Former commercial lawyer Saher Bhatti, 31, founded handbags brand Lawful London after working in the UK capital, where she identified demand for practical, stylish yet affordable and cruelty-free products.
The first collection appeared in September 2019 and the company now ships internationally, including from Dubai after launching in the region in January.
Born in Birmingham, England, Ms Bhatti worked with global fashion brands via an international law company and developed business skills, commercial awareness and interests in fashion and sustainability.
Ms Bhatti scaled Lawful London to a six-figure business without external investment after becoming a first-time mum during the pandemic and is currently relocating to Dubai with her husband and their son, Ethan.
Did childhood shape your financial outlook?
I’m from an average, working-class family. My dad was an engineer, my mother a nurse. I knew when there were times of financial difficulty, what my parents were getting paid. Nothing was hidden from me from that perspective. It made me financially aware from a young age.
It influenced my purchasing decisions, especially now I have my own house and family. I will always save for a rainy day because you never know what could happen.
My dad lost his job when I was seven or eight and he was the breadwinner. I need to be in a position where I can sustain a lifestyle for my child.
How else did that upbringing influence you?
I’ve been raised around people who work incredibly long hours. It moulded me for the law and business environments.
It also ingrained this attitude that you do what you need to do to get the job done. [But] I didn’t see my parents working really long hours earning tonnes of money.
That might have been one of the influencing factors going into law … to do those hours, I want to be financially rewarded.
Did you work growing up?
My first job was as a post office clerk, earning about £4 ($4.85) an hour. I then worked for a supermarket, fashion brand Hollister, then Next. I moved around from 16 to 22 and finished university.
My parents ingrained in me and my brother that we should work from a young age. Two days after I had a baby in November 2020, I was back on my business.
Why swap a law career for handbags?
I enjoyed law and learnt good skills from it; how to work in a fast-paced corporate environment, diligence, resilience, as well as the importance of being able to create versatile solutions for a multitude of problems.
I wanted to take those skills and use them in a creative, visionary and flexible setting. Law isn’t a flexible career I felt would comfortably tie in with me wanting a family life.
I also worked with a lot of fashion brands, learnt their pain points and identified a problem, which is practical, beautiful, nice handbags … when I was in the City [London's financial district], I couldn’t find one for myself.
Was it a shock leaving that salary?
I quit my full-time job and then went contracting part-time, setting my business up alongside that so I still had an income stream.
I set myself a £30,000 limit to put into this business. My first photo shoot and marketing was a massive chunk of that and you don’t just create one design, you go through various rounds of sampling and create a website that resonates with your customer.
Why move to Dubai?
I have always thought the UAE has untapped potential in many different industries, not just fashion and accessories.
People look at the UAE and think it’s very designer heavy. There’s some truth in that, but there’s a lot of people who would like a normal brand that isn’t going to cost an arm and a leg.
My business is at a point now where I can diversify and not focus just on the UK and Europe. I’ve always had my eyes on the Middle East. I sell to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar at the moment, direct to consumers online.
Have your spending and saving habits evolved?
I was never a massive spender, but since I started my business, my attitude towards money has changed — also since becoming a parent.
Those things in particular, which happened fairly close together, really influenced how I spend.
Now I’ve something tangible that I can invest into, I don’t really spend. If I was to go out and saw something I liked and it’s Dh5,000 … that’s a lot of money to me; I have the option of putting that into something else.
Also, having a baby, let’s be honest, why should I buy nice clothes and shoes? I don’t go out anywhere.
How do you grow your wealth?
I’ve a low appetite for risk. It’s probably one of the reasons I don’t dabble in shares and Bitcoin.
I’m not the type of person to make financial decisions based on chance, I like to make informed decisions. My attitude is old school, very much put in the hard graft to reap the rewards.
We’ve got our house [in the UK], so would rather pay off the mortgage, and I’m thinking about my child’s future; I want him to have a very good education.
I wouldn’t necessarily have money just sitting there doing nothing. Where my business is at present, I’m reinvesting because I don’t want to take external investment.
Is it your best investment?
For so many reasons beyond just that it makes money. It’s pushed me out of my comfort zone, massively helped with my confidence. It has taught me so much in terms of skills. I’ve gained flexibility, autonomy.
From a money perspective, I left a job that was very secure and did pay well. Two and a bit years down the line, I’m making a lot more than I earned in that job. That is a massive milestone.
How do you feel about money?
It allows you to do a lot of stuff. It can also bring negative things, but I try to see the positive in it as something that will allow opportunities, whether that’s in a business sense, buying a house, or putting your child into a really good school.
It’s an enabler if used properly. I don’t think money itself makes me happy, but what money can achieve and what it can enable does.
What are you happiest paying for?
Experiences with my husband and child, whether that’s a nice holiday, or we spend money on zoo membership … creating memories.
In my younger years, I would be happy spending on “things”. For Ethan’s first birthday, we had a 10-day trip to Dubai, 80 per cent of it was baby-related stuff.
Where do your future finances lie?
My goal is less financial and more in keeping my focus. I’ve learnt since becoming a mum that I need something that gives me purpose.
I want to keep growing this business, add more lines, potentially diversify, maybe look to do something for men and babies.
I didn’t go into it thinking 'I want to make millions'. My aim was to create products and a brand that people really like and can relate to.