The rise of the ‘Instapreneur’

Meet the women using social media for much more than selfies as they explore the potential of tools such as Instagram for enterprise

In 2010, the world was introduced to Instagram, a fun way of sharing photos with family and friends. But in recent years, the social media application has become a hub for talented and pioneering female entrepreneurs.

Selling everything from designer abayas to customised phone covers, beauty products and consultancy, a new generation of Instagram entrepreneurs, or 'instapreneurs' as they are often known, are disrupting traditional marketing.

Fatma Al Mulla, an Emirati visual artist and founder of the pop culture brand FMM, launched her label on social media.

“At a time when blogs were a thing of great popularity, I started one and I began posting about things I liked," she says. "I eventually designed an illustration of an Arab woman with Arabic writing on it, and that post went viral. It was shared by many and several people used it as their wallpapers. That was the beginning of my journey."

Since then, her Instagram following has grown to an impressive 119k followers, while her brand is stocked in S*uce and other UAE boutiques.

Showcasing bags, abayas and kaftans, funky phone covers and passport holders, Fatma’s Instagram feed is a medley of vibrant colour and quirky fashion pieces.

“Fortunately for me I found it extremely helpful. I met a lot of people from Instagram which has also connected me to create private and public projects and their companies, so it does help a great deal to kick-start the business.”

Unlike traditional forms of marketing, Instagram is free to use, making it accessible for start-ups.

"Instagram serves as a great marketing tool for most businesses and is definitely inexpensive," agrees Sally Soheili, who founded SoH Dubai - a salon that combines beauty offerings with art - less than a year ago. In that time, the salon has clocked up almost 20,000 followers with bookings regularly being requested in the comments section.

"Instagram's posts on SoHDubai's account have enabled us to visually communicate the core vision of the brand, which is to help clients realise that any medium can be our canvas to paint; be it clients' hair, nails or their shoes and bags," continues Sally.

"The visuals we post provide inspiration to clients. Their nails or shoes or bags can be painted with the same art we promote here by local artists, largely from the pop art culture. Most clients walk in with their phone in their hands, choosing our posts as a creative guide to what they would like to have done. In addition, the majority of them say they first heard of us via Instagram."

Most clients walk in with their phone in their hands, choosing our posts as a creative guide to what they would like to have done

Sally Soheili, SoH Dubai founder

Fashion consultant Amira Ashour, meanwhile, runs StreetStyleDubai - a feed with around 50k followers that posts images of the latest designs. She also captures the everyday fashions people wear at malls, beaches and hotels of Dubai.

"A picture speaks louder than a thousand words," she says. "This sounds a bit cliche but it is what Instagram has done; it has gathered a platform for people worldwide for business, fashion and health to accomplish what they always wanted to create."

By creating an accessible space for young talent to spread their products and ideas, the platform allows more women to enter the world of entrepreneurship; where they are quickly becoming household names.

As Sharene Lee, founder of the online marketplace Melltoo says, “Technology gives female entrepreneurs access to an unlimited amount of tools and resources, which has enabled women to build successful businesses that compliment their lifestyle and bring value to society”.

Hind Al Mulla, the founder of Home Bakery, entices customers to buy her cakes through photography, and has transformed her small homegrown company into a popular brand, with a loyal, established customer base.

“I used Twitter to launch the business at first…then Instagram boosted our sales and popularity so much that I stopped using Twitter. People eat with their eyes first, so I was making them hungry by posting delicious pictures, and the calls came,” Hind says.

Demand for her inventive bakes grew to such an extent that Home Baker opened its first store earlier this year. Hind attributes the success to social media.

“It’s very convenient – better than paying for an ad in a magazine. I could see immediate results. It saved me a lot of money," she says.

Fatma Al Mulla
Fatma Al Mulla uses social media to boost business, promoting her fashion line featuring a blend of pop art culture and Arabic patternsImage: Fatma Al Mulla