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Aysha Taryam: Cupcake and abaya nation
April 17, 2011
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Emirati women have always been leaders in the pursuit of self-actualisation. With the birth of the Emirates they saw their dreams manifesting into realities at the hands of our father and the founder of our beloved country the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. It is because of his extraordinary efforts in encouraging women’s education throughout the Emirates that we are here today.

 In the 1970s Emirati women sought knowledge with an insatiable thirst and had the courage to venture into worlds previously unknown to them. Nevertheless they ploughed their way through male dominated arenas and proved their abilities admirably. From being mothers in their homes they became teachers in our schools, filling positions that prior to their involvement saw only hired teachers from across the Middle East. Our pioneering Emirati women of the 70s were role models then and remain ones today.

By the 1980s, Emirati women constituted 6.2 per cent of the UAE’s workforce. Today this figure has risen to well above 50 per cent proving beyond any doubt that their long sought-after dream of financial independence had been achieved.

Today, in a bold yet welcomed step many Emirati women have decided to leave their jobs and seek private business ventures instead. Soon after, we began to see local businesses entirely owned and run by Emirati women. At first these business ventures came in the form of abaya stores. The abaya is the Emirati woman’s national dress and therefore understandably it became her first outlet for fashion expression.

It was indeed refreshing to see Emirati women designing their own national dress for who better to translate the experience of wearing abayas into fashion than the women that live in them on a daily basis. This move transformed a staple of UAE society into the ultimate fashion accessory, pushing its prices upwards from a few hundred dirhams in the 1990s well into the thousands today. This proved that abaya stores are great business models and profitable ventures. Soon every women stopped wanting to buy abayas and started making them. The country became littered with abaya stores and, in an odd twist on the theories of supply and demand, the more stores there were and the higher the prices got, the more people demanded them.

Once the national black cape market had been saturated our Emirati woman moved on to something a little bit sweeter, dessert making. In a decision reminiscent of the 1950s American woman’s pie baking ventures the cupcake craze was born in the UAE. Some opened up cupcake stores, others baked them from home and delivered them to designated locations. This also proved to be a venture too sweet to fail and with that the skies of the Emirates filled with the smell of freshly baked cupcakes.

While there is absolutely nothing wrong with replicating business models that have proved successful, it seems that Emirati women have backed themselves into an icing slathered corner. If you ever had an opportunity to walk around university fairs that showcase students’ business models you might get the impression that ideas have stagnated and become sandwiched between food and fashion.

What happens to the remaining business sectors? Have they become barely visible through the rows of abayas and the ensuing sugar rush? Young Emirati women should realise that there lies great potential and room for profits in different business areas offering them not only ease of entry but also an opportunity to be female pioneers.

Innovation is a word we live by in the UAE. Always seeking new heights, always pushing forward, we must not lose this passion for excellence. Daring to be different has its risks but brings with it change and variety. Emirati women have proven that they are worthy competitors in the work place and must now aim to prove that in all private business sector too.

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