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Perfecting the art of gifting
Shirley Jeff runs a corporate gifts business in the UAE
With changing times, corporate gifts have become more innovative and trendy. Only when they make their way to our office desks do we realise the effort that has gone into make them appealing enough. The UAE is always celebrating throughout the year, be it festivals, events or special days, therefore, corporate gifts as a business is here to stay. Dubai-based Shirley Jeff, creative head and managing partner of Bowline Corporate Gifts, gives us an insight into how Dubai is a very eventful place and there are plenty of activities throughout the year that keeps her on her toes.
"Dubai being a very eventful place, there are opportunities for everyone who has a dream. With a very humble beginning, I have taken my steps to reach my goal," says Shirley.
Shirley started Bowline along with a business partner. "Three years into the business of corporate gifts, we have catered to many clients' gift requirements. The festive season is the busiest time of the year. Ramadan packages, such as date boxes, customised chocolates and customised speakers with in-built Holy Quran verses, are some popular gifts."
Shirley explains that as the weather cools down, events evolve into a different nature. Her firm delivers gifts and trophies for adventure sports, kick-off meets for multinational companies and school sports events. Social events such as breast cancer awareness programme, diabetic walk and National Day celebrations in government departments are some of the other events Bowline caters to.
As the travel season sets in, customers ask for travel bags, laptop bags and a wide range of travel accessories. Year-end gifts are the most creative as it is coincides with Christmas. Gift baskets filled with goodies are a customer favourite, Shirley adds.
Shirley says the business of corporate gifts is highly competitive. "This is a fragmented market and there are so many small and medium-sized businesses competing with each other and with the sharks of the industry. But each has its own unique approach. With the general slowdown globally, marketing has not been everyone's top priority. But at the same time, corporate gifting has time and again proven to be one of the cost-effective methods of marketing. The promotional gift represents the organisation, with the logo's branding on it. Therefore, it's necessary that one chooses the right and appropriate gift to be given away," she adds.
"Difficulties arise when the client shows no inclination to know the technical glitches and aspects of branding, but their demands remain high. Last-minute changes by the customer and time constraints are common in corporate gifting. Creative thinking and patience are essential to overcome hurdles in this business," she suggests.
Born and raised in Dubai and India, Shirley has a bachelor's in mass communications and a post-graduate degree in fashion designing. Shirley's background in fashion designing came handy when she made the decision to move into the business of corporate gifts in 2015. She returned to Dubai in 2002 after getting married.
"I worked in the banking sector for a few years. I took a break for my family and later decided to pursue my passion in the creative field in 2012. I took the entrepreneurial leap in 2015," she recalls.
During her initial years as a designer, Shirley created a brand named EV&WILL. "I started pursuing my passion in 2012. Meeting with the organisers of w2w is how it all began. EV&WILL originated as a brand for children and was supplied to boutiques in Jumeirah and Al Wahda Mall in Abu Dhabi. With a lot of corporate enquiries for gifts, the business evolved and a new venture - Bowline - was established. To be more specific, the idea of corporate gifts was triggered by a discussion based on a client's requirement for a creative gift. There was no turning back then. My client's need to be 'identified' is what made us think differently. The usuals don't seem to work all the time. The more unique and niche, the more cost involved."
The mother of 2 says the UAE has always encouraged its women to go beyond boundaries, compared to other GCC states. "I believe the vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has a major role in laying a strong foundation for women. Efforts of the Dubai Business Women Council at the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry is commendable. They encourage women entrepreneurs to promote business management and financial skills," adds the entrepreneur who has been married for 16 years.
"I have 2 children, Evlyn and William. Without the encouragement and support of my husband Jeff, I wouldn't be doing any of this. Having an understanding family will automatically bring balance to work and personal life."
Shirley also believes that woman empowerment begins at home. It has a lot to do with how every child, boy or girl, is raised at home. "The in-built confidence and a strong mind in a child is the beginning of empowerment. The UAE's role in women empowerment begins with the educational facilities given to schools, the encouragement of girls to go further in every field and the equal pay system for women - all these will go a long way to boost confidence in the long run."
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