This week we celebrate the spirit of entrepreneurship and each day we will highlight a different homegrown company, because SMEs are on the front line and the first to be hit by any economic changes.
Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of Dubai’s economy, representing 95% of all establishments in the Emirate. These SME businesses account for 42% of the workforce and contribute around 40% to the total value add generated in Dubai’s economy.
We hope our features will inspire you to #golocal and support small businesses. Do get in touch if you are a homegrown company with a sustainable edge and we will add you to our directory.
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Q&A with Bhawna Verma Sehra, Founder at Palm Lights
This is a great story of how an ex Jumeirah Group employee turned her passionate hobby into a thriving business. Bhawna Verma Sehra is the founder and manager of Palm Lights, making chemical free candles in the UAE from sustainably sourced products; from the wax and oils used down to the plantable packaging, made from marigold seeds. Bhawna highlights just some of the challenges to setting up a business in Dubai as well as insights into how the pandemic has impacted her online store.
Can you tell me how the idea came about for your business?
A few years ago, I was looking for a way to reduce, if not eliminate unnecessary chemicals from my home. I am a candle addict and found that most candles are made of toxic Paraffin. The scented ones, in particular, are fragranced with synthetic perfume oils, which can cause allergic reactions and poor air quality. I looked but couldn’t find any organic candles in UAE.
Not wanting to give up entirely, I decided to make my own and started experimenting at home. I bought natural and (whenever possible) organic raw materials. After a year of trial and error with different waxes, wicks and fragrances I was able to create a candle that looked beautiful, burnt properly, smelled good and was completely safe to burn around my children. My friends loved it and encouraged me to sell. This is how Palm Lights was born!
Why do you use palm wax and can you tell me a bit about it?
During the experiment stage, I researched many kinds of waxes but only Palm wax ticked all boxes for the following reasons:
Performance – Palm wax has a high melting point, thus making it ideal for UAE weather. Candles don’t bend or loose shape during shipping. It lasts twice as long as paraffin and soy. Also, the chemistry of palm wax and essential oils is excellent. It has a strong cold and hot throw (measure of fragrance when it a candle is lighted)
Origin – Palm is an ancient perennial tree crop that enhances bio-diversity, soil fertility, uses very little water, is GMO free (not genetically modified) and pest resistant. Requires no pesticides for a bountiful produce and the tree lasts for 30 to 35 years.
Production – Palm wax production is clean, organic and uses no harmful solvents or catalysts. It is a mix of vegetable fatty acids, particularly triglycerides, separated out of Palm by pressing and crushing, rather than using chemical solvents like Hexane.
Aesthetics – I fell in love with Palm wax the first time we saw it magically create beautiful crystalline patterns upon cooling.
Where do you source all your products?
All our candles are made in UAE in our workshop. We source only raw materials from Malaysia, US and India. For Incense sticks, we use a producer in India. I choose suppliers on the following criteria:
Sustainability – Suppliers who embrace sustainable business practices. For e.g. An RSPO certified supplier goes through an extensive vetting process by RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable palm oil). RSPO issues moratorium on the clearing of new forests, support sustainable plantations, certify existing areas of cultivation, formulate ways to increase the yield, set and regulate strict guidelines for the entire supply chain of the CSPO (Certified Sustainable Palm Oil), protect Orangutans habitats and follow fair trade practices.
Products – Suppliers who use natural ingredients. e.g. Our supplier for Incense manufactures herbal Incense without any synthetic fillers.
Certification – Suppliers who are duly certified. E.g. I would look for HACCP, WHO GMP, USDA Organic certification from a company selling essential oils.
Can you tell me about the sustainable side of your business and why this was important to include in your business practice?
Since we are a very small operation, the best way to implement sustainability is in our supply chain and in our products. Our ingredients are sustainably sourced and most of our products are designed for re-use for example, we design glass tealights which can be used indefinitely, so there is no single use plastic or aluminium used. Our packaging in 100% plastic free and plantable with live marigold seeds which sprout when the packaging is planted in moist soil, as well as recyclable cardboard packaging.
What have been the challenges to setting up such a business here in the UAE?
Business set up is expensive e.g. Trade License, annual renewal, post box service, Visa, medial and insurance for staff. Opening a bank account also has its challenges because of the minimum balance requirements based on the type of license and high digital banking charges. I would like to see a more support ecosystem for Start-ups and SMEs. For my company particularly as I import my products, the costs are high as well as storage space rents which in turn affects the retail price.
What has the response been like so far, are you encouraged by the consumer reaction?
When we launched in 2013 people were not aware of the perils of synthetic candles and education was a major challenge. However, this has dramatically changed over the years and people are more informed and willing to make eco conscious choices now.
How do you feel the pandemic will affect people’s ways of spending or choices? Have you been affected?
The pandemic is proving to be a game changer in all areas of life, not just people’s spending habits. We have a fully functional E-commerce store and it has seen growth in revenue, now that people are not able to travel to pop-up markets/ shops. We have seen a change in people’s spending choices. New best sellers have emerged, these are products meant for mental well being and physical health e.g. Anti bacterial Basil candle, Lavender tea lights for mental relaxation / Air purifying frankincense/ sage incense sticks etc.
Why should consumers think more consciously about what they buy?
Consumers hold the great power to create a sustainable future with their purchases. In simple words, if consumers stop buying products loaded with chemicals, companies will stop making them. If they start reading labels and buy certified sustainable/ethically sourced products, the demand for the mass produced will dwindle.
Disclaimer: These articles are not ads neither paid features.