Emirati perfume house founder on scent of something special in Abu Dhabi and beyond

Emirati entrepreneur Ali Al Jabari of the Abu Dhabi perfume house AJ Arabia, offers his insights on launching a homegrown luxury brand in the UAE.

Ali Al Jabari, founder of the perfume brand AJ Arabia, with the Black and Gold versions of perfume bottles at Harvey Nichols store at Mall of the Emirates. Pawan Singh / The National
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The Emirati entrepreneur Ali Al Jabari left the corporate world in 2011 to establish the first Abu Dhabi perfume house, AJ Arabia. AJ Arabia perfumes are sold in stores across the UAE and around the world from Emirates Palace and Areej in Abu Dhabi to Harrods in London. Speaking on the sidelines of The Galleria at Al Marayah Island’s Spring Festival, which ended today – where he delivered three speeches titled How to Become a Luxury Entrepreneur – the entrepreneur reveals why he wants to inspire other Emiratis to follow in his footsteps.

How did you go about crafting your speech?

I first wanted to understand what the audience considered “luxury”. What did it mean to them? Equally, what did perfume mean to them? In the Middle East, is it something that’s just part of the culture or something people consider a luxury to buy? Then the discussion broadened to the wider industry and I explained what it is like being an entrepreneur in the luxury sector. I also talked about the mistakes that local entrepreneurs could make and why sometimes businesses work and some don’t.

What do you define as luxury?

Firstly, luxury is about superb quality, it’s a product that’s gone through the most comprehensive quality control. Second is reputation, which takes such a long time to build and is hard to maintain. Trust is the third element, meaning you can trust that the product is of the highest quality and craftsmanship, and that it can’t be found in every given souq, for example.

How long did it take you to achieve those three things at AJ Arabia?

Well, to be honest, I’m not there yet. I’m still an entrepreneur and I’ve so far spent about four years working just on quality to ensure I deliver the very best I can to my customers. In terms of brand positioning, I wanted to be among the very best in the market. That’s why our first customer was Harrods of London, and that didn’t come easy. They checked the quality, the background – every single aspect of the business. I’m now building on that reputation with the help of the highest-end department stores like Harvey Nichols in Dubai and Kuwait. Reputation and trust-wise, we’re able to say we’re authentically from Arabia and delivering luxury oriental perfumes, if you want to call them that, internationally.

The UAE market is underserved with national luxury brands, so how are you encouraging more Emiratis to take a leap of faith?

All the well-known global brands want to be in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, yet at the same time we have no local brands. Why is that? Is it something we’ve failed in? Or do we prefer to be consumers rather than entrepreneurs? That’s why I’m trying to encourage locals to get into the luxury business but with the “know-how” of the industry. It’s not a case of “I have the money, I’ll establish my own brand” – it won’t work that way.

How did you break into the market?

I’m actually a chemical engineer by trade and I worked for Adnoc (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company) for about eight years and did my masters in management, marketing, communication and media at the Paris-Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi. My masters really gave me the encouragement to take serious, solid steps and treat “this” as a full-time job. I’m a full-time entrepreneur and to give up a well-paid job was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever taken.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learnt on your journey so far?

Every project could be described as a “triangle with three angles”; they are time, quality and cost. Of these three elements you can only ever achieve two at a time. For example, if you want quality in a short time you’ll have to sacrifice low costs. If you want cost control and the best quality, you need more time. So, I chose to focus on the two elements of cost, because I was self-funded at the beginning, and quality excellence. That’s why it’s taken me such a long time to develop my idea from scratch; design, brand and manufacture it. And by far the hardest step was my first launch; trying to ensure the brand was presented in the right luxury stores. The process was very long, as was the list of requirements, it didn’t happen overnight.

The global fragrance market is a highly competitive one. What separates you from larger and older established houses?

I’m the only one from Abu Dhabi so that’s a plus and all of our perfumes are originals – there’s nothing similar out there. Plus there are very few players doing what we do, which is create oriental fragrances with French school perfumery techniques and an international vision. It’s a bridge between eastern and western schools, and when the customer holds the product they recognise and appreciate the value of it.


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