Fifteen years ago Kelly Lundberg swapped her cabin crew career to create Dubai's first personal fashion styling service, Style Me Divine. The Scot recently sold the business and launched The S Academy to mentor budding stylists, lifestyle business owners and empower women through entrepreneurship. Ms Lundberg, 39, who is also the author of the book Success In The City about Dubai expatriate business owners, lives in Damac Hills.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
The pivotal point for me growing up in Edinburgh was when my parents divorced. I remember the summer before they broke up we had a really nice, luxury holiday. Things were comfortable. All of a sudden things were tough. My mum would sit and balance her chequebook every Sunday. Money was hard to come by. That really struck a chord, I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to need to get a job’.
So you started working at a young age?
Mum helped me create a little CV. I was 13/14. The only job you could get then was in a salon, washing hair on a Saturday for £10 (Dh43) a day. I gave up hockey, which I loved, but this was the first step on to independence.
At 16, I got a job in retail and, when I finished school, I worked all summer in a temping job I hated so I could buy a car and go to college. I saved £1,000. I studied events for a year, but decided college really wasn’t for me. I wanted to explore, so took a job as a holiday rep and moved to Cyprus at 18, the start of my travel bug.
At 21, I was back living at home. It was November, cold and dreary and I saw a job advertisement for Emirates cabin crew. I flew out here in April 2003.
What prompted the switch to styling?
Around 2005 there was this real can-do attitude in Dubai; everyone I spoke to had a side hustle or business. I was already helping friends with their shopping and was always chatting to passengers, telling them ‘this is where you should shop in Dubai’. I started Style Me Divine, initially targeting hotels to offer personal shopping to guests – I was the only one – then I started to grow within the resident market. It was a dressy culture.
What has been your key financial decision?
I took a car loan to start that business. The bank manager asked what kind of car I was buying because it was quite a large loan. I said the only expensive car I knew, a Porsche. He told me I had great taste and three days later the funds were in my account. That was the best decision I made, because it gave me a financial motivator; this business had to work, I had to earn to pay the loan. Not long after I set up Style Me Divine I also set up the first online wedding gifts register here. I sold that business three years later and paid off my loan.
How did you avoid overspending at the shops?
I was in shops all the time. The willpower not to buy shoes and clothes … I was very disciplined. I was passionate about my business, but there’s a fine line.
You got that thrill of making someone feel better about themselves, that confidence when they try a look they wouldn’t normally is incredible … and there’s a bit of a buzz from shopping – but it’s their money.
Have you seen client spending habits change?
There’s a lot more choice now. People are making smarter decisions, they’re more educated and will check out prices and if it’s cheaper online.
I had a couple of clients I’d shop with in London – getting their VAT back and the rate of exchange would cover my fees, if we were doing a big spend. Ninety per cent of clients wanted to just make smart [purchasing] decisions; it wasn’t just for the rich and famous. You’d have clients with a budget of Dh3,000.
Why did you sell Style Me Divine?
I had been transitioning into mentoring, doing less styling. Now I mentor the next generation of fashion stylists and lifestyle business owners, get them on the right track to start their business. I made all the mistakes, so I guide them through not making those and getting to earning money quicker.
Have you adapted your finances to cope with Covid-19?
One of the first things I did was look at where I could reduce overheads. I asked my landlord for a more flexible rolling monthly contract to manage my cash flow in these uncertain times.
On one side, there’s nowhere to go out to so spending on clothes is now non-existent, as is socialising. I’m maintaining my monthly savings and will do my best to still make this a priority.
What about professionally?
The majority of my business is online now at a time when it’s really about helping others through this challenging moment. I’ve been hosting webinars and having calls with mentees on how to create opportunities in adversity and just keeping people focused and motivated. As such, business hasn’t completely stopped for me.
Does money make you happy?
People say money can’t buy you happiness. I kind of disagree because it brings a level of comfort and safety and the ability to be able to do things like treat your friends and family. Maybe it’s not the be all and end all, but I don’t necessarily agree it can’t buy you happiness.
What is your most cherished purchase?
When I received that first [salon-earned] £10 in my hand, went to Tie Rack and bought my mum a scarf for £4.99, as a thank-you for helping me get a job. When I sold Style Me Divine I upgraded and bought her a Louis Vuitton scarf because she’s always helped through the years.
What do you enjoy spending money on?
Personal development, if I know it’s going to give me a better return on investment. I don’t compromise spending on seminars, coaches, mentors – specific skills I need in business. That’s been fundamental in my success and growth. I know it’s not just going to have an impact on me, but everyone around.
Investing in myself I believe is one of the best investments because I’m solely responsible for that; I’ve invested in me to make more money.
What luxuries are important to you?
Holidays. I really like experiences. Last year I went to Giraffe Manor, in Kenya, with my mum. Seychelles is my favourite destination. I’m also a big spender on shoes. I do a lot of high street shopping for day-to-day clothing, but when it comes to shoes and bags … I have an extensive shoe and sneaker collection, but my business comes first.
Are you wise with money?
I’d say I’m much wiser; it comes with age and knowledge. Dubai can often feel like we’ve got Monopoly money – we can spend without thinking about it and when you convert it to your home currency, you think twice. Coming up for 40 I’m now saying ‘OK, I need to make smarter decisions’. I used to think in order to be successful and earn lots of money, you had to graft. I’ve realised it’s more about working smart, not harder.
Do you have a retirement plan?
I’m saving but I guess, approaching 40 this year, those decisions are much more serious. How can I plan so that I have the same quality of life when I retire? That’s the bigger question. I don’t think I’ll ever retire, though. I love what I do. And my new business gives flexibility and freedom to travel more and spend time with family.