Money & Me: 'Investing in myself is better than just saving money'

Welsh entrepreneur Elinor Davies-Farn started her hair care business at her kitchen table with a budget of just $137

Elinor Davies-Farn started her business, Olew Hair, from her kitchen after quitting her job. Pawan Singh / The National
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Elinor Davies-Farn launched Olew Hair in 2018 out of frustration at the lack of natural care products for curly hair.

She started the business in her kitchen with a budget of £100 ($137.85), quitting a lucrative role with BMW and Mini, which included selling cars to football, rugby and golf stars.

The Welsh-born entrepreneur relocated to Dubai in February to further grow Olew – the Welsh word for oil – and encourage more GCC women to embrace their natural curls.

Ms Davies-Farn, 30, is engaged to a lawyer and lives in Downtown Dubai.

Was your money outlook shaped by your upbringing?

I grew up in Aberystwyth, west Wales. There's no motorway, no mall for about two and a half hours' drive. My family had a car dealership, something my great grandfather started. Mum was always thinking about making money. She was doing mobile hairdressing, sold clothes, then came to the family business.

In the countryside, people never liked to be in debt or paying on finance. That had a huge influence on how I started my business; I've never had funding. Now, I'm starting to understand maybe I should be more open to investment.

What was your first experience of commerce?

I saw how hard my parents worked and was never one of those children that wanted the newest Gameboy or trainers. I never cared for anything material or had pocket money, but it was expected of me to work. After school, I was folding invoices, putting them in envelopes, taking them to the post office, or taking money when people got petrol.

When I was 15, I had a stall in one of the local markets. I went to a wholesaler with money I'd saved and did a summer selling jewellery, rather than going to Magaluf (in Spain).

How much did your first job pay?

Aged 12 to 13, I worked in a cafe on Saturdays. That paid £10 for the day, plus tips. Then I worked in a gift shop on Sundays. When I was slightly younger, I'd make and sell greeting cards to people (visiting the house) or make a little shop, give manicures and pedicures.

How did Olew come about?

Even though I loved selling and talking to people, I had quite low self-esteem because I didn't have straight, glossy hair. For years, I was straightening it to death and was still never happy, because that wasn't my natural state. My biggest purpose starting Olew was sharing that message; that you are beautiful in your own skin, just embrace your natural hair.

It took about six months to get the courage to hand in my notice (at BMW/Mini). I was well paid, got a new car every nine months, but I was like, "I don't really want to do this for the rest of my life". I was making oil for myself, conditioners and shampoos, and I'd give it to people. I quit my job in 2018 and, on the first day at home, was like, "I haven't actually sold a bottle, what was I thinking?"

I started with just £100, created my own labels, did the whole process. It wasn't the most professional looking website or bottle, but I did social media, so didn’t pay for marketing. I sold 100 bottles and then went on to thousands a month.

What brought you to the UAE?

I wanted to expand. I had so many stockists and individuals purchasing, although I've never done anything here to promote my brand. There was definitely a market and I thought if I came and pushed it, we’re going to get a bigger market share. So, it was in the back of my mind and then my partner had an email from a recruiter asking if he would be interested in a job in Abu Dhabi … everything started to align and it pushed us to come.

Are you a saver or a spender?

Still more of a saver at heart and I am understanding you need to invest in yourself. Moving here, I opted for a bit more of an expensive flat. Before, I would have gone for the cheapest, but I realised if I swim in the morning I'm happier and more productive. I'm not materialistic. I actually hate shopping, but investing in myself is better than just saving money.

How do you grow your cash?

A savings account and sometimes stocks and a little crypto now and again. I also think of my business as a massive savings bank that's my retirement fund. My next five to 10-year plan is to not just to have hair products, Olew has huge scope for other businesses within it. I’ve bet on myself, reinvested and never took a wage until last year.

What are your best investments?

The first one would be our flat in London, because it gave me the freedom to start my business. It's been my warehouse, stockroom, my office.

I'd saved enough to get by for another six months, to pay the mortgage if I quit my job. And then, obviously, the £100 I put into my business … cheaper than a brunch.

What does money mean to you?

Freedom from the nine to five. Money has given me the opportunity to work whatever hours I want, to do a lot more things and flexibility. If I didn't have money, I would never have been able to afford a great deal I got to go first class on British Airways to Kenya, one of my biggest cherished spends. Or go to Rio, on my bucket list, Cuba and the Seychelles. Money doesn't make you happy, but the experiences it allows make me happy, rather than material stuff.

I saw how hard my parents worked and was never one of those children that wanted the newest Gameboy or trainers.
Elinor Davies-Farn, founder of Olew Hair

Are you sensible with money?

Definitely, even in Dubai. It’s easy to go to brunches all the time, spend a lot of money. Before I came, we were researching; we've got Let’s DXB (discount app) and The Entertainer. I research happy hours – I don’t want to get into overspending.

For our wedding, I don't want the whole big reception and three-course meal. Spending £20,000 on one day … that’s not me. I'd rather put it into my business.

How has the pandemic affected your start-up?

My whole thing is, put the products in, let it dry, enjoy your life. Once we went into lockdown, I think people's eyes opened to what really matters and spending hours on your hair and make-up or getting your nails done every week isn't the most important aspect of your life, like having time to enjoy with your family. That's why we saw sales go through the roof. Women were genuinely like, “Why do I take all this time to get ready in the morning … let me embrace my natural hair”. That really helped me.

Do you plan your financial future?

Mainly through my business and when that does well, I can invest in properties. By the time of my retirement, I don't think there will be pensions, so I guess I’m counting on myself.

My dream would be, when I'm older, to invest in another business, give them advice; finding people to invest in that gives me money and a good thing to do because I don't think I could retire and not do anything.

Updated: September 09, 2021, 6:30 AM