Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cottage industry at its best in Dubai

Keren Bobker and Debbie Steedman
An Open House evening with cakes, chutneys, preserves, pies, jewelry, clothes, fudge and the Avon Lady… who can resist?

Curious to see what it was all about, I went along to Keren Bobker’s place last Wednesday night (6 April) and was truthfully impressed by what the women are doing in Dubai. Despite jobs, kids and chores, they still have time to indulge in their hobbies and make a dirham or two.

Our host, Keren, known on Twitter as @FinancialUAE, is financial adviser and a partner in Holborn Assets Limited as well as director in United Art with her husband Simon Clough. But she still finds time to bake.

Keren's cakes, brownies and preserves
Keren started out making her favorites for friends and now tries to bake whenever she can or on order. On the night, she had cakes for Dhs. 25 – ginger, banana and Bara Brith, a traditional Welsh recipe handed down from her grandmother, with no fixed recipe except that it includes sultanas soaked in tea. She also offered rich chocolate brownies, at Dhs. 10 for a “large” piece, as well as preserves and chutneys – beetroot and orange, date and apple, apple jelly and sweet chili jam to boot.

Keren presented some of United Art’s signed limited edition prints by professional photographers for sale at Dhs. 250-350 each too.

Suzanne McDonald (center), the new Avon Lady, with Lianne and Janet
The Open House was an occasion to welcome Dubai’s new Avon Lady, Suzanne McDonald, also known as the Toffee Princess (@ToffeePrincess). Suzanne had been making fudge for the past seven to eight years but then joined ARTE, the Artisans of the Emirates arts and crafts souks, exactly two years ago this April and decided to register the name and start doing it more seriously. (See Artisans of the Emirates unite at ARTE, 18 January 2011)

And now the Toffee Princess has added Avon to her activities! We were all surprised to learn that Avon has been in Dubai for 25 years. But I am sure that will all change with Suzanne as their point representative. She said she couldn’t resist the idea or the extra income.

Avon is celebrating its 125th year in business and Suzanne has several special deals and prizes to offer. The Avon Lady image is one of the most iconic in women's entrepreneurship. “For 125 years, Avon Representatives have brought beauty into the lives of women -- first at home through door-to-door sales, then in the workplace to colleagues and friends, and now online,” says the Avon site.

Mrs. P.F.E. Albee, the 1st Avon Lady
Mrs. P.F.E. Albee was the first Avon Lady in 1886.  “Founder David H. McConnell handpicked Mrs. Persis Foster Eames Albee to become the company’s first Representative and affectionately dubbed her the ‘Mother of the California Perfume Company.’ She was 50 when she began selling perfumes for McConnell. She traveled by horse-and-buggy and by train. In a letter to McConnell, Mrs. Albee wrote, ‘I know of no line of work so lucrative, pleasant and satisfactory as this.’”

The products engrossed the women present on the night and Suzanne was juggling between Avon products and fudge! 

Jewelry and clothes were on sale through the House of Color whose representative, Janet Small, was kept busy. Helped by Debbie Steedman, better known as Geordie Armani (@GeorgieArmani), the House of Color helps you discover the particular blend of colors that will be in the closest harmony with your eye color, skin and hair tones. The service is available for men and women and the ladies also do a wardrobe review, declutter personal shopping and lead a makeup class.

Janet Small &Janet Knight model the star sweater
The snake necklace that can be molded into a bracelet
On the night, a flowing light sweater was a star item with a snake necklace that can be molded to any shape or form.

Debbie also had a sample of her handmade pork and leek terrines, which was excellent! They are sold through her Facebook page and can be personalized to include other flavors as long as the base is pork and leek. There are two sizes – a 1lb loaf tin for Dhs. 70 and a larger 2lb loaf tin for Dhs. 100.

It was smart to hold the Open House in the evening. This attracted the vocational women, allowing them to share Keren’s hospitality and admire the wares. Join us for the evening in pictures.

Well-done ladies -- and good luck!

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