follow every piece of advice I was given, but to take it into consideration and really listen.
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What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
There is a season for sewing and a season for reaping. You can apply this to any aspect of your life. The key to achieving any results in any of your goals is consistency, and looking at each challenge as a marathon, not a sprint and being completely at peace with the fact that some phases are a time to work smart and beat at your craft knowing that the results for that effort may not show up in a matter of minutes, hours, or days, but they will soon come.
And what is the worst?
Being told that it is ok to take an easier route, or to walk away from it if it feels like too much. I believe that nothing worth having comes easy- you can’t experience the highs without the lows. So my takeaway from that was actually the opposite: Don’t take the easy route. Don’t walk away, just look for another path. And most importantly: Don’t give up. If you believe in anything enough, you will persevere.
What has been the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
Self-doubt. I’ve always been confident and outgoing; I LOVE a challenge. But running a business in a highly competitive space has been an experience with hurdles to jump that I could never anticipate until I got here. Learning to trust the process has probably been my biggest challenge, which is all a part of building not just a business, but a brand with longevity.
What are the future plans for your brand?
As we grow, we want to find more ways to not only evolve and make a better impact for ourselves as a brand within our own supply chain, but allow our customers to have more freedom of choice as to where and how they want to make an impact, too. By this, I mean they can choose between a range of different charity partners that align with their beliefs – whether it is supporting people of determination, humanitarian causes, marine conservation units, etc. In our longer-term vision, we hope to be a one-stop shop to expand our line into lifestyle brands that our customers can resonate with and trust, one that respects the environment, society and empowers the whole family.
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