Margaux Constantin, consultant by day and founder of Babouka, has had her sights set to global from day one. The fact that her successful online fair-trade children’s clothing store is based out of the UAE only adds to the truly international presence she has created.
I had a chat with Margaux as she exhibited at the recent Life & Style show in ADNEC – and I may have walked away with my very own organic jute bag and another Christmas present checked off my list.
We’ve read and heard so much about Babouka, can you give me a quick snapshot for Mom’s Guide readers who are unfamiliar with the brand and cause?
While on consulting trips across Africa and Asia, I repeatedly encountered talented women capable of making the most beautiful hand-stitched garments, but without a local market. From this Babouka was born – an outlet for these women to help them work and grow. Each couture piece has been lovingly made by an empowered woman in Zanzibar or Pakistan.
So, I have to ask – what’s with the little pocket on the back shoulder of each garment?
Ah! You noticed! As our clothing are sourced, designed, and made in separate countries with completely differing cultures, there’s a large range of eclectic and unique looks. As we grow, the collection is going to get more diverse and we wanted a single unifying element; a signature, you could say. The pocket is the Babouka trademark.
While the cause is reward unto itself, can you pinpoint your proudest moment?
It’s when I get to witness direct impact. For example, when The National contacted us for an interview, I referred them to our team in Pakistan. The project manager, Maria, had told me she would refuse to give an interview but somehow they got in touch with her and spoke at length. For days afterwards, I would get excited messages from Maria, asking whether or not it had gone to print. The idea that her voice, nestled deeply in a small Pakistani suburb, would be heard by Abu Dhabi’s largest news outlet was absolutely mind-blowing. Her world had just expanded beyond measure. It still makes me emotional.
What has been the most difficult part?
Something I had not expected. With my background, the set up of the company was easy – partnering with the right NGO’s, establishing the supply chain, and launching the storefront. What I misjudged was the time and effort it would take to spread the brand. Making the connection with local and international retailers clashed with my introverted nature and my estimated three-month timeline expanded to nine.
So from this, what’s the best business advice you can give?
Just because it’s at the forefront of my task list: when it comes to retail, regardless if you are running a bricks-and-mortar store or online only, you need an amazing web presence, relentless social media team, and top notch marketing.
Who do you admire locally?
The Sougha Initiative, a local organization that helps Emiratis in the Western Region, similar to the way Babouka does in other countries. They recruit skilled artisans in areas of low employment to create stunning hand woven items, and in turn, empower them to take control of their financial future. After a rocky beginning where they were niched as lower-quality charity goods, they finally got into the right hands and are now displayed at Harvey Nichols.
What book do you recommend to wannabe entrepreneurs?
The Blue Sweater, by Jacqueline Novogratz. While on a trip to Africa, she spotted a child wearing a blue sweater she had donated to Goodwill eleven years prior, with her name still written on the tag. This led to the realization that the world is interconnected and she founded the Acumen Fund as a result.`
If we invested AED 1 million into your company, how would you spend it?
Oh easy! First, an entire revamp of our website as it’s the only storefront we have and needs a facelift. Next, a full time marketing manager who can get our brand in front of and seen by the right people. And finally, some enhancements to our NGO partner worksites. One workshop needs new sewing machines, and I would love to double the size and staff of another location. I leave this for last because I’d want to see a sustained rise in demand before promising increased production to the women.
Now let’s get personal, tell me something surprising about yourself?
People closest to me will confirm that I’m very introverted, yet I spent 15 years as an onstage actor. Oh, and I hate driving and avoid it whenever possible, I always prefer taxis.
What can’t you live without?
My Blackberry! I don’t know what I’m going to do if they go under.
You have a few hours of free time, how do you spend it?
I’d sit down with a book. I love reading, but never seem to find the time between two full-time jobs.
What would you love to learn?
I am perpetually embarrassed by the fact that both parents are artists and I draw at a solid 18-month-old level. Aside from that, I’d love some crash courses in online global marketing.