Syrian-born fragrance designer Rawya Catto calls herself a proud entrepreneur. The 37-year-old mum-of-two is the creative director and founder of Scent Creatives, and calls Dubai home after having grown up in the UAE. It was a tough place to learn the value of money, she admits, but says tough lessons have helped her find her way. Married to a financial adviser, she says she has an unconventional approach to saving and investing, and is sure that setting up her business has been her best investment yet.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
Born in Syria, I was raised in the UAE at a time when attitude to life was a simple and carefree affair. I was incredibly lucky during my childhood to never have to worry about money and was preserved from many of the questions related to finances. However, the downside is that as I grew as an adult, saving and managing my finances was a true weakness, and I learnt the hard way that when you run out, you really run out.
How much did you get paid for your first job?
Growing up, I had many summer internships at various family businesses. My grandmother had a library in Damascus, where I would spend all summer helping organise books, so got paid in unlimited good read options. Job-wise, I started my career in France, where I was paid €1,800 (Dh8,046) per month as a junior fragrance evaluator.
Are you a spender or a saver?
I am a spender. I relate to Isla Fisher's character in Confessions of a Shopaholic.
Have you ever had a month where you feared you could not pay the bills?
I do not recall a month when I thought I could not pay the bills, but in all fairness, I have always been cautious to live within my means and avoid taking on credit and loans I cannot handle. When I first came back to Dubai [after studying and working in France, at the age of 27], I refused to have a credit card and wanted to function only with a debit [card].
What is your most cherished purchase?
One of my most cherished purchases was a pair of blue sapphires, which is my birth stone, that I bought in Sri Lanka while on a family holiday.
Where do you save?
I am lucky to be married to a financial adviser. Our approach to savings is quite an unstructured and original one, as we try out a lot of things and they pay off in different ways. Real estate is something that we have tried, in the UAE and in France, with vastly different patterns and yields, and we recently started dabbling in online trading.
What is your biggest financial milestone?
The logical thing to say is the apartment we bought in Dubai, because it was a real game changer. We suddenly no longer had to worry about rental fluctuations, and that gave us a backbone of stability to build from. I’m not sure [if] it was our most exciting purchase.
What has been your best investment?
My business, Scent Creatives. Not to sound pretentious, but eventually I invested in me. Believing in my abilities to run a business and help the local and regional fragrance industry has been my biggest bet.
Do you have any financial regrets?
No. If there is one thing I am sure of, it is that money comes and goes. Don’t cry over spilt milk, there are more important things in life. Sometimes you try and fail, and you learn something.
Has your work influenced your spending?
As I mature and my priorities shift, I find myself evolving from a “showcaser” pattern, where I used to spend and share every little thing on Instagram, to an “experience seeker”, prioritising spending money on moments and memories rather than on branded items.
What is your attitude to spending on luxury goods, given that you work in this sector?
One of my greatest joys in life is fragrance. Luxury does not mean the same thing for everyone, and the beauty of perfumes is that they can be an aspirational, yet an attainable luxury good for most people.
How has your work been affected by Covid-19?
As a start-up, we were hit quite badly because unlike established businesses, we had very little liquidity and equity to begin with. On the other hand, we are lucky to have less overheads, so had the agility to scale back on cost quite fast, which was a necessary measure, because during the three months of lockdown, our revenue generation was close to nil.
Has your own spending been influenced by the pandemic?
Covid-19 has shed the light on the fact that our spending patterns cannot remain as they were. The biggest takeaway for me is that we vote with our money. Where we choose to spend can make the difference for a business’ survival. I have become more thoughtful in my spending habits. I choose to privilege local and regional designers and SMEs whenever I can, and sponsor brands that do their part for the environment. This year, for Christmas and other gifting seasons, I will make sure to buy presents that not only bring happiness to a person, but also provide some sort of relief to someone in need or a reforestation project.
What luxuries are important to you?
I love the luxury of being able to build memories with my loved ones, which means staycations, the opportunity to expose my children to travel and new countries, and, knowing that the occasional splurge on a dress won’t set me back too much. I love the luxury of not having to count every time I take out my wallet.
How much do you have in your wallet right now?
As usual, I have no cash, the story of my life.
What car do you drive?
I love my car, a black BMW 3 series. I even have a nickname for her, Rihanna, because she is fierce and beautiful.
Do you prefer using a credit card or cash?
Credit card any day. Cash literally feels like liquid money, always slipping away, and never knowing where it goes. I find it hard to keep track of cash expenses.
What financial advice would you offer your younger self?
I think that I am in no position to give much financial advice to my young self, as I am still figuring things out along the way. I wouldn’t change a thing, because each hurdle, each loss and each fear has turned into a learning, a growth and more strength.
What would you raid your savings account for?
I am a sucker for grand romantic gestures. I would raid that savings account for a spontaneous trip to the Maldives or if I were ever to get my husband that G-Class Mercedes he has been dreaming of. I guess at that rate, there will be no savings account to begin with anyway.