Money & Me: 'Spending on hair is a necessity'

Kate Darling says the motivation for founding her Dubai salon was to make sure prices are transparent and ethical products are used

Kate Darling, co-founder of That Hair Tho (THT) salon at Jumeirah Lakes Towers, moved to Dubai in 2015 and started her business in 2018. Anna Nielsen / The National
Kate Darling, co-founder of That Hair Tho (THT) salon at Jumeirah Lakes Towers, moved to Dubai in 2015 and started her business in 2018. Anna Nielsen / The National

Kate Darling, 27, is a co-founder of Dubai salon THT – That Hair Tho – which promotes using sustainable and vegan products. The Australian started her career as a sales trainer with L’Oreal nearly a decade ago and is dedicated to understanding global and Middle East beauty trends. Ms Darling lives on Bluewaters Island in Dubai.

I've never had doubt that I'm going to be wealthy, even when younger.

Kate Darling, co-founder of Dubai salon THT

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

My parents have always worked really hard and done well for themselves. Mum’s a midwife and dad's an engineer. They taught us good values in the sense that if we wanted something we’d have to work for it, so from 13 I started working if I wanted to buy something. I’ve an older brother and sister. We grew up 40 minutes from Adelaide in the country, a 24.28-hectare hobby farm. It was expected we’d help out, but we enjoyed it.

We got A$60 (Dh151) fortnightly pocket money. When I was eight, I opened my first bank account and I saved it all. I’m not sure if it was encouraged or I just developed that habit. Now and then I’d spend on a dress.

I then went to boarding school for a while. All my friends there were from wealthier families, it was the only time I wished I had more.

Do you still save?

Since starting the business I don’t save more, but have always saved for a rainy day and some emergency money. If anything turns up, I know I’ll still be fine.

What are your tools for saving?

I have a savings account in Dubai and one in Australia. I send money back now and then, save in chunks and set targets for myself. I stopped sending it back [recently] because the Australian dollar was really bad and I’d rather keep it in the UAE.

Originally I thought I’d want to move back to Australia and have a house there, but you have to be real with yourself, whether you’re going back or not.

How much were you paid in your first job?

When I was 13, our neighbours had a cherry farm and I used to make boxes for them or sort cherries for A$5 an hour. I wanted the first LG flip phone so I saved A$250 for that. At 18, I was a make-up artist for Lancome, earning A$25 an hour, and then a sales trainer for L'Oreal.

Ms Darling says she was looking for somewhere tax free to start a business and visited to Dubai after winning a radio competition. Anna Nielsen / The National
Ms Darling says she was looking for somewhere tax free to start a business and visited to Dubai after winning a radio competition. Anna Nielsen / The National

What brought you to Dubai?

I’d lived overseas, went back to Australia and was looking for my next move, somewhere tax-free so it was easier to start a business.

In 2014, I won a competition and came over on this amazing race-style radio show, running around Dubai Mall and finding clues. It felt like a place with lots of opportunities and business concepts. I liked that it’s always growing and people are bringing ideas from around the world, so I moved out here in 2015.

I started with an internship and bounced around jobs, trying to secure myself. I always wanted a business, I just didn’t know how to get there and then met my business partner and came up with this. I was a salon manager for a year, grew their business, worked out it would never be as profitable as we wanted. So we developed the THT concept and opened in 2018.

Are you wise with money?

Yes. I live quite a balanced lifestyle and within my means. I don’t live the ‘Dubai lifestyle’ – I did when I first got here and enjoyed it, but that phase has gone. I don’t look at people who waste money on material things as impressive.

I save, but use it when I need it and spoil myself. When you are working really hard and want to enjoy something, I do because I appreciate it a lot more.

I have spreadsheets for everything - mostly the business. I have to be more careful of what I spend [since launching THT], understanding projection for profit and keep reinvesting. You need salaries there for six months, [money] for visas. You have to be prepared. For myself, I’ve worked out how much I need for the year. I budget.

Do you view spending on hair as a luxury or necessity?

A necessity, especially in a place like Dubai. THT is a high-end service in a chilled atmosphere. You would be surprised how much people can spend, especially if they know it’s a good service; for extensions, including colouring, we have customers who spend Dh8,000 in one go. We also have people in just when we have offers.

Our business is based on ethical products, vegan and guilt-free. To know products are ethically sourced, organic and have certifications is more expensive. I’ve always believed that’s where the industry should go, that all businesses should look at sustainability, and felt THT would be a good benchmark.

What are your luxuries?

Vacations. I’m willing to splurge on a short trip, a spontaneous trip with my girlfriends, but if I know I’m going, I’ll save up. Experiences are definitely worth spending on. Recently, I went sky-diving, which was so good.

Do you have a philosophy about money?

Since having the business I started giving myself really positive affirmation, believing deeply that we’re going to make money and we’ve had really steady growth. I’ve never had doubt that I’m going to be wealthy, even when younger.

Money’s partly a motivation, because I want to build other things, but it’s more the achievement of building the business. Money’s a measure of how you’re doing.

Whats been your best investment?

The business. It’s been cool to see people like the concept. It’s created joy for customers and staff; they’re happy to work there and I love knowing we’ve given opportunity. I’d never trade having a job versus working for myself. Although you work seven days a week, you see instant results from the energy you put in.

Do you prefer paying by cash or credit card?

Visa debit. I don’t have or need a credit card. I saw my sister had one at 18 and clocked up A$5,000 on it.

Do you plan for retirement?

I’ve never had a pension fund, so my plan is to build the foundation of this salon, open more, develop other business ideas, a global online business, everything under the umbrella of ethical and sustainable. That will hopefully provide for me in the future.

Is there anything you regret spending on?

Getting my hair coloured before I opened THT. I tried loads of salons and got ripped off by one for Dh2,500 – they completely ruined my hair. They did not tell you price until the end and were constantly upselling. I hated that, but that was part motivation for THT, to make sure everyone is highly skilled and prices are transparent.

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

A new business if I had one in mind. Or invest in property; the UAE would be a place I’m forever coming to. It would be nice to know somewhere is your own. People’s biggest mistake is to think they’re leaving after five years and stay for 20 and have then spent 20 years on rent.

Updated: December 26, 2019 01:43 PM


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