She came to the UAE twenty years ago with an idea and turned it into a functional business with a social angle. Ayesha Mude talks to the inspiring Linda Benallal about her journey, her vision and upward destinations
Twenty years ago, a young girl left France and came to Dubai with only 500 euros in her purse and a pocketful of dreams wanting to leave her mark in the world in a very special way. Two decades later, she has turned those dreams into a living reality that surpassed even her own expectations providing inspiration to many.
When Linda Benallal first arrived on the shores of Dubai, she landed a role as a marketing manager for a French brand and handled several well-known names and brands. To make ends meet she ended up living far out of the city and battled long commutes to her place of work. No mean feat, as many of us know.
The daily commute was not the only issue. Linda was not conversant in English, and despite her work experience and talents, communication was tough for the native French speaker. So, she enrolled for a course at the British Council in Dubai and worked diligently at learning the language. She also wanted to learn the local language and threw herself whole-heartedly into this as well actively pursuing friendships and interactions with the local community, who introduced her to new learnings in Islam, the Arabic language, their customs and traditions. With her customary flair for life, she embraced everything the city had to offer and fell in love with the culture and people of Dubai.
The Emirati Dream
From the outset, Linda was focused on achieving the Emirati Dream and says, “I was looking for knowledge when I was young, but when you start working you want to succeed, to do something and become someone big.”
She decided, wisely, that one of the better ways to get to where she wanted was to start working in Dubai’s booming real estate sector and joined the upswing industry to give it a whirl. However, she soon realized this was not her cup of tea and it was time to shift gears again.
Linda’s humble beginnings gave her exceptional flexibility that translated into swift action and navigated her career path to seek out new opportunities and areas of interest that led her to work within a hedge fund on Sheikh Zayed Road. Life began to look up as finances stabilized; she bought her first car, improved her English language skill, and finally started to save.
Ever looking up, Linda knew this would not be enough and hence decided to pursue a business management degree in the UK and perfect her abilities in English. On her return to Dubai, armed with a new degree and upgraded skills, she set about to network and create a resource pool of the best business minds she could find.
Finding her calling
In her innovative way, Linda explored several options before she settled on a chosen path. She worked for Ülker International as the office manager of their first office in the Middle East, then as a Key Account Manager for the most prominent IT security firm in the country, and later did a stint with Roche as the Procurement Manager of the Middle East.
With all the experience gained in multiple sectors and diverse global corporate giants, Linda finally realized Fashion is where her true passion lay. Being French, she had always loved fashion and design. Inheriting fashion sensibilities from her mother, a dressmaker of some distinction who possessed sartorial elegance and taught her to look at clothes as a form of creativity and self-expression, Linda launched her brand ‘Innocent Touch Paris’. Combining her penchant for fine fabrics and her learnings from locals on Islam, she plotted a new course for herself that kick-started a new era of elegant and modest couture.
“I wanted my brand to pass a message,” says Linda, firmly wanting to break the stereotype with her fashion line. Her message remains simple – to showcase to the world the beauty of Islam and how its learnings are those of peace and harmony. This is why she named her brand ‘Innocent Touch’.
With this driving message, her brand took off with a much-felt presence at exhibitions, fashion shows, and designer meets worldwide. Innocent Touch quickly gained popularity followed by dozens of TV appearances, making her a personality of some note. The brand enjoyed a successful upward trajectory from its beginnings in 2013 till 2017, when Linda was struck down by a personal tragedy and put everything on hold.
Those who know Linda will say this about her – she is a positive woman with solid core values that drive her functioning. Despite the success, she has stayed humble and honors the values she was raised with. Her ties to her parents are loving and strong, and in 2017 when her father fell very sick, she put her life and business on hold and went back to France to care for him. Having spent so many years away from family and her home country, she spent three years, until 2020, taking care of her parents and investing time with her family.
After her father’s passing, Linda got back into the game. While her absolute dream remained fashion, she was also keen to give something back to society. The circumstances of her early years made her want to do something positive for the lesser fortunate. And so, from fashion she made the shift to social innovation to help people from poor backgrounds build a better life for themselves.
And thus began her new venture, LMB Project Management Services. Today her company is working on building a bridge between Africa and the UAE. She has undertaken and organized two big conferences to build upon and create awareness of the conditions in underdeveloped nations and find channels to assist disenfranchised communities there.
The Way Forward
Linda has come a long way from the girl who arrived with a dream all those years ago. She firmly believes all her success is due to the UAE, its visionary leaders, and the incredible opportunities it presents to entrepreneurs. She is an outspoken advocate of life in her chosen country of residence and is determined to reignite her fashion brand to its former glory while still running her other business.
Much as can be said of her love for the Emirates, it can be stated with certainty that the UAE returns the affection granting her the Golden Visa. After all, entrepreneurs like her keep the country on fast forward and pave the way for others to follow suit.