Deepthi Chandran Joyau is the founder of Only Ethikal, an e-commerce platform for affordable, sustainable clothing that also educates consumers about the environmental impact of fast fashion.
Born in Dubai of Indian origin, Ms Joyau, 37, previously worked as a finance consultant for small and medium enterprises and was financial controller and chief accountant with The Entertainer.
She was previously a fast-fashion shopper, but after 15 years in the corporate world she shifted her lifestyle choice and launched Only Ethikal in April 2019. It contributes a percentage of earnings to social and environmental organisations.
Ms Joyau lives in Mira community in Dubai with her husband, who works in marketing, and their dog Rio.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
Originally from India, my dad came to Dubai in the mid-1970s. He used to work in administration at Rashid Hospital and my mum was a housewife. We were a middle-class family. Dad had X salary, knew what he had to spend and after the priorities, there was not much left for pocket money, but he was like, ‘Whatever you want, I will get it’. We weren’t poor but managed with the money we had.
My parents are the best finance managers I’ve met because they taught us how to manage money and were against taking loans and credit. They lived here for 35 years, retired and went back home. Now dad’s taking care of coconut trees.
When did you first manage your own money?
I left at 17 to do further studies in India. I got money to take care of my expenses. As soon as I got away from under my parents’ wings, I splurged, ate in restaurants and spoiled myself. But I learned my lesson and, because I saw how dad and mum managed finances, found a way to save and not trouble my parents too much.
Did that continue into adult life?
You take it along with you – it’s embedded. I came to Dubai after my studies, got my first job at 22 … the same time my dad lost his. We had to live in Dubai for one year with just my salary, Dh3,000 per month working with an automotive accessories company, managing finance. But we figured it out.
I did my MBA in finance and operations and continued to work in finance and accounting in different companies.
What led you to launch Only Ethikal?
During my last job, I met a lot of entrepreneurs. My role was basically finding the finance and operational structure they needed, setting it up for them and doing business plans.
I thought I should probably try doing something myself, although I didn’t know which line of business. I love clothes and used to shop a lot. If I got a good deal, I was excited and so thought something around fashion. But when I did more research, I came to know the way it functions today and the fashion revolution. There is modern slavery and wastage in the fashion industry, but I found brands upping their game, following certain standards in their operations, the resources they use and people they employ.
Does this not increase product costs?
Sustainable fashion was always perceived as very expensive. We make sure people involved in the supply chain are paid fairly and don’t use plastic packaging. Obviously there is a cost to that, bringing it here, making noise about it. But today sustainable fashion is much more affordable than two years ago. We have different options available; organic cotton is much cheaper now because of demand, we can use up-cycled fabric. People are getting very innovative.
Then, if there’s product available and people know the concept, they have a choice. There were not any options for them to choose sustainable fashion. We have made a difference, bringing a product to the market with a message that fashion needs to be sustainable. Everybody wants to be profitable, but there should be a green line.
Are you sensible with personal spending?
We are not shy about spending on really good holidays. When it comes to other things, we see if we really have to spend. When we moved house, we just changed the colour of the furniture … up-cycled. We’re more savers but do splurge if we really have our heart set on something.
And paying it forward was part of what our parents taught, so I always believed whenever I’d do a business, I would keep something aside for an environmental or social cause.
Where do you save?
I just put into savings accounts, very conservative, and try not to have credit, so we don’t pay interest. Whenever we have funds available, we try to pay off the mortgage. We have fixed deposits with the bank. I need liquidity with the business, rather than putting into shares and stocks. I buy gold, when we have a cushion. If you hear the rates my parents used to buy at in the 1970s and 1980s, you’d have tears.
What has been your best investment?
We bought our house. After that, it’s Only Ethikal.
What’s your most cherished purchase?
I bought a Rado watch for my dad after he went back to India. He loves those watches, his friends had them. He wears his when he goes to weddings.
What is your money philosophy?
Money should be something that helps you to live comfortably. You should not let it shape your character or you as a person. But anyone who says money is not important … it’s not true. There were some months my parents couldn’t pay the school fees and my dad had to donate blood so he could get money. To have basic necessities in life, you need money, but I don’t think money defines you.
Are you wise with money?
Yes and if and when we have children, that’s going to be a new lesson because we will not spend the same way. I have become wiser, but I wish I knew to invest better, had some guidance. It’s something I never looked for because I was always happy with bank interest.
Would you like to have taken more financial risks?
I wish I’d started a little earlier, taken informed risks. I should have read more about investing and then made informed decisions because now I’m not in that mindset. Maybe two years down the line, I’ll start reading, see if I have other options. If I was to invest, I’d invest in real estate somewhere.
How has the pandemic impacted your business?
The pandemic was a blessing in disguise for most e-commerce. We were blessed with our best months, actually. What affected us was a three-month lockdown in India. All the brands we work with are based there. That said, people who love our stuff were understanding, ready to wait for things to be better.
Do you plan for the future?
I want to grow the business, see where it goes. My husband is from France, so right now the story is we would go there to retire, hopefully with kids. We don’t have a pension fund, so we’re trying to save as much as possible.