She’s got the moves
Devayani Dayal talks about her special retail venture 'She Moves'
Though she trained to be a corporate hotshot, having done her MBA from the prestigious Queen’s University in Canada, dance is Devayani Dayal’s enduring passion. The entrepreneurial bug bit her hard and it was but natural for her to put her astute business skills to pursue her real interest (after all she couldn’t let her degree in Dance from York University in Toronto go to waste, could she!)
The result was She Moves, a unique retail venture that sells dancewear and activewear for women. In the few months since she set up She Moves, the 29-year-old has already created a niche for herself in the retail space in the country. Together with her father Ajai Dayal, Devayani is all set to take She Moves to greater heights. Masala! chatted with the enterprising young lady on her business and inspirations.
You spent your formative years in India, Canada and Dubai. What, in your opinion, is the best thing about Dubai?
I was born in India and moved to the UAE in 1989. My school and college years were spent in Dubai and Toronto. In fact, I used to shuttle between Dubai, Toronto and New Delhi as a performer and choreographer before doing my MBA. I returned to Dubai to join a leading retail company but quit to turn entrepreneur and start She Moves in March 2011.
The most interesting aspect about living in this city is that I have learnt what ‘identity’ means. Being born into an Indian family, studying in the British education system and finally blooming in a North American university has given me a wider perspective of the world.
You also write a column for a newspaper. Have you always had a passion for writing?
Yes. My teachers from my childhood encouraged me to write. I now feel I can embrace the beauty in writing and I have been appreciated for expressing abstract concepts with added humour. I would love to write a novel someday!
How did you conceptualise She Moves?
My story is pretty similar to that of other entrepreneurs. I had a job that became very mundane so I began to dream of doing something different. I researched on how to start a project until I finally gathered the guts to resign and take the plunge!
Deciding what to sell was quite simple as my background is in dance. So, once I knew I wanted to start my own venture, I did some market surveys that showed that the dancewear and female athletic wear market was not as developed in the UAE as it is in the west. Luckily, I had two obliging parents who supported my ideas! The company is now very much a family business, as I co-own She Moves with my father, Ajai Dayal.
What were the challenges of introducing and popularising the concept in the Middle East?
While expats from western and more developed markets are already familiar with the concept of activewear and fashion dancewear, the idea is new to the UAE and similar younger economies. The biggest challenge was therefore, to create awareness while working with limited resources as advertising costs a lot of money! Being pro-active and enrolling into contests such as The Big Break on Dubai Eye opened opportunities and created the awareness we needed.
The Dubai Eye Big Break contest (a business competition) was obviously a big achievement. What strategies did you employ to win the title?
The Big Break competition was a fabulous opportunity and I feel a great sense of achievement having won it. I would say it was a family effort. The contest involved receiving a task by email, which I would then share with my parents and discuss in depth. Each of us had our own roles when discussing the tasks. My mother acted as the ‘umpire’ while my father and I would discuss the best strategy to employ. Dad would then often provide hard facts and research and my marketing skills aided in executing the ideas.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience but I must say, winning the contest was quite surreal.
We heard that you choreograph fashion shows. Can you share some interesting experiences on the ramp?
I used to specialise in children’s fashion shows as well as abaya fashion shows and found both of them very enjoyable. For the children’s fashion shows I just made sure the kids had a good time and looked cute on stage while with the Abaya fashion shows, I advised the models to walk and act like princesses.
I have worked with brands like Diesel Kids, La Senza Girl, Tuc Tuc, Mexx, Mothercare, United Colours of Benetton, Jacadi, Hanayen, Amina Al- Jassim and Al Motahajiba.
My all-time high while choreographing was infusing dance into my shows. It is challenging to train inexperienced children and models to dance in front of an audience. To overcome this, I always ensure that the rehearsals are enjoyable so that everyone came out of their comfort zones and ignored any phobias. To achieve this I used various props, fun exercises, used current music and treats!
Which entrepreneur do you look up to the most and why?
Donald Trump is my icon. I find Donald Trump’s biography fascinating especially the way he was able to create and grow his organisation during the recession. I agree that some of his opinions can be extreme but I also find him charming and extremely fair when judging in The Apprentice. I have a secret: I actually keep his picture in my wallet (laughs)!
What synergy do you share with your father while working on She Moves?
The synergy comes in the fact that I trust him implicitly. My father’s years of experience and infra-red ability to read people elude me. We have a lot of fun together and in moments of disagreements, my mother is fantastic at diffusing any fiery situations.
What plans do you have to expand She Moves?
We have some really exciting plans for the future. We recently launched three new categories of activewear:
a. Maternity activewear with special compression technologies that make mums-to-be feel more secure in their waist and hips area.
b. Modest activewear, which includes burkinis and fashionable clothing for the more conservative woman.
c. Plus size activewear for women who are above UK size 16.
Additionally, we are trying to further boost our operational effectiveness so that we can take on more shop-in-shops.
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