Money & Me: 'I never buy at full price - I want better value'​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Entrepreneur Samar Habayeb says she always negotiates a more-lucrative deal both in her personal and professional life

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - May 09, 2019: Interview Sama Habayeh, CEO and creative director of Silsal Design House. Thursday the 9th of May 2019. Design District, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Samar Habayeb is chief executive and creative director of Silsal Design House, a homeware and porcelain tableware company initially created by her mum and aunt in her native Jordan. After securing her masters degree in ceramic design in Wales, she relocated the venture to Dubai Design District in 2013, re-branding and evolving an international business stocked in six countries. Ms Habayeb also works with a non-profit organisation to inspire future design and retail entrepreneurs and mentors young women in business. Ms Habayeb, 34, lives in Umm Suqeim with her investment banker husband, Fawzi Jumean, daughters, ages 3 and 6, and son, 2.

How did your childhood shape your money attitude?

I’ve built a healthy relationship with money. I was born and raised in Jordan, with one older sister and a younger brother. We had a big house; we were privileged. Our parents led by example, worked very hard to give us what they could. We used to spend a lot of summers in the US and earn pocket money baby-sitting, mowing the lawn, doing paperwork in my uncle’s office. I value how it shaped me. That’s why I insist on my kids, even from two/three, starting chores. You earned it (money) and not doing something you had to do anyway like take your plate off the table. It gave us a sense of discipline and understanding of the value of money.

If I had the time I would spend more on my wellbeing. Being an entrepreneur and a mum of three, living in a fast-paced city like Dubai … we forget about that.

What were you paid in your first job?

When I was at university in Boston I was tutoring economics, for maybe $13 (Dh48) an hour, aged 20, to give me extra money. My mother and father would give us the full allowance for the year upfront and we needed to manage it. We’d have to budget until the end of the academic year; rent, food, everything. I messed up at the beginning – that’s when I started doing random jobs around campus – then got the gist of it. It’s influenced my outlook on life. I’m not a spender, but I used to be then with socialising.

So your spending habits have evolved?

When I had kids, my attitude towards money changed. I became more of a saver, thinking more of them, long-term. God forbid anything happens to me, I think ‘what am I giving my kids’ at the end of the day – I want them to be able to have the means to be whoever they want to be. The two most important things are health and education. That’s what we’re saving for; planning for the future, for our kids’ education. Giving back to the community was also an idea we grew up with – down the line this is something I want to be focusing on as the business grows and I have more time.

Where do you save?

We have savings accounts in banks. We also do safe investments, low risk, long-term, diverse funds. I learned it from my husband, but we’re equally involved in our financial decisions. I’m very risk averse.

What made you take on the family business?

My mother and aunt started Silsal Ceramics on the basis of reviving a dying pottery tradition in Jordan, and socially empowering women to be breadwinners. I did my masters and went back to take on chapter two. I was 24. On the first day they said, ‘here you go, take it over’. It was a lovely concept. They’d hired around 20 women and achieved their purpose by focusing on the arts of the Islamic world in a refined context, but it was haemorrhaging money. They weren’t focused as much on that as giving back to the community. My mother was involved in SOS Children’s Villages orphanage concept. We were helping as kids, trying to create works of art to sell. My father on the other hand is a corporate lawyer, very assertive, knew what he wanted out of us when it came to grades and getting things done.

Did uprooting Silsal to Dubai cause upset?

Everyone was angry but they didn’t see the economics, had no idea we were losing money. This is the only way it could have survived. There was no sustainability in the old model. They had their shop, were thriving because of tourists, but to make one piece needed three/four weeks of production. Input was way higher than output; labour costs, red tape, everything. We needed to scale and the only way was to mass-produce, have it in different locations at an accessible price.

I had learned of D3, in 2013, as I was on my way to China to explore mass production and how I could potentially integrate this into Silsal. Today we’re at 50 retailers around the region, on more than 10 online stores and able to dispatch a $200,000 order in 48 hours. We’ve kept that luxurious looking art and made it accessible.

Are you wise with money?

Any time we buy a service here (at Silsal) or at home, we get quotations, negotiate. I’ll wait for sales for my clothes; I never buy at full price - you want better value. Being in the retail industry you know what people’s margins are.

What’s your best investment?

Silsal, by far. We put some of our savings into it. I knew what I wanted, that it was doable. I was willing to do whatever it took. It was such an enriching journey; no college degree could have taught me what I’ve learned. You either have huge funding and hire the best people or grow organically with the funding you have. That’s what we did.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - May 09, 2019: Interview Sama Habayeh, CEO and creative director of Silsal Design House. Thursday the 9th of May 2019. Design District, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

What’s your most cherished purchase?

One of the first paintings my husband and I bought together, by Japanese-Canadian Danielle O’Connor Akiyama. We were in London and fell in love with it. Everything we get for the house should have a story. I love art, but don’t perceive our purchases as investments - I want to keep them and have a certain feeling with everything we purchase.

What luxuries do you like to spend on?

With my upbringing there was this equation; you work hard and reward yourself. If I had the time I would spend more on my wellbeing. Being an entrepreneur and a mum of three, living in a fast-paced city like Dubai … we forget about that. I need to be able to recharge. This is something I would spend on, for example going to a spa or health farm, doing more yoga, seeing a therapist more often. I try to, to the extent that I can.

What’s your key financial milestone?

Our first online order, about seven months into launching the online business, late 2014, a salad bowl, for maybe Dh320. I delivered it and picked up the cash myself. It was an amazing feeling. As the business grows we constantly have milestones we’re looking to achieve.

Do you prefer paying by cash or credit card?

ApplePay (linked to a credit card). I don’t want to be carrying cash; I like minimalism and always pay my bills each month.