Money & Me: ‘Money can be dangerous depending on how you use it’

Omani boutique owner Zakiya Al Zakwani believes in donating a portion of her wealth to benefit others

Zakiya Al Zakwani, owner of boutique Zproyecto, says her upbringing taught her to make her own money and not depend on anyone. Photo: Antonie Robertson / The National
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Zakiya Al Zakwani founded UAE boutique Zproyecto to offer its Chi Couture range, a line of women’s clothing described as featuring healing crystals, alongside home decor, healing jewellery, candles and other products.

Zproyecto – meaning “project” in Spanish – launched online in 2018 and opened a physical store in Dubai’s Al Ghurair Mall in May.

Ms Al Zakwani, 36, who also runs a veterinary centre in her home country of Oman, lives in Al Barsha, Dubai, with her four-year-old daughter and engineer husband.

Was your money outlook influenced by childhood?

My parents, my family, are mostly entrepreneurs — everyone had their own business. That played a role in our upbringing. I have two elder sisters and a younger brother. We were an extended family living in a big house in Muscat. I didn’t ask for much or demand things. In fact, I wanted to give.

My parents were rich, but still I thought it was better to do things your way, that we need to make our own money and not depend on anyone. I used to love watching Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, so it was something I always wanted to do … do things my way.

Were there ever fluctuations in the family’s fortune?

There was a moment when the wealth disappeared because there was a wrong signature, the wrong documents. We were shocked when we went from a very nice school to a “normal” school for maybe three to four years. We didn’t know what was going on, but we felt this shift.

How did you end up running a veterinary clinic?

My dad was into many businesses such as agriculture and pet supplies; this was one he started but never gave much attention to. It was supposed to be sold and I’m like: “Let me take over.” That was 2008-2009. I have a nurse certificate from the government. I managed the staff and slowly re-established the business. I didn’t have a salary as such. We’ve taken it from zero to where it is now. I did a bachelor’s in business administration, but I don’t feel they teach you how to be an entrepreneur or a risk-taker. I was always a risk-taker.

What brought you to the UAE?

It was for love. I met my husband in 2016. He used to come to the vet (with his cat) and was in Oman working on the Botanic Garden.

From childhood, every month we would come to the UAE for shopping and stuff. It’s my second home. I bought a house in Dubai in 2012 because of the amount of time I used to spend here.

When it comes to money in the bank … it’s not doing anything. I hate money stagnating, not working for me
Zakiya Al Zakwani, founder, Zproyecto

What inspired your current business?

I was not feeling productive. Thanks also to my daughter, I got into healing (products). When she was born, she would fall sick quite often. I would go to the doctors, they would give her antibiotics and I thought this was “not the way”.

I was motivated to study homeopathy. Also, whenever I wanted to purchase a crystal (while living) in Abu Dhabi, I never found the source. I wanted to create awareness as well, not just make money. Work/life balance is what I’m striving for.

What prompted the physical store?

I was in hotels and spas in Abu Dhabi and we weren’t getting as much (traffic) as we used to. There were fewer tourists because of the pandemic.

A physical store makes a difference, because I can meet and talk to clients. I got this place at a good rate because of the pandemic and tried to save costs on the design and the selections. I even designed the logo.

Describe your spending and saving attitude.

When it comes to money in the bank … it’s not doing anything. I hate money stagnating, not working for me. So I don’t save as such because I invest in different stocks and Bitcoin - I know it’s volatile sometimes, but it does give profit. I also invest in real estate because it gives returns.

I spend if I want to see my daughter happy, but not lavishly.

Money can be beneficial or a danger. It is the way you use your money. Also, I always say donate a portion of your wealth and you will see the benefits, no matter your religion.

What has been your best investment?

In 2012, I bought a house in Jumeirah Village Triangle. It was for a really good price. I took a loan on my veterinary clinic. I sold it in 2017 for a very good price. It was just luck. I’ve reinvested some [profits] in an apartment in Abu Dhabi.

Does money bring happiness?

I don’t really think so because sometimes when you have so much, you have many responsibilities, it gives you more stress. So I wouldn’t say happy as such, but it’s something that we need. I’m neutral towards money. I haven’t experienced not having it. Of course, having it is important.

Are you wise with money?

I could have been better, investment-wise. I’m very mindful at the moment. I don’t want to take from family members. I would rather give.

We’ve downgraded (accommodation) because earlier we were in a villa by the beach in Abu Dhabi. I said: “We’re spending too much.” We moved here, to a smaller apartment, but I am thinking of buying a house.

What have been your best share picks?

Apple and Tesla. Also, in Oman, I’ve invested in Omantel, banks and a steel company. I started educating myself about when to buy, when not to and when to sell.

One of my bad investments was the Nasdaq 100. I lost a lot of money last year. I took leverage. If you invest, invest your actual money, don’t borrow. That’s what I learnt.

Is there anything you regret buying?

An apartment in Istanbul. I used to hate Oman in summer, I wanted an escape spot. It never worked. The price drop was drastic. It’s useless to sell because the price has fallen by more than half. I get some income, but I should have bought something here. Always ensure you invest in a stable asset, in a stable country.

Have you adjusted your spending priorities?

I’ve changed drastically. Before meeting my husband, I used to spend a lot of money on designer brands. It was something I was going through. I think I was trying to cover a lack of something that was, now I would say, love.

Money made me happy temporarily. My husband … I learnt from him, he’s super mindful. And when I see my daughter happy, even if it’s a play area I take her to and I spend, that’s a cherished moment. I want the best for her.

I still love cars, but I gave my Porsche to my husband. Now I’m driving an Infiniti for my daughter’s safety.

Do you have retirement goals?

I don’t believe that someone who grows old needs to give up or just stop working. You need to keep going no matter what age. So I don’t have a retirement plan, but I think things will work out for me with income from real estate investments. I want to keep busy, but also enjoy the moment I am in.

Updated: September 16, 2021, 8:38 AM