Money & Me: 'I ignore saving and work to spend'

Fashion entrepreneur Lucy Gibson says any spare cash is invested in properties in the UK and UAE

Lucy Gibson, owner and founder Sand Dollar, says the fashion boutique is her best investment. Pawan Singh / The National
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Lucy Gibson is the owner and founder of Sand Dollar, a UAE boutique offering hand-picked luxe resort wear.

Born to British parents in Abu Dhabi, Ms Gibson previously worked in investment consulting, customer relations and launched and marketed projects for developer Nakheel.

Ms Gibson, who also grew up in Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UK, envisioned a brand for expatriates seeking garments suitable for “sandy shores to vibrant nightlife”.

Launched in 2010, Sand Dollar has evolved into an online store and eight outlets.

Ms Gibson, 44, lives with her husband and their children, aged 10 and 11, in Victory Heights, Dubai.

Did money influence your upbringing?

My parents had a rough time to start with in the Middle East. Dad was a civil engineer, mum wasn’t working at the time. Cash was tight, but they made the most of what we had. Probably one of my best childhood memories in Oman is we had a little speedboat that was a bit cranky, we used to go camping on the beach, or go into the wadi.

We moved to the UK for secondary school, mum was nursing, doing night shifts. Then the crash happened, mortgage rates went up. There wasn’t cash around just to buy us what we wanted. As soon as I was old enough, me and my sister got jobs because we wanted to buy things.

How did you first earn?

From 15, I worked for Topshop as a shop assistant, a Saturday job and one evening after school, until I went to university. I had a second job selling flowers at a market stall.

I studied international business at university. I wasn’t keen because I was juggling maybe four different jobs, I was keen just to start working. I said university was a waste of time, but I’ve definitely put it to use.

Why return to the UAE?

I went to Spain for a couple of years, but circumstances changed. Mum and dad were still here, in Dubai this time. I had a few temping jobs. Nakheel came up, a really good package, I enjoyed doing it and was there until the (financial) crash happened.

I had to think about what I wanted to do. I love fashion, so I thought I’d give Sand Dollar a go, start doing something for myself and a shop became available at a hotel.

It was just before our first child, so it was a slow start. Luckily, my husband was very supportive on the investment side. He’s had lots of businesses, but his main one is futures trading.

What early life lessons have you applied?

No matter what situation you’re in, to always earn your own money and be independent because you never know what the future holds.

I had to find something to give me flexibility but allowed me to work … it’s gone beyond what I expected. I’ve gone through that really hard phase, building and having to be there, then having to be at school to pick the kids up. I’m at a stage where it all flows easily.

How do you feel about saving?

I ignore it; I work to spend. When I was at university, I spent beyond my means, but now I am earning and spending it. I like nice holidays, nice things.

My husband always said that I don’t need to work, but it’s built in me. That this has really been a success is a bonus. I like to have my own money, to buy presents, contribute to our home.

Are you generous?

I’m not more generous, I’m more able to be generous. I love to give back to mum and dad. They have retired here, we were able to get a house for them to live in and I pay their bills. They’re not so willing to accept because they’re old school, my dad’s very proud, but it’s a nice feeling when I can take mum out shopping and try to make their lives as easy as possible.

How do you grow your wealth?

Any spare cash goes into property investment in the UK and UAE. It’s better than having it in the bank dwindling away. I’ve got my original house from uni and here we have flipped some, but mainly we keep them for the rent. That’s going to be our retirement fund eventually, because we both work for ourselves. Sand Dollar is probably my best investment.

Any bumps in the road?

It cost me a lot of money at the beginning. I didn’t get much advice, I tried and tested a lot, learnt from mistakes. It was about six years ago, it started to go in the right direction and become profitable.

Having a full team of staff to support me now, where I can literally switch off and go on holiday, was a milestone. Before I was juggling and doing everything. There’s 24 of us, and it makes me feel comfortable that they’re comfortable and happy.

How about cherished purchases?

My first car, bought with one of my first Nakheel bonuses, a Mercedes-Benz G Wagon convertible, a car I always wanted. I sold it after I became pregnant because it was not practical. My husband just bought me the same (model) car for Mother’s Day.

Also, we bought a beach hut in the UK. We didn’t use it forever because of terrible weather but we paid £6,000 for it and now it’s (worth) £16,000. I love going there with the kids.

We both work very hard and there have been times we’ve not had cash and remortgaged the houses
Lucy Gibson, founder and owner of Sand Dollar

Are you wise with money?

No, me and my husband both. We say we should rein it in a bit, but you only live once and if you’ve got the capability to earn, then why not have splurges? We have lovely holidays, cars, material things really, but I could live without those.

We both work very hard and there have been times we’ve not had cash and remortgaged the houses. When we can afford it, we fly business class, we go skiing. It’s not always luxury.

Any spending regrets?

I was a nightmare with store cards and credit cards when I was at uni, living beyond my means. I don’t use them now.

And before Sand Dollar I had another business. I went to Hawaii for my honeymoon. There were these machines called Dance Heads, like a photo booth, it superimposes your head on to a character and you sing.

I flew to Hong Kong to the factory and bought six, imported them to Dubai. It was a nightmare as I didn’t know how to programme the machines, bookings were for parties late into the night for corporate events. One machine we only got rid of last year.

How does money make you feel?

I don’t think money makes you happy, but it definitely helps in life. If you’re in a happy situation, having money makes things a lot easier. It takes away stress and you are going to be happier without stress. People want money … it makes you feel hungry to go out and work and achieve.

The main motivator (for Sand Dollar) would be the success – that it has earned money is amazing. It’s good for me to show my kids how to get out and work.

Updated: July 31, 2023, 8:21 AM