Christine Wilson spent her Covid-19 lockdown with a sewing machine and YouTube tutorials learning how to make sustainable bags out of old clothes, curtains and used plastic bags.
As the founder of Peahead.eco, she has since broadened her UAE-made product line to include social impact art installations, award trophies, gifts, and runs creative “upcycling” workshops.
With the UAE now restricting use of plastic bags, Ms Wilson collaborated with Dubai photographer Marta Lamovsek and supermarket chain Spinney’s, which sells a limited-edition range of her bags.
Now 37, Ms Wilson, who lives in Dubai’s Mira Oasis with her cinematographer partner, is raiding savings in preparation for their first child, due in January.
What was your earliest experience of money?
Dad was a civil engineer and mum a school administrator in an unusually quiet neighbourhood in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Our house was a homely bungalow.
My elder sister and I had chores and received generous pocket money in return. My sister was nicknamed “money bags” as she enjoyed saving, while I spent mine at the local shop and was aptly named “sweetie bags”.
How did you earn your first wage?
At 15, as a waitress, I was paid cash-in-hand, plus tips split evenly across the front and back of house. This gave me an appreciation of teamwork and how to reward each person, no matter the role.
The restaurant was situated opposite the most famous hotel in Belfast city, which hosted celebrities and VIPs. Some weeks, I earned more than £100 ($121) for three nights, which far exceeded any part-time school job of my peers.
The money always burnt a hole in my pocket, so I gladly treated friends to cinema trips and treats. During this period, I developed the “easy come, easy go” attitude towards money, which I am not sure I have fully shaken.
What led you to the UAE?
I followed my heart. My partner has been living in Dubai for 11 years. We met four years ago while he was at home in Cork for summer.
I had just started working for an internationally renowned artist in the area, was looking for a contractor to film the seminar and discovered he was a director of photography.
I managed to convince him to stay longer to film the project and we worked together for several months. I took a leap and moved to Dubai to be with him … only a few months before lockdown.
How did Peahead.eco happen?
It was during 2020 I began my creative recycling business.
As tough as that period was financially, I am forever grateful for my partner’s support and the opportunity to explore a new direction I am passionate about — promoting a circular economy through creative endeavours.
Peahead.eco is a design studio inspired by nature with a passion for the environment. I am motivated by the idea that when it comes to sustainability, we all have a responsibility to do what we can and it doesn’t have to be preachy or boring.
By giving would-be waste materials another life, we can inspire others to see value in everything around us.
How are you with spending and saving?
“Sweetie bags” is not a natural saver. Having bootstrapped my business, it is only now, entering the third year, that I am beginning to manage the famine and feast nature of cash flow more effectively.
I used to work in payroll so when things are tight, the motivation to be more meticulous with my financial record-keeping and forecasting increases.
As a social enterprise, the majority of income is put back into the business to further outreach, social engagement, upskilling, collaborating and developing ways to use and upcycle would-be waste materials.
How do you grow your wealth?
I have had a positive experience dabbling in cryptocurrency investment, but I reserve further delving until I can satisfy my sustainability conscience on the activity.
I have property in Edinburgh, Scotland, which I view as enforced savings, perhaps for retirement.
Do you have key spending milestones?
Purchasing my first mobile phone at 16, a Motorola with an aerial and giant green OK button. My parents weren’t 100 per cent on board but I guess they respected that I had earned the money. It felt fantastic to have freedom and independence that having a phone brought.
My best investment to date is still £60 I paid for my little Jack Russell/border terrier cross, Bonnie, 11 years ago. Similarly, the Dh1,600 adoption fee for our desert dog, Rocket. Nothing I have ever spent money on could bring as much joy as a dog.
Any other cherished purchases?
Money spent spending time with family has always been great. My most cherished expense was a year out in 2017 and a VW camper van I lived in and travelled Europe for more than 14 months.
I volunteered at eight Workaway projects across 11 countries. This was a fantastic way to travel without being a tourist and take a small part in building other peoples’ dreams.
The experience showed me there many ways to live your life; an alternative to the normal route of academia and career path I had only known.
How do you feel about money?
Money is like food, I enjoy it, but too little or too much can preoccupy and serve as a distraction from any real purpose or creativity.
I understand money to be the outcome of hard work and profit the by-product. I am not so guided by profit, but would advise myself to find balance.
Have you grown wiser with cash?
As a student, I garnered a lot of debt that takes years to get out from under. It is a depressing feeling to be paying back interest-only for prolonged periods, especially if you end up paying many times the original borrowed amount.
I will forever be hesitant about taking advantage of credit again.
I definitely don’t live a stereotypical Dubai lifestyle and spend more on experiences over material things.
If I am going to splurge on clothes, it would be with small independent labels or sustainable brands. For a guilt-free [experience], Thrift for Good second-hand shop, which send profits to Gulf for Good charity, is my go to.
Any financial regrets?
Every time I have my hair cut in Dubai, I regret it. Having been to the most popular spot in Alserkal Avenue and the local community hairdresser, I have yet to have a quality haircut that warrants the price.
Skip the ice cream, coffee and head massage … I am after a hairdresser who loves what they do and it shows in the cut.
What luxuries are important to you?
Money is never wasted when spent enjoying good food with good people. Purchasing special times or gifts for loved ones is always a happy way to spend.
I love finding eco-friendly products that work as well or better than their counterparts, so I afford myself the luxury of good ethical skincare products.
What are your future financial goals?
It is a work in progress. My plan is to keep working on things I love and feel are doing good. If all goes well, I will not wish for retirement at all.