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How ex-cabin crew are flying high in the startup world

When Georgina Griffin’s racing career came to an end as the Covid-19 pandemic gripped the world, she didn’t completely stop working with the heights.

Like her fellow Emirates cabin crew, the Briton observed stay-at-home mandates in the spring of 2020 – but she also discovered a new source of income.

It all started with Ms Griffin remodeling her balcony overlooking Dubai Marina using YouTube tutorials and skills she learned at school.

“I was still with Emirates when the flights were canceled and I had all the time in the world,” she says.

“I’ve always wanted to get involved in real estate and interior design because that’s where my passion lies. I have the creative skills, however, I never went to college…a job in an industry like that is hard without a degree.

Ms Griffin sanded and painted wooden pallets, sewed cushions and, delighted with the transformation, posted photos on Instagram.

An enthusiastic response from the apartment’s fellow residents led to three more “passion project” balcony makeovers for friends.

Ms Griffin then saw the potential demand, literally, passing through Dubai Marina.

“My phone was ringing with constant notifications… I looked up and could see hundreds of high rise buildings around me and millions of balconies.

“I had a feeling it could really be something; also, there was no one else at that time doing something similar – I knew it was now or never to try to make it work.

Weeks after the launch of Bespoke Balconies DXB, Ms Griffin, 30, was made redundant from Emirates as part of the cuts operated by airlines around the world amid the coronavirus crisis, but she was already on her way to a new career and mitigated financial risk.


“I took 100% up front, so whoever ordered a balcony design would pay the material costs, and then I got straight to work,” she says.

“The license is a lot of money for someone who has a small start-up; my husband could see the potential so he helped with the payment, which the company returned and she can now pay for her own license.

So far, Bespoke Balconies DXB has transformed around 300 balconies in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, as well as gardens, interiors, terraces and offices.

Ms Griffin, who joined Emirates aged 21, is not the only cabin worker to have left the airline, but she is arguably one of the most well-known among those who have found a happy landing making ends meet with a new venture. .

Some have launched clothing lines, bikini lines, candle brands or sell art.

Nadine Gauder, 35, an Australian who worked for the Emirates airline for 12 years, runs the e-commerce brand Ihala, providing sustainably packaged hair, beauty and personal care products.

The company also emerged during the 2020 stay-at-home restrictions, driven in part by frustration over the excessive use of packaging in a booming online retail sector.

“I started getting into the natural hair movement and making things at home, accessories, just for me,” says the former purser.

“It started when I made an item and said I could wrap it really nicely without covering it with plastic three times.”

Ms Gauder found traction on Instagram and first worked on Ihala as a secondary hustler while flying. Although the business started with no intention of quitting her Emirates job, she reveals the uncertainty of Covid-19 and the lockdown opportunity prompted her to leave this year.

“Sometimes the world shows you the reasons why things happen and I just thought it was time to move on,” she says.

“I got what I could out of this role, there was nothing more I needed to experience…it was great, but it wasn’t forever. I didn’t have expected that Ihala would take over the flight, but I was happy to see where it would go.

Starting small at her home in Business Bay, Ms. Gauder did not incur major expenses that would leave her business vulnerable in its early stages.

“I didn’t really have a budget — it all started at my kitchen table with a few hundred dollars,” she says.

“I bought a sewing machine, started to get into sewing, which I hadn’t done since I was a teenager, started adding a few extra products and it became Ihalah.”

Former Emirates business class crew member Anicia Van Zyl's hobby at her Dubai home in Motor City became such a passion that she progressed to create Living Space by Anna to market her production.  Courtesy: Living Space by Anna

Anicia Van Zyl, a former Emirates business class crew member, also saw similar organic growth.

Her ‘lockdown hobby’ at home in Dubai Motor City became such a passion that she progressed to create Living Space by Anna to market her production.

“We were renovating our new home and buying non-essentials or shopping for home decor items wasn’t really an option at the time due to the strict Covid-19 measures,” says- she.

“I was looking to decorate our balcony with plants but couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for – my friend gave me some leftover rope from crochet projects and that was the start of my new hobby. “

After watching many YouTube videos, the South African made her first plant hanger before exploring the art of wall tapestry.

Friends then asked for parts for their homes, which led to suggestions to sell his work. In 2021, she built a website and social media presence.

“It became such a great adventure that I decided to quit after seven and a half years to pursue my passion for the art of macrame,” says Ms Van Zyl, 33.

“Leaving is hard…it’s amazing work and an opportunity to explore the world [and] not having a stable income is scary, but it was really an encouragement to work hard and put in the effort to make my small business work.

“I have experienced a massive drop in income and it will take months if not years to fully recover from it, but the incredible support from my husband, family and friends has really encouraged me to take this step. “

While Ms Van Zyl’s job change was calculated, Ms Griffin says the loss of her job initially caused panic.

“At that time, I didn’t make any profit from balconies because it was literally a hobby,” she adds.

“I remember looking for jobs online and everywhere I needed a degree for the roles I wanted, so I was looking for courses online.

“Along with all of this, Bespoke Balconies started to get busier and so the very idea of ​​making it a potential business where I could earn a living was something I really wanted to achieve.”

It quickly evolved from preparing materials at home, managing social media responses, consultations, quotes and buying supplies as a hobby to becoming a full-fledged business with a team of stylists and staff. of back office.

The company is currently exploring potential partnerships with property companies and the team structure allows Ms Griffin greater flexibility, although she admits the hours she puts in are “certainly much more than my life as a ‘cabin crew’.

She has several friends who also left the airline and they have since embraced new roles.

“Whether it’s working for another company in an industry they love or working for their own company…it’s amazing to watch someone you know start with an idea and then turn it into something .”

Ms Gauder agrees, but reflects on the daunting prospect of leaving a long-term job and the comfort of a regular salary.

“Going to do anything on your own…it’s a leap of faith, but it’s now or never. If you don’t try it, you never know,” she says. “All you can do is work hard, do your best and get out as much as you can.”

For now, Ihala remains agile enough for Ms. Gauder to test different products without risking a major loss. It has traded enough to generate income, although she admits she may need to supplement it.

However, moving the company “quite deliberately” by not hiring outside talent – photographers, web designers, social media strategists – has its pros and cons.

“I had to learn how to build my website, integrate my payment gateway, manage licenses and packages…it gave me a good foundation and I understand how everything works,” says Gauder, while suggesting that this may change in the future.

“It’s worked so far, but I can’t get it to work on my dining room table forever,” she adds.

“I probably could have moved faster and made more money, but I’m glad I did it this way because I had never run my own business before.”

Ms Griffin “really loved” her seven years with Emirates and says she never thought of leaving, although she now considers it “such a blessing”.

“I probably would have seen the potential and the opportunity with Bespoke Balconies so I would have chosen to leave anyway, so I think everything happened for a reason and everything at the right time,” he adds. she.

The pandemic has taught many of us that money can’t buy time, says Van Zyl.

“It’s wonderful when you can indulge in a lifestyle without having to think about your expenses, but more rewarding is when you can spend time with loved ones and attend special occasions that you would have normally missed because you’re on the other side of the world,” she says.

“Yes, I have to count my pennies and work to a budget, but the freedom to work at my own pace is so worth it.”

Updated: May 05, 2022, 05:00

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