An entrepreneurial pioneer, Dr Shayma Nawaf Fawwaz has built an entire lifestyle empire with Gossip The Brand
Dr Shayma Fawwaz on her journey to creating a home-grown lifestyle brand
IT ALL BEGAN WITH GOSSIP Café, born out of a desire to create a high-end but affordable spot to enjoy good company and good-quality food. But overachiever Dr Shayma Fawwaz was never going to stop there. With a degree in biology, a doctorate in genetics from George Washington University, as well as an executive master’s from the London Business School, Dr Shayma was still working as the Vice-president of Healthcare at Mubadala Development Company in Abu Dhabi when she opened the gourmet outlet Gossip Café and Desserts. By putting the idea in her head that she would helm a global powerhouse, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy that Gossip The Brand would not only branch out, but also acquire its way into the world of franchising.
Today, the five arms of the lifestyle group comprise F&B – including Mlkcake by Gossip, which has a branch in London; beauty – in the shape of Glo by Gossip, a hair and makeup service that makes home and office calls;
events, luxury retail, Gossip initiatives and CSR. Bold and intrepid, with the central tenet of the business plan being to combine Emirati culture with international food trends and concepts, Gossip The Brand has legs – legs that intend to traverse vast distances.
“From its inception, I wanted to create a brand that was shaped to easily go global while communicating our Emirati culture. I’m definitely focused on franchising my brand to take it that one step further in establishing it as a worldwide name,” Dr Shayma tells us.
With her proven track record for conquering every challenge that comes her way, this dream doesn’t sound unrealistic, especially given the company’s trajectory of success, swiftly growing from nine employees when it launched in 2013, to 229 employees today, with café branches in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. In January 2018, Dr Shayma was awarded the Mohammed Bin Rashid Award for Young Business Leaders for Best Female Entrepreneur.
Her model for franchising is somewhat unique – some may say utopian – in that it entails Dr Shayma’s team providing the management services to every franchise. “The first [advantage] is that it opens the opportunity up to potential franchisers that may not have the relevant hospitality experience to run a store on their own – they can simply invest,” she explains. “Secondly, this method ensures the Gossip standard remains as true to the original concept as possible.”
The brand’s DNA is one that is conscious of how food is prepared and is all about knowing exactly what goes into what. “It’s so important to prepare meals like they would be [made] at home, with clean, organic, locally sourced products,” says Dr Shayma.
A self-confessed foodie who has always been a keen baker, she describes the concept as “edible art” with “an array of high-end gourmet dishes and decadent desserts that take people on a culinary journey in an elegant yet contemporary setting.”
While she loved her experience studying overseas – “I found a new type of independence when I was living in Washington, DC. You find out more about yourself and get to mix with different people, which opens you up to new social circles” – Dr Shayma couldn’t be more grateful to her home, the UAE, for its support.
“I have always thought the UAE was great in supporting both men and women in business... I have been given the same opportunities as my male counterparts and have grown up around some truly inspiring women who have motivated me,” she says. “The UAE government has made significant progress in its mission to empower women in the workforce across various sectors and the nation’s women can today be classified as role models for the rest of the world.”
The backing she has received was one of the reasons Dr Shayma was so set on developing a homegrown brand. “Growing up, I saw a gap in the market for an Emirati company that could be turned into a global franchise. I could never understand why businessmen and women were always focused on franchising global companies instead of looking closer to home.”
Unsurprisingly, Dr Shayma is a champion of female entrepreneurship. Having been brought up in a family of remarkable women, her support of the sisterhood may have started at home, but today, it transcends familial boundaries. She describes her mother, who was the first woman in the UAE to be awarded a PHD, and is one of
“I saw a gap in the market for an Emirati company that could be turned into a global franchise”
the founding members of the nation, who was also instrumental in helping to change the UAE’S education system, as “my number one idol”. Dr Shayma is understandably proud to be her daughter. “The epitome of a successful woman, she juggled a family while progressing her career. She made a large contribution to the founding of the Ministry of Education and in starting the program for special needs and social service. I am especially proud of her representation of the UAE in many global conferences and at the UNESCO conference. Her intention was to always do good and this taught me a huge life lesson.”
Doing good could serve as the leitmotif for Dr Shayma and her sisters’ lives. While she pursued an education in the field of biology and genetics because she wanted to help save lives – “I was attracted to the idea of researching different diseases and working towards finding a cure for certain types of illnesses” – her sister Lamia is focused on doing good for the environment in her capacity as Executive Director, Brand and Strategic Initiatives of Masdar and Director of the Zayed Sustainability Prize, while her sister Noura has made it her mission to spread a little sunshine everywhere she goes.
“Noura is the happiness ambassador of Gossip; she’s my best friend and partner in crime! We go out and travel together and always have a lot of fun when we are around each other,” says Dr Shayma. “She brings happiness to everyone that she surrounds herself with.”
The entrepreneur admits that her private life and her business have inextricably become rolled into one. “My job is not just a job. Gossip The Brand is a combination of all my passions; my brand and my business are within the same areas of things that interest me on a personal level, such as fashion and style, art, design and food. This has helped me merge and balance both my personal and professional life.”
The common thread running through all aspects of her life is the pursuit of optimal health. “Health and wellness are fundamental to me and a major part of my daily routine, no matter where I am in the world. The best gift to yourself is to take good care of your health.”
Family and friends are crucial to Dr Shayma’s mental and emotional wellbeing. “My relationships with my family and friends – and making them a priority in my life – are so important. I’m an outgoing person and love to have my loved ones around, whether I’m travelling, at events or attending family gatherings.”
Having worked so hard to develop its momentum, there’s no stopping Gossip The Brand. Luckily for Dr Shayma, she has the right people to join her on her journey – people who will no doubt buckle up and enjoy the ride. @shaymafawwaz
“My relationships with my family and friends are so important”