Money & Me: 'I keep reading it will be a V-shaped recovery – that's my wishful thinking'

Despite closing her new store for a month, boutique owner Tutus Kurniati is optimistic for the future

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 22 APRIL 2020. Tutus Kurniati from Indonesia is the founder and creative director behind an eponymous new high-end holiday wear concept e-retailer and boutique, in Dubai’s new Nakheel Mall. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: David Dun. Section: Businessl.

Tutus Kurniati is the founder of an eponymous high-end resort wear store, which she rolled out online in July 2019 before a boutique opened in January in Dubai’s new Nakheel Mall. UAE government movement directives designed to halt the spread of Covid-19 saw the store close from March 24 until April 27. Ms Kurniati, 36, previously worked in IT and launched two fashion stores in her native Indonesia before relocating to Dubai when her husband's business brought her here. She visited Milan, Paris, New York, London, Bali and Singapore to scout niche brands for her new concept. Ms Kurniati lives on Palm Jumeirah with husband Patrick Dannacher, who is also her business partner, and their four-year-old son.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I’m from Java island and grew up in Surabaya, the second biggest city after the capital, Jakarta. It was a normal childhood and we were quite prosperous. My dad had his business, an electronics shop for TVs, stereos, whatever was in demand at the time, so we used to have PlayStation or the biggest TV when others didn’t. He also opened a cinema. I have three younger brothers, which affected me a lot … I was more ambitious and competitive.

Then one day, boom, my dad had a stroke. He couldn’t work, do anything. Life completely changed. It was a wake-up call that made me realise I needed to earn money, to help out; to grow up and be independent.

The dream was to have two outlets; one online catering to the world, and the boutique on the Palm.

How much were you paid in your first job?

The moment I finished university I went to Jakarta to work at a five-star hotel. I was 21 or 22. I started on reception and was made supervisor in the front office for $500 (Dh1,837) a month, plus bonuses. But it was boring, I needed a challenge and was thinking ‘I can do more, and should earn more so I can help my family’. So I moved to an IT company. I had a three-month probation and had to study and learn everything, but it was challenging, fun and a lot more money. I also had a side business, opening my own boutique in Bali and Jakarta in 2012 to sell my designs and general clothes.

What prompted you to open a boutique in Dubai?

When we moved here five years ago I wanted to open a business, but I was pregnant and wanted to enjoy being a mum. Fashion is my passion and I needed to see what was missing in Dubai, what is already here and what I could offer. It’s a coastal city and I was inspired. The dream was to have two outlets; one online catering to the world, and the boutique on the Palm.

How did you fund your business?

I was sales director at the IT company and my boss needed the business to grow. I introduced him to my husband. My husband’s business and my boss’s business merged. I made the deal happen; I managed to ‘sell’ the company. I got money from that [deal] and used it to open this boutique.

Are you a spender or a saver?

My husband is in finance so we have a budget and spreadsheets. I have a business budget and a personal budget.

Every year I save a certain amount. Once that target is reached I spend because I need to have fun as well. If we have the opportunity to be less stressed, we will take it. You also need to enjoy yourself and have nice holidays – whatever it is that makes us happy, as long as it is within the budget. I’m a wise spender, you could say.

When did you first save money?

My mum was a housewife, but also had a small boutique in town. I grew up watching my mum selling clothes; she took me around where she bought the clothes and I helped in the boutique after school when I was 13/14. She gave me pocket money, a couple of dollars, and I bought a bicycle at the end of the year.

How do you save now?

I invest in real estate in Indonesia and deposit accounts. I have three houses and two land [investments] that I rent out. I don’t do stocks. I don’t take risks. I also have my emergency fund. When I was growing up and dad was sick, there was no safety net so I have to have one for myself. You need to put something in every year.

Does money make you happy?

It’s not the money itself that makes you happy but what money can do; it can bring happiness. The key for me is trying to find balance, in money, life, in business. I won’t buy two houses and not go on holiday or buy clothes that I want, I’ll buy one house. You should be balanced.

Has the Covid-19 pandemic changed your spending habits?

Normally I shop for fashion, anything that makes me happy. And I’m a foodie, so I love to eat in restaurants. I’ve cut down on that and buy only necessary things. And no ordering in as much as before.

How has the crisis affected your business?

Having the online shop helped, but with the lockdown it was not possible to grab the clothes for the orders. All stock was in the shop and the warehouse. My problem is my stock is seasonal. We’re trying to add more possibilities online, like a concierge service [to hotels], everything we can to make sure it works. I’m a positive person. I keep reading it will be a V-shaped recovery - that’s my wishful thinking.

What is your most cherished purchase?

About nine years ago, I used my first bonus from my job in IT sales to buy a small house in my home town, for investment and to provide rental income for my mum. I just wanted to make her life easier. The IT industry paid great money. Being independent financially and able to help my family, and also to have this boutique, are milestones.

What is your philosophy towards money?

Money is important, but so is helping other people. I’m helping my family but I love to help others who don’t have enough to live their daily life, eat or go to school. In Indonesia there are a lot. The difference between rich and poor is so high. Where my parents live there’s an ‘angel’ couple I help who take in abandoned kids and orphans. For us to grow up and help [donate money] is very normal.

Do you plan for the future?

I have a solid dream that has never changed, whatever my age. If this boutique is successful I will try to open another, in another coastal city - a place I like to go to - but I will not open a new one until I make a profit from the first.