Her Royal Highness Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud is one of the world's most forward-thinking female advocates and prominent entrepreneurs. Having publicly spoken about the need for women in the workforce to sustain economic growth, Princess Reema is a modern thinker and revolutionary leader whose life accomplishments are as varied — and as prolific — as they come.
Having been involved in almost every industry imaginable, Princess Reema is clearly not the bonbon-eating type of royal. Bold, beautiful and unafraid, Princess Reema began her adult life as a museum studies major at George Washington University in Washington DC. At the time, her father was the ambassador to the United States (he served in this capacity from 1983 to 2005), which gave the princess a unique vantage point into Western culture, and undoubtedly contributed to her robust work ethic.
Bold, beautiful and epically motivated, Princess Reema is changing female face of Saudi Arabia.
When she returned to Saudi Arabia in 2005 as a college graduate, she immediately got to work, beginning with a stint as CEO of a luxury retail company. Throughout her career, Princess Reema has emerged as a diversely prolific entrepreneur.
She founded a handbag line, a woman's day spa, a breast cancer awareness association (for which she lead a group of women to climb Mount Everest), and a corporate social responsibility initiative, designed to provide access to opportunities through a proprietary self-branding curriculum. If that doesn't impress you, the Princess is also Deputy Planning and Development of the General Sports Authority in Saudi Arabia.
In this exclusive interview, the princess speaks to SWAAY about women's rights, sports, and social entrepreneurship.
1. Tell us what life was like for you in Saudi Arabia as a young girl.
While I was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, I actually was raised in Washington D.C. Arriving in the states at age 7, I returned home to live in Saudi Arabia 23 years later when my own daughter was 7 years old. Even though we returned frequently on holiday and for family events I always felt that I wanted a stronger connection to home. That is why my ex-husband and I made the decision to return home when we had our children at a young enough age so they could plant their roots in their nation.
2. You are heralded as a champion for women in business. Can you share your thoughts on equality in the workplace as it stands today?
Women should have no shame in asking for what they deserve, and know that doing so doesn't reduce their femininity, nor does it make them 'difficult' individuals. It has been my experience that respect has to be earned and maintained. The same goes with trust – those are basic principles that in truth should be gender neutral.
3. What is your advice for helping to level the playing field?
Time management and life management are one and the same for me. It is important to recognise that, much as we would like to, we cannot do everything. Once we accept this, the work life balance will be a matter of fact, not a matter of compromise. I believe the journey to success is faster achieved when one has a strong team. We need to honor those who support us outside of the work place, those people who facilitate us having the time to "get work done." I also believe that financial management is a crucial point that many women ignore. The first step to independence is financial literacy and stability. While it is wonderful to live for today, in reality we need to plan for tomorrow.
4. Women's rights are of course a major issue in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. How is the situation today? Is it improving?
It's improving faster than people who have not been to Saudi might be aware, as reflected in some recently published facts… For example, Saudi female university students today outnumber men; the Saudi Arabian legislative body has higher female participation than that of the U.S., and Saudi female entrepreneurship is on the rise. We are by no means perfect, but we are a nation of capable women who are growing in their fields, rising rapidly and publicly.
5. What advice do you give to female entrepreneurs who may be struggling to secure funding or see an idea to fruition?
Regardless of gender, I always recommend setting personal goals. I've said it before and I'll say it again: The journey to success cannot be replicated. Bill Gates didn't read a book on how to be Bill Gates. Clarity of vision and strategy will take you farther than any book can take you. That is what an investor is looking for – not a savvy quote, but a strategy and an execution plan.
6. Can you tell us a bit about your philanthropic organizations, Alf Khair and Zahra Breast Cancer Association? Why did you pick these two particular causes?
Alf Khair is not a philanthropic organization – rather, it is a social enterprise that I founded in 2013. Its mission is to create access to opportunities through programs that highlight values and financial self-sufficiency at the core. This has been realized through several initiatives, including a training curriculum called Alf Darb, a platform for discourse called Alf Hewar, and also the Guinness World Records-breaking and award-winning 10KSA, which raised awareness about holistic health with a focus on breast cancer. Zahra Breast Cancer Association is Saudi's first breast cancer awareness charity and was the chosen beneficiary of sponsorship raised during 10KSA. I am honored to be a founding member of this charity as it has opened my eyes to many of the nation's health and social issues. Those insights have profoundly impacted the work of Alf Khair as an organization.
7. How do you think women's role in business is changing? Do you see us ever reaching true equality?
What I realized was that it's not impossible, it's just not always been done before. It's okay to be the first one, but I don't want to be the only one.... that means I would not have done anything to help others, rather only helped myself. I believe it is important to leave room for others to grow into – it is important to let others in. Things have to change by default, if not by design. We exist, we are capable and we are here.
8. You vowed to involve (Saudi) women in sports, how are you planning on doing so? Why do you think it's important?
In my role at the General Sports Authority I aim to expand the understanding of sports to include: health, well-being and lifestyle. This dialogue is gender neutral. We need to think bigger than just the athlete – we need to focus on the ecosystem around that individual. That is where the economy of sports is born. Without the basic foundation of sports, hobbies and amateur sports, we will not have elite athletes. Without the trainers and the coaches and the volunteers, we will not have programs. Without the facilities and the products we will not have the tools to play or engage. We're a partner in the health sector, and proud to include women in sports for a healthier society and a more productive economy. Women's participation in sports has the potential to create thousands of jobs. We — especially women — must incorporate physical fitness in our lives. My goal at the General Sports Authority is to offer women the opportunity to engage further in physical activity through access to facilities and programs.
9. What is next for you? Where will you be focusing your efforts on in the next few months and years?
My dedication today is the expansion of the sports economy in Saudi Arabia. My role at the General Sports Authority has evolved to Deputy for Planning and Development, with diversity and women's affairs under my supervision. I'm honored to spend the next years of my life working with and for my community.
10. Do you have a life or business philosophy?
Do good and choose happy.
I have always been in love with all things art- I was obsessed with drawing and painting before I was even walking. In high school, I started a career selling art through various gallery art shows and on Etsy. I then went on to study fine arts at the University of Southern California, with an emphasis in painting, but took classes in ceramics, printmaking, cinema and architecture to get a really well-rounded education on all sorts of art.
During my senior year of college, my career path went through a huge transition; I started my own temporary tattoo brand, INKED by Dani, which is a brand of temporary tattoos based on my hand-drawn fine art designs.
The idea for the brand came one night after a themed party at college. My friends, knowing how much I loved drawing, asked me to cover them in hand-drawn doodles using eyeliner. The feedback from that night was overwhelming, everyone my friends saw that night was obsessed with the designs. In that moment, a lightbulb went off in my head... I could do some completely unique here and create chic temporary tattoos with an art-driven aesthetic, unlike anything else on the market. Other temporary tattoo brands were targeted to kids or lacked a sleek and millennial-driven look. It was a perfect pivot; I could utilize my fine arts training and tattoos as a new art medium to create a completely innovative brand.
Using the money I made from selling my artwork throughout high school and college, I funded the launch of INKED by Dani. I had always loved the look of dainty tattoos, but knew I could never commit to the real thing, and I knew my parents would kill me if I got a tattoo (I also knew that so many girls must have that same conflict). Starting INKED by Dani was a no-brainer.
I started off with a collection of about only 10 designs and sold them at sorority houses around USC. Our unique concept for on-trend and fashion-forward tattoos was spreading through word of mouth, and we quickly started growing an Instagram following. I was hustling all day from my room, cold calling retailers, sending blind samples and tons of emails, and trying to open up as many opportunities as I could.
Now, we're sold at over 10,000 retail locations (retailers include Target, Walmart, Urban Outfitters, Forever 21 and Hot Topic), and we've transformed temporary tattoos into a whole new form of wearable art.
My 4 best tips for starting your own business are:
- Just go with your gut! You'll never know what works until you try it. Go day by day and do everything in your power to work toward your goals. Be bold, but be sure to be thoughtful in your actions.
- Research your competitors and other successful brands in your category to determine how you can make your product stand out. Figure out where there is a need or hole in the market that your new offering or approach can fill.
- Don't spread yourself too thin. Delegate where possible, and stay focused each day on doing the best and most you can. Don't get too caught up in your end goal or the big picture to a point where it overwhelms or freezes you. You're already making a bold move to start something new, so try to prioritize what's important! I started off in the beginning hand packing every single tattoo pack that we sold and shipped. If I wanted to scale to align with the level of demand we were receiving, I needed to make the pivot to mass produce and relinquish the control of doing every step myself. I am a total perfectionist, so that was definitely hard! From that point on, overseeing production has been a huge part of my daily schedule, but by doing so I've been able to free up more time to focus on design, merchandising, and sales, allowing me to really focus on growing the business.
- Prioritize great product packaging and branding. It's so important to invest time in customer experience- how customers view and interact with your product. The packaging is just as important as the actual product inside! When we were starting off, we had high demand, and I definitely jumped the gun a bit on packaging so we could deliver product to the retailers when they wanted it. Since then, we've completely revamped the packaging into something upscale and unique that reflects what the brand is all about. Our product packaging is always called out as being one of our retailers' and customers' favorite part of our product!