Launched in 2011, Poupette à la Plage is the brainchild of CEO Rabee Abu Kishek and Creative Director Katia Najjar, who, besides being business partners, are also married to each other. Having noticed a lack of chic clothes for children that’s comfortable and easy to wear, Abu Kishek and Najjar built this business up to fill that particular gap in the market. The duo started out by selling bikini bottoms and matching hair ties for young girls (hence their brand name in French, which translates to “a doll on the beach”), and after finding their products enjoying widespread popularity and a loyal, niche following, the enterprise has now become a full-fledged family business.
With the clothes designed by Najjar, the production is done locally to replenish products quickly and to also be able to take customized orders from VIP clients at short notice. The brand prides on its mix-and-match concept to encourage customers utilize their own individual style, with creations made of high quality vintage-inspired fabrics exuding overtones and vibrant colors, while also ensuring the comfortability of the products for children.
Describing himself as self-driven entrepreneur, Abu Kishek, who has a background of 19 years at Unilever in local, regional and global marketing and business development roles, says that building Poupette à la Plage was greatly helped by developing a structured approach to putting systems and processes into place. Poupette à la Plage first launched as an online shop, which later led to its first flagship store in BOXPARK, Dubai. As a self-funded homegrown brand, the business model is centered on growing in the UAE market across multiple channels such as having flagship stores, consignments to hotels, and concessions in retail, and its e-commerce website.
Franchising the brand in other markets and selling in transnational channels is something they’re looking into as an avenue for business growth. As for Poupette à la Plage’s future plans, Abu Kishek says they’re in the process of working with two luxury retailers in the region and looking into potential franchising opportunities in two other markets, as well as actively looking for investors to further its growth.
Though Abu Kishek counts the support for entrepreneurs as being “relatively low” when compared to the rest of the world, he points out that there are still steps being taken in improving the SME sector in the UAE, commenting how the networking groups in UAE are beneficial for entrepreneurs helping one another. “I’d like to see more mentors come to the fore to help entrepreneurs achieve their goals, as often, entrepreneurs tend to lose sight of the bigger picture when they get too involved in the day-to-day running of their business,” he notes.
Among fellow MENA startups, he commends Children’s Lane as a family startup in the UAE that’s doing well: “They’ve done an incredible job to get to where they are in a short span of time. This has been driven by their single-minded focus and their desire to be at the forefront in what they do.” His top three tips in starting a business in MENA? “Test your product, believe in what you do, and trust your instincts. Learn from your mistakes and others, then move on!”
Q&A: Poupette à la Plage Managing Partner and CEO Rabee Abu Kishek
You launched the business with your wife as your business partner: what are your tips on working together as co-founders?
Divide roles and responsibilities from the start! Supporting each other is also important, as inevitably with any entrepreneurial venture, the business will go through some rough patches, especially early on. Stick to it and keep believing in your goals. Celebrate success and take time off work to spend quality time as a family.
From being in the corporate world to starting your own business, what made you take the risk?
It’s been an amazing, exciting journey and a steep learning curve so far! As an entrepreneur, you have to be pretty much “hands-on” as you juggle many balls at the same time! I decided to take the risk to get out of my comfort zone, to be more around for my kids, and take my career in my own hands.
What were your biggest struggles and what did you learn from it?
There were struggles on many fronts. First, it’s been taxing financially, especially in the set-up phase. Second [was to] figure out how to get things done- something which I had not experienced working in Unilever! Third [was] getting others to come to speed with what needed to be done. I learnt to be patient but stay tenacious, to adapt to others’ different ways of working, and cut costs.
What are some resources that you found useful to help you in being a business owner?
[One of the resources that helped me was] having my own mentor who helped me transition from a corporate mindset to becoming an entrepreneur. I attend different networking groups and investor meetings, as I find some the discussions enriching and value adding. As a member of various business groups such as the Luxury Marketing council, I get invitations to present to others on different aspects of running one’s own company. By doing so, I learn a great deal about myself!