Former paralegal and catwalk model Denise Schmitz founded We Love Art after arriving in Dubai in 2013 and finding a social and artistic gap.
The painting community brand evolved out of her giving lessons to friends, and she now hosts popular Paint & Grape sessions, courses for adults and children and corporate events.
When Covid-19 restrictions halted live events, she launched art boxes, featuring video tutorials and interactive guides to enable home-painting experiences, which now ship globally.
Ms Schmitz, 35, previously worked as a recruitment and learning and development consultant in Dubai and the Netherlands, where she grew up around artists and entrepreneurs.
She lives with husband Shane, their son, 6, and daughter, 2, plus Bear the dog in The Meadows, Dubai.
How did money feature during your childhood?
My dad worked in the government. He survived a brain tumour, but it made family life difficult as he was in hospital and my parents had three children under the age of seven.
Mum was the main breadwinner and worked several jobs to make ends meets, and at some point had her own clothing store. She was quite entrepreneurial and instilled that in us.
My parents had us when they were in their 20s, living in a small apartment on the outskirts of The Hague. Mum always says: “Never forget where you are coming from.”
What was your first experience of saving?
My grandad was a banker and gave a task to all the children, to save 1,000 guilders (Dh5,000), and he would double it. He wanted to teach us determination and that saving for later is important.
I was eight, but you can still understand the value of money. If you grow up where things are not just given — you need to work — you understand pretty quickly.
We would receive pocket money, but not much, so I would go around neighbours to wash cars for money. I would clean houses and sell my paintings. I sold my first drawing for about Dh10.
It took me years to save 1,000 guilders. I was the only one who got there, at 14. The others would work, but would spend their money.
I wanted to make sure I succeeded. It teaches you to be entrepreneurial, to make your own money and, if you want something, you need to work for it. I like those life lessons; it is the same with my children.
How else did you earn?
When I was 14, I worked in a perfumery earning about Dh10 an hour, and did lots of cleaning jobs.
When I was 16 or 17, I was scouted by a modelling agency, did photo shoots and catwalks. I started studying law when I was 18.
You need to do a lot of reading — with modelling, you do a lot of waiting — so I would take books and study between takes. Modelling paid for university and I did it after and during my master's. It paid for loads of things I wanted.
Then I realised being in a law firm was not really for me and went into recruitment.
How did We Love Art happen?
When I came here with Shane, he had colleagues, but I didn’t know anyone. I wanted to find down-to-earth, authentic people where I could connect in a real way.
I have always had passion for drawing and painting, and was searching for some sort of community where I could create and meet like-minded people. There was nothing like that.
Nine years later, I don’t have only people who have a big passion for art — people want to connect with each other, to forget about life and work.
Are you still a saver?
Naturally. It is not that I am deliberately saving. It is just so [that] when I want to spend on something, I can and I will. Life is short.
I am not someone who wants to save for the pension. Of course, I keep it in the back of my mind, but I want to make sure I live now, especially when the children are so young. I want to give them everything I can in the way of experiences … not like free money, they still need to work for money.
How do you grow your wealth?
I have several savings accounts and property in Dubai — my house. This is a really good investment because you are living in it and can make it the way you want. This is the foundation of our family.
I invest in cryptocurrency, but I have not invested in stocks. It is something I am going to focus on this year.
I make sure money is in different areas, so if one fails I still have other “bets”.
Do you celebrate financial milestones?
Always, any kind of success. For example, my first salary (in Dubai); from that I bought my piano, then started piano lessons.
When we had our first big corporate event (with We Love Art), from that money we went on holiday. I make sure every time we “win” something, or do something good, and it could be small, I celebrate. You need to celebrate all your stepping stones.
What is your cherished purchase?
We had a third child, Beauden, who passed away after birth, 24 hours later, in 2017. I have a necklace which has his hand print and my ring has his hair.
It didn’t cost a lot, but this is my most cherished investment. It is the worst thing as a parent that you lose your child.
It is important that we talk about it, because no one really knows how to respond. It is one of my missions, apart from spreading happiness with We love Art … just giving awareness.
How do you feel about money?
You need a base layer. Mum always said that as well. Once you have that, once the stress around money is gone, if you earn a lot more, it doesn’t really matter.
It depends on what your expectation is. As long as we have a good roof, food on the plate and still have a couple of experiences per year, this is a perfect base layer of money.
From a business point of view, the more we earn, the more we can invest into business, the more the business can grow, the more we can give different experiences to customers.
Are you wise with cash?
It depends on what you define as wise. I spend wisely in that my interest is not materialistic.
But I want to make sure if I look back on my life, I can say: “I have done the experiences, gone on the holidays I wanted, seen my friends and family enough.”
For me, it is about balance. I am not a big splurger, but it is not that I hold myself back; on holiday, maybe I want to do kite surfing. I would rather have a little remorse over an extra experience than a materialistic thing.
What are your future goals?
I would like to expand to Saudi Arabia or other areas in the Middle East. We are looking for investments to reach that goal probably sooner rather than later, and at some point I would work towards an exit.
We are also thinking of buying property in the Netherlands or Ireland. It is important we have a comfortable base layer for when we and the kids grow older, that we can give them financial security.