Former law-student turned serial entrepreneur, Suit Supply's Shames al Hashemi opens up

Behind the growth of luxury brands such as Suit Supply, Seraphine, Roux and Le66, is the constantly buzzing mind of Shames Al Hashemi, co-executive director at DUAL Investments, and an Emirati entrepreneur who isn't afraid to speak his mind
Former law-student turned serial entrepreneur, Suit Supply's Shames al Hashemi opens up
By Shayan Shakeel
Tue 05 Feb 2019 01:17 PM

Before he began venturing down the path that would turn him into one of the UAE’s rising retail stars, Shames Al Hashemi was pursuing a law degree in the UK. “I grew up on endless legal dramas, but realised very quickly, however, that spending endless nights with my nose in books on case law just wasn’t for me. It was a detail conveniently left out of the TV shows.”

Luckily, Al Hashemi had been deeply involved in his father’s array of businesses from a young age. His father, Mohammad Al Hashemi began Sara Trident in Saudi Arabia in the late 1960s, a company that gave way to what is now the Sara Group of Companies, and later Mohamed al Hashemi Enterprises (MHE). From accompanying him to work as a child, interning at the offices during the summers, to later taking an active role in the management of the business, Al Hashemi’s eldest son was “involved in the business at every level,” he says.

“But I never wanted to be stuck behind a desk watching the minutes tick by, waiting to go home. Starting a business with my sister and brother allowed me to decide how to spend my time, without having to worry about people looking over my shoulder.”

Under MHE’s umbrella, the Al Hashemi siblings, began Dual Investments, at which Shames Al Hashemi is now co-executive director. The company partners with a number of premier brands in Dubai including materinity fashion chain Seraphine, British barbershop TrueFitt & Hill, as well as European men’s fashion chain Suit Supply. It’s at the latter’s new location in City Walk that CEO Middle East caught up with the entrepreneur to get his thoughts on what transforms risks into success, the challenges in the retail market in the UAE, and the importance of to do-lists.

What led you to bringing Suitupply to the UAE?

I stumbled on Suitsupply by accident while walking through Milan. They had an amazing marketing visual in the window of their showroom, so I walked in and was blown away by the store design. I spent a long time speaking with the store manager who told me all about the brand. I realised that in the UAE, Suitsupply would fill a hole in the market. There isn’t a brand that puts as much an emphasis on style and quality while maintaining affordability. Our suits are of course targeted at the young and trendy. We design them just as a high-end tailor would, with off-the-rack and custom detailing options. A customer could walk in, learn about the various cuts and finishes we offer, and walk out with a suit altered right then, or opt for a classic fitting. In either case, the quality, cut, and tailoring time are unmatched in the local market.

How will you look to grow the brand?

Two new stores in Dubai will bring out total to three by the second quarter of next year. After that we will look to expand in the rest of the GCC.

In terms of productivity, what is your biggest obstacle, and how you counter it?

I confess: I am easily distracted. With the endless streams of email that clog up an inbox, it very easy to forget to do something. I could be in the middle of responding to an email and another notification will pop up on my screen. Five minutes later, that email I was writing has completely left my mind. I tell everyone I deal with that if they need something quick, WhatsApp me constantly until they get it from me. So I make ‘to-do lists’ or nothing would ever get done.

If there is one piece of advice that you’d share with a young entrepreneur what would that be?

I think scalability is very important in business. If you want to get into a business, ask yourself how big a market exists for your chosen business and if you can you scale it up, and. You could have a great business idea, but if there are only five potential customers, it isn’t really worth the time and effort.

What is a mistake that you think that young business owners often make?

I think a lot of young entrepreneurs get into businesses without really understanding how much a commitment it takes, especially time-wise. A lot of them will have full time jobs and start something on the side thinking they can do it in their spare time. Although that may be the case in a few circumstances, the vast majority of businesses require full time commitment. Whatever you’re going to do, make sure you enough time to dedicate to it.

What are three qualities in a business manager that you are impressed by (and would lead you to hire them)?

They should be willing to learn. They should have done their homework, meaning that don’t come and sit down with me without having done any research about either me, my company or my brands. Most importantly they should be ready to back their opinions up. I have no problem with someone disagreeing with me, but they should be ready, willing and able to make an argument for their point of view.

What is the biggest challenge you face in retail in the UAE right now, especially with brands like Suit Supply?

The biggest challenge in the retail market right now, I would say, is the supply of space coming on the market. It could be argued that increased supply gives retailers more choice and bargaining power with landlords. However, I feel what is happening is the opposite. More supply is cutting the pieces of an already small pie even smaller. Some brands would do well if they opened a store in the middle of the desert, but the vast majority will not, and retailers are just beginning to figure out that is the modern retail landscape of Dubai and the region. I believe you will see a consolidation of retail business to a handful of major shopping malls, with the rest of the malls and stores suffering considerably in the short to medium term.

Having said that, you’re quite intrepid, in that you aren’t afraid to take risks with a brand. What lends you to be like that?

Almost every decision in life is a risk but it’s really all about taking calculated risks. There are certain questions we ask ourselves as a company, like… “Can we afford for this to completely fail?”, “Can we afford not to do this?”, “Where do we want to be, and will this help us get there?” The answers to these questions generally allow us to gauge whether or not to do something. The retailing community in Dubai is very tight knit and asking others their opinion is very important. For the most part we all try to help each other out as much as we can. That being said, it is also just as important not to drown in information, or else you’ll never be able to make a decision. At the end of the day, you have to be as big as the risk and be willing to accept the consequences if you make the wrong choice.

Finally, and feel free to plug a product here, but if there is one essential a well-dressed CEO should have in their closet, what should it be?

A properly fitted tuxedo. I find it shocking the number of people I see turn up to a black-tie event in a business suit. If someone has made a point to state a dress code then make the effort and follow it. And I say properly fitted because even when people do wear a tuxedo, they often look like they’ve borrowed someone else’s tuxedo.

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