Money & Me: ‘My parents rebuilt their lives with Dh5,000 in savings after their house burnt down’

The family disaster helped Neelam Keswani, founder and managing director of, understand the importance of saving for a rainy day

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , November 16 – 2020 :- Neelam Keswani, founder and MD of online beauty shop at her office in the International Business Tower in Business Bay area in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) For Business. Story by David
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Neelam Keswani is the founder and managing director of, a beauty e-commerce platform she launched after not being able to find the brands that she loved locally.

The Dubai-born Indian, 40, previously worked with discount-related businesses The Entertainer and Cobone, as well as electronics shopping site

Ms Keswani lives with her business partner and husband of two years Roshan Harief, who is also Glamazle’s web developer, in Dubai Silicon Oasis.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

My dad came from India to Dubai by boat in 1965 and worked in the import and export division of a company for 52 years. My mother was a homemaker. We got new clothes only twice a year – on our birthday and on Diwali – because we were four kids and dad didn’t have a massive salary. He was taking care of his brother and his family and also trying to build a home in India, where he could retire. So, we lived a very fixed, budgeted life. Having said that, my dad made sure we got everything in terms of education.

Did something inspire you to begin saving?

When my dad gave my mother money, she would save it in small bags and keep them inside wardrobes. It happened before my birth, but one Diwali, the house burned down. My mum had saved up Dh5,000 and everything in the house burnt, except for that and her passport. She gave this money to my father and that’s how they rebuilt their life.

My mum kept giving me this as an example every time I got a bonus. I’m a strong believer that it’s very important to save for a rainy day; you don’t know what’s around the corner.

How do you save?

I have money in savings accounts in different banks, and National Bonds. I also have physical gold. I bought gold bars in 2011/12 when it was close to $1,500 an ounce. This year, the gold price went crazy. I waited until it went up to $1,950, sold most of it and made a lot of cash. That’s gone into a villa in India. We invested a lot into making it bigger. That’s going to be our family home, if ever we decide we want to retire there.

When did you earn your first wage?

At 18. My first job was in Gitex. I used to do promotions for a phone company. They would pay me Dh750 for the week – at that time, it was a lot of money. I did that for two years and was studying as well. Then, I got a job in a bank. They paid me Dh1,800 a month.

What prompted you to create Glamazle?

I realised it was time to do something for myself. At the end of 2014, I decided to part ways with ALshop. My then boyfriend, now husband, told me: “You’ve done so much for many people, you’ve made many people rich, why can’t you do this for yourself?”

Every time I spend, I make it a mission to save double that amount

When I started, it was supposed to be a pet website, but I had no knowledge about pets. I love make-up and beauty. I’m a certified make-up artist. There was a huge demand for brands not available here. So, it was time to take this and make it my business. We started the venture from my bedroom. Now, I’m happy that I’m contributing to the economy, which has given me everything.

Has it been your best investment?

Yes, for a lot of reasons. The main reason is that I love make-up and I get to play with it more. It’s given me learning and success. I’m doing something that makes others happy. We are self-funded. Only this year, we have decided to look for outside funding to grow us maybe times five or 10.

Did your shopping habit change without the corporate salary?

It did. I was on very big salaries. I was living with my parents, the rent and food was paid for. All the money I was making was for myself, so I would go out and spend. If I liked a t-shirt, I’d buy all colours in it. I pampered my sister the same way.

That attitude has changed massively. I’ve reduced my impulse buying. My bags have not crossed three digits (in terms of price) in the past four years.

What is your attitude to spending now?

Every time I spend, I make it a mission to save double that amount. I changed the way I spend. I realised it’s no longer important to buy a Louis Vuitton bag; I can do with a non-branded bag. I’ve no need to spend Dh8,000, I can spend Dh800. I have done a lot of these changes because at the end of the day, I’m making money to grow this business further.

I have to make money for myself, but also people who work for me.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , November 16 – 2020 :- Neelam Keswani, founder and MD of online beauty shop at her office in the International Business Tower in Business Bay area in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) For Business. Story by David
Ms Keswani says she has reduced impulse buying since starting her own business. She used to splurge on shoes, handbags, sunglasses and watches earlier. Photo: Pawan Singh / The National

What have you previously splurged on?

Shoes – I have 50 to 60 pairs – handbags in three digits and watches. I’m also a hoarder of sunglasses. We’re moving from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom (apartment) because my husband thinks my things need a room for themselves. I could do a very successful garage sale.

But, I also like to build memories. I didn’t have the big fat Indian wedding, we got married in court instead. I’d rather take that money and spend it on a fantastic holiday.

Is there anything you regret spending on?

In 2008, I invested in property in Dubai that didn’t get built and lost a lot of money. I’m very careful about spending on property now. Since I took that massive hit, I became very aware of how I spend. It’s a buyer’s market now, so we have been contemplating buying for investment, for renting out, but until you see the property, don’t pay for it.

Has the pandemic impacted your business?

Make-up sales dropped 90 per cent, but skincare flew off the shelf. Our orders were soaring. A lot of people had a lot more time for body scrubs and to change their routine. I realised a lot of people were buying because it was making them happy, shopping online to make them feel more normal. It was retail therapy.

Have you raided your savings recently?

We just changed our car. We traded in our Ford Explorer for a Nissan Patrol. We’re both outdoor people, we love going to the desert, and visiting the mountains. We reached six years in the business and saw a great deal for the 2019 model. It’s a landmark. We needed to do it for ourselves. It gives us motivation, a booster; now we’ve got to recoup and earn all that money back.

Also, in March, my mum had a paralytic stroke. We had to pay hospital bills.

If you won Dh1 million, what would you spend it on?

We both have nieces and nephews. I want to put money into a college fund for all of them. I didn’t have the opportunity to study a lot.