Gulnar Tyndybaeva, from Kazakhstan, co-founded ethical sustainable linen wear brand Nature Hedonist shortly before the onset of the pandemic in 2020.
Eight years ago, she moved to the UAE after feeling burnt out from running a marketing, public relations and production agency she co-owned in the former Soviet republic.
The mother of two became a freelance art sector documentarian and marketing consultant to local businesses and, during yoga sessions, met current business partner Julia Sukhanova, who had endured similar burnout.
Now 45, divorcee Ms Tyndybaeva lives in Jumeirah, Dubai, where Nature Hedonist has a boutique.
Did you experience money growing up?
Mum was a pharmaceutical doctor, very prestigious in Soviet culture. My dad faced pressure to follow a government job at a factory and gave up his dream to be a photographer.
People were kind of equal on the surface; everybody was paid salaries by the government, their houses and cars belonged to the government. Since my grandfather on my father’s side was a big official, my father “inherited” a big house.
However, there was family tension and we moved. I have memories of being unhappy in a big house, and happy in a tiny rented one. That was my first lesson about material things — they are nice but do not necessarily make you happy.
When the family thing was resolved, we came back to the beautiful house, so I also have happy memories there, but my mother died when I was nine.
Were you able to earn?
My first job was at 13, selling ice cream. There were only two flavours but I was making more than my dad because shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, a lot of people in government jobs were not paid on time. He was proud of me.
That was my second big lesson; if I managed to survive at 13, then I can survive at any age.
Then, as a student, I was hired by Unicef for a project to help women to fight anaemia and was paid well.
How did Dubai happen?
At 28, I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I tried the corporate job, with a Canadian oil and gas company, but I did not want all days to be the same for the rest of my life, even if it was stable. So I quit, opened my business and we became the most successful boutique agency in the region.
Ironically, I wasn’t ready for the success. Not everyone is. I looked at my younger son (one day) who was already five years old and was like: “When did this happen?”
My business partner at the time convinced me to go to Abu Dhabi to play golf. I stayed for a month, started to make connections in Dubai, met new people.
One encouraged me to try documentary-making. I was always into photography and video because of my father’s dream.
Was the move financially risky?
I sold my (business) shares in Kazakhstan and was feeling safe because I had enough savings to live in Dubai with the family for five years, and the documentary freelance job paid well.
But we went through a crisis; my former husband went into business projects that didn’t work out well and we divorced.
It was amicable but I stayed here and my family went back to Kazakhstan. I had Dh11,000 in my account, (although) my marketing consulting helped.
Why Nature Hedonist?
There was an intention to build a fashion business before with friends (in Kazakhstan) and it never worked out. Then I met Julia. She noticed I was looking stylish in linen samples I created for myself.
We clicked right away. I felt for the first time in my life I could allow my creativity to be the primary thing.
Both of us were at the stage where we knew there is a way we can make money, and still enjoy life without burnout.
Did the pandemic threaten this?
We got the licence, invested in the first capsule collection, about 250 pieces, made connections in Dubai boutiques … and then lockdown hit.
We had to find alternative ways (to sell). We created an Instagram account and saw the power of community; because we didn’t have access to models, I was modelling, we were asking clients and friends to model and post, and we went viral.
We sold the entire collection in one month. Covid gave us this opportunity.
What is your current money relationship?
It is good to save, as long as it is not forced. The priority is the present moment, like if I want to spend on an experience for myself, or for the people I love. I’m trying to find natural balance.
With my sons, I travelled to Zanzibar recently and realised how much I enjoy spending on them.
I gave myself permission to spend whatever I want. That’s the best way to spend, to see happy faces — it could be my friends, it could be family.
How do you secure your wealth?
Things such as shares or property are dead energy I don’t connect to. I would rather invest in another business or brand, or expand our product line, maybe add skincare.
Not something just to increase the money, but to provide more jobs; invest in people, in talent and ideas, and grow wealth that way.
The only savings (I have) are for health emergencies. I have a lot of practical skills; as long as I have energy and my mental health is good, I can make money.
Any cherished purchases?
Buying a house for my dad (to live in). He died two years ago.
How about financial landmarks?
The second year of Nature Hedonist, we made our first $1 million in revenue. We rented a nice car and celebrated with a staycation in Fujairah. And gave each other permission to start hiring people.
How do you feel about money?
The main thing I connect with money is my personal freedom — freedom of movement, freedom creating things. Not owning, but creating.
Money is a tool to stay playful as long as I can. I have an intuitive balance where I’m not overspending or over-saving, or restraining myself.
I don’t need to see Excel spreadsheets. Is it wise? For me, it works. It might not work for other people who need spreadsheets so they can sleep peacefully.
Any splurging regrets?
There was a phase when I was making a lot but not having time or energy to spend on experiences, travel or mindful activities, so I would spend on designer bags and jewellery, shoes … to collect dust, basically.
When I divorced, I gave away 70 per cent of my designer pieces as gifts, and sold the rest on (luxury resale) websites.
I am grateful for that regret because it made me think about the sustainability side of fashion. I was buying pieces because they were beautiful, not practical. I never wore them properly. That made me think about creating something you wear every day.
Any future goals?
My personal retirement plan has nothing to do with savings; I want to retire somewhere, on an island, with tattoos and long grey hair, surrounded by beautiful people.
As long as I can be this cool old lady, but still play … whatever money that requires, I just have to make. We will see how the world looks.