Career Ditch and Switch

Dreaming of a different 9-5? It is possible to do a work overhaul as these three women prove...
Thursday , 18 August 2011
Australian Judith Hanley
Australian Judith Hanley
Belinda Freeman
Belinda Freeman
Jeanette Teh
Jeanette Teh

Australian Judith Hanley, 39, moved to Dubai as a school principal 10 years ago, but in 2008 she quit her job to create Vintage Parlour (myvintageparlour.com), the region’s first private appointment vintage clothing dealer

“As a child, I loved nothing more than my dressing up trunk, which was full of garments handed down to me by my mum, my aunt and my grandmother. I’m a natural hoarder and I still have some of those dresses today. This has spilled down into my wardrobe, which is full of vintage, one-off items that I absolutely adore.

Although I loved vintage, I chose the safe route. I have qualifications in both education and fine arts, but like most people I was scared and settled for a secure teaching job as school principle for a start-up school in Jumeira. When we’re young it’s normal to go for something that offers a bit more security but as you get older, you begin to think more and more of your childhood dreams.

In 2008, I felt I’d gone as far as I could in education and it was time I pursued my real passion. It was very frightening when I quit my job as school principle, to the point of overwhelming, but I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do, which was to offer quality vintage clothes that come with a history in a personal setting.

I chose not to open a vintage store, but to make my clothes as exclusive as possible. I always say that vintage is the new cupcake and while it’s good that vintage is very trendy right now, it wasn’t a route I wanted to go down. I wanted my products to be exclusive, not in terms of price, but in quality and the service I could offer people. My vintage pieces come with a history – some dresses even have photos of the people who used to wear them, so I’ve been very careful when it comes to marketing and getting Vintage Parlour out there. I’ve actually tried to maintain a low profile and to keep it very selective as the experience is very personal.

The hardest thing was registering my business and sorting out the trade licence. Vintage Parlour wasn’t my first choice for the name but I couldn’t get anything else – all my other names were rejected. Procedures also change quite often which aren’t communicated very well here. But on the plus side I’ve had ample opportunity to increase my wardrobe for a legitimate reason!

It took me a while to find a group of collectors I could trust. I was lucky that I met a wonderful woman in New York who is an avid collector herself and she introduced me to more collectors from America. I now work with about four collectors in the US and I’m going there this summer to re-stock my collection, which is currently just under 500 garments. America is my favourite place to source vintage items - I get the older pieces from New York and San Francisco and the 50s prom dresses from Hollywood. Teenagers here love the 50s prom dresses. I had around 30 of them at the beginning of the year and I’ve sold over half of them already.

I get my clothes out there through lots of networking. As I don’t have a store, I have to rent out a warehouse in Abu Dhabi, which is temperature-controlled and I sell my pieces at vintage tea parties and cocktail evenings.

The service I offer is exclusive, but not when it comes to price. I wanted my pieces to be affordable – something that a young girl could wear as well as older women.  In terms of prices, pieces start from Dhs400 and go up to Dhs2,000. But the Dhs2,000 garments are antiques that are over 100 years old and really are collectors’ items. And while it’s natural for vintage to show signs of age, all my garments are in near mint condition.

My main clientele are expat women aged between 15 to 60. Vintage parlour has proven very popular here and I think this is because there is either high street or high end here and a lot of women want something more original, which I’ve managed to tap into.

I don’t think I would’ve made the same career move if I was still in Australia. Here, there are so many gaps professionally that you can take the risk that you wouldn’t do anywhere else. This is still very much a frontier town.”

Judith’s career changing tips:
● It sounds like a cliché but you have to follow your passion and do what you’re sincerely interested in, because it’s a lot of work so you have to love it.
● If you’re bored in your current job, but don’t know what else you’d like to do, simply look back to what your childhood dreams were because they are attainable.

Belinda Freeman, 32, from the UK, left her life as a fashion designer to set up her own greeting cards business last year

“I realised I’d no idea what I was getting myself into when I received a letter from Buckingham Palace. They were objecting to the crown logo I’d designed for my new venture. I’d just started the trademark process for my greeting cards business, called Queen B, and I was receiving many objections to the name (even rock band Queen got in on the act) and now I had a letter declaring my crown was too similar to her Majesty’s.

I set up my own business as I found all the cards in the stores here too expensive.  I was a fashion designer in London and moved to Dubai to create a new brand called Bambu Beach for local retailer Beyond The Beach. It was while I was designing and manufacturing this brand that I started to make greetings cards. I refused to pay Dhs25 or more for a generic card, so I went to a printers and had about 600 cards created. A friend said my designs were so good I could sell them at a market stall so, in 2004, I started selling my cards at Arte, a local market stall in Times Square Mall.

It was a hobby until I had my son in 2008. I already had a two-year-old daughter and was working full-time, but I realised I wanted to stay home with them and yet still use my brain, so Queen B was born.

I went legal as a company in March last year.
I went from selling at the market stall to selling in stores and I’m now stocked in 27 outlets, including Virgin Megastore. I also launched my website (queenb.ae) at Christmas, which people can order from.

I have a plan for my cards. As I do everything myself, from the design to the delivery of the cards, it keeps me very busy but it’s worth it. My cards are soon going to be stocked in stores throughout the GCC and that’s just the beginning. Next stop, the world!”

Belinda’s career changing tips:
● Think about the trademark process as early as possible as it takes a lot of time and hard work.
● Choose a name that’s unique (unlike queen) as this will definitely help the process.
● You have to pay for the things you want done well. I do most things myself but I know my limits. I got a professional photographer to shoot the cards as I wanted them to look great.
● Network, network, network! I made a lot of my contacts through networking, Heels and Deals(heelsanddeals.org) is a good place to start.

Jeanette Teh, 35, from Canada was a lawyer for eight years before deciding it wasn’t for her and quitting her job in May 2010 to become a writer

“Dubai is a great place to reinvent yourself. If I hadn’t moved to Dubai in 2008, I probably wouldn’t be a writer now. When you live abroad, it gives you more scope to try other things out.

I remember writing my first poem when I was eight years old, but after about eight years of studying to obtain my law degree and masters, I felt I couldn’t let everybody down by changing direction, so I became a lawyer.

It came to a head in late 2009 when my Dad died very suddenly. He was in reasonable health and when he died, it struck me that life really is too short to not pursue your passions just because you have a fear of the unknown or what other people might think of you.

Quitting my job was made less scary thanks to the support of my husband. He completely understood my actions and wanted me to be happy. We were also in a good position financially and my husband was able to support me while I took the chance to follow my passion.

I made sure I knew what I was getting myself into. I wanted to find out if there was work for me out there, so I sent off travel articles to a couple of publications who responded positively and made me feel better about taking the plunge.

This has been a year of exploration for me. I’ve taken my time in trying different writing styles and finding out where my strengths lie and also what I enjoy the most. I love writing features as you can research them and get involved in the subject, which is where my skills as a lawyer come in handy.

I decided to stay freelance as I enjoy the flexibility (and working from home). I now do a number of lifestyle articles for different publications as well as a lot of online work. The best part of freelancing is the diversity. I love writing about so many different subjects, from health and lifestyle to travel and finance. I also love working from home in my pyjamas – which is a world away from all the suits I’d have to wear as a lawyer.

The hardest part was my loss of identity. I’d been a lawyer, working in a very structured environment for a while before I quit, so my profession was a big part of me. I almost had to ask myself who I was without that badge, but I’m gradually getting comfortable with just being me.

I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up. If this past year has taught me anything, it’s that it’s okay to change careers – often more than once. You change a lot as you get older, so it’s natural for your career interests to change with that. It’s a life-long journey that I’m just figuring out.”

Jeanette’s career changing tips:
● The journey to finding the right career for you can be tough, but you should never give up.
● Take the time to enjoy the scenery and meander off course occasionally as any path you take could lead to numerous opportunities you didn’t think of before.