Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 30 October 2020

Money & Me: 'I wouldn't spend Dh200,000 on a Hermès bag, I prefer to have property'

Model agency founder Renelyn Robles says being fashionable does not have to come with a hefty price tag

Renelyn Robles, founder and chief executive of Niche Modelling Agency, invests in property in the Philippines. Reem Mohammed/The National
Renelyn Robles, founder and chief executive of Niche Modelling Agency, invests in property in the Philippines. Reem Mohammed/The National

Renelyn Robles aka Glitzy - is chief executive and co-owner of Niche Modelling Agency, the first wholly run by Filipinos in Dubai. Founded in 2017, the company aims to diversify catwalks with different nationalities. Ms Robles' son, 21, from her previous marriage, is Niche’s head booker. Previously a beauty consultant before joining the developer Nakheel as a receptionist, Ms Robles, 40, lives in Jumeirah Park with her businessman husband, and their daughter, 3.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I was born in Iloilo - the Philippines’ City of Love – and have a younger brother. My father was a tricycle driver for 17 years, transporting passengers. My parents are now entrepreneurs. The family business is restaurants and fish farms, breeding catfish and shrimps. We didn’t have much money when we were small, but due to hard work my parents have achieved a lot. Before the business my mother was a domestic helper in Singapore, for four years. She left when I was about 10. One month after, our house burned down along with the whole district - because of a gas leak - and we lost everything. We were like refugees. I said ‘some day I will not live in this way’.

People say fashion is a luxury, but you can be on-trend at a lower cost.

Renelyn Robles

How did you pick yourself up from there?

Because my mother was away, I took care of my brother and father, washing clothes, but since I was young I’ve been ambitious. Every holiday I’d go to the province of my mother or father’s family and dance at contests, aged about 13. I’d always win and save that (prize) money. I built my confidence and learned a lot about valuing cash. I’d never envy other kids; my friends had money but I said, ‘some day I will work hard and have that - at the moment this is what I have, so I am satisfied’. I’ve been content with whatever I’ve got, ever since.

What were you paid in your first job?

I was a beauty consultant with Unilever at 19, working in malls in the Philippines, earning about 40,000 peso (Dh3,500) monthly.

Why did you move to Dubai?

I wanted to help my parents because I’d seen their struggle. It inspired me. I had a failed marriage and decided my life should change, so I moved to the Emirates in 2000. My mother had returned to the Philippines by then and started a restaurant and car wash business. My mother taught me to be independent, to help myself. I was a beauty consultant at BurJuman Mall for two years, then worked for Nakheel, as a receptionist and later an executive document controller. I started my own salon and spa in 2008, using my salary from the five years at Nakheel. It didn’t succeed.

Why start the modeling business?

My parents entrepreneurship was calling. I was pregnant with my daughter by then and had not worked for six years. I love dressing up, it’s my kryptonite; I adopted the lifestyle of Dubai. I studied fashion design in May 2014 at a fashion design school; I was also a new mum and started to think I needed my own business. I met my co-founder and for two years we were talking about it, casually. I wanted to change the industry; there’s no diversity and I like empowering women. As a model you don’t only need a beautiful face, you need to show the world you can be confident for who you are. I’m overwhelmed by the response to us in the market.

Are you a spender or a saver?

Both. I save because I’ve learned the value of money, but I also spend wisely. I budget my spending for three months. I only spend on what I need and my kids. I don’t buy expensive clothing - I mix and match.

Is it expensive to stay fashionable?

I buy what I need ... whatever the trend may be. People say fashion is a luxury, but you can be on-trend at a lower cost. Prada, Chanel … somebody will always buy it. For me it’s not labels that are important, it’s how you carry yourself, your personality, how confident you feel in the dress you’re wearing. Fashion is creativity, the artwork and details; I’m amazed by that but I’m not going to spend Dh200,000 on a Hermès bag. I prefer to have property.

Where do you save?

I invest in property in the Philippines. I bought houses and some farmland to grow rice or corn, invested with my mum and father. My mother is a very good businesswoman, knows how to grow the money and is a good saver. Here I keep some in a bank savings account.

Ms Robles says she learns from her financial mistakes. Reem Mohammed/The National
Ms Robles says she learns from her financial mistakes. Reem Mohammed/The National

Are you wise with money?

Now, yes. I tried both. I used to splurge on going out with my husband; five star hotels, travelling first class on holiday. I’ve changed my mentality. When I had my daughter, I realised I don’t want my children to think money just pours like rain. What I’m doing now is for them. I have this business, it’s giving me discipline. When you have money you make mistakes, that’s what I experienced – but they were fun mistakes. I never regret. If I make mistakes, I learn. Make mistakes, but never the same mistakes.

Do you have a philosophy towards money?

Money is essential to everyone. Live within your means and don't overspend. Work hard and when you have money, take good care of it. You’re not always going to be in your comfort zone.

Do you have a cherished purchase?

I have my own house (in the Philippines). As an entrepreneur you need to secure where you’re going to live. Whatever happens in the world, at least you have that.

What are you happiest spending money on now?

Mostly my kids; my first priority is family. I take them travelling every year. It serves a double purpose - to relax my mind, have new ideas, and at the same time I’m enjoying it with them. I always go to Italy, especially Tuscany.

What’s been your best financial milestone?

The agency, because I’ve learned a lot of things, professionally and personally – and when we won the first campaign as a new agency. Our first plan was ‘boutique’, flying in diversified models, but I could see potential to do more. Now we offer full media production. Within three months I realised I’d done the right thing.

Do you prefer paying by cash or credit card?

Credit card, for convenience. With the card I know the due date and pay it off - I don’t like banks calling me.

Do you plan for the future?

I’m focused on the future of my kids, having this business for them. A stable business is important for me and for them. Sometimes I make myself slow down because you end up with no time with your family. My children are only young once. I don’t want to miss that. At the moment I’m hands on with the business and my daughter, I manage that.

Updated: June 13, 2019 04:41 PM

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