Nada Sawaya launched her brand and then took a step back. After rebranding, Sawaya came back stronger than ever and plans to utilize a platinum business card to propel her forward.
Entrepreneur Nada Sawaya considers herself a citizen of the world. Born in Lebanon, she has lived in cosmopolitan Lebanon, France and the United States.
While living in the conflict zone of Beirut, she opened fashion accessory stores and made frequent purchasing trips to New York City. Her business was so successful, she moved to New York to replicate the company.
Soon, though, Sawaya was craving an outlet for her creativity – so she launched the NADA SAWAYA handbag brand. She designed the bags, and they were constructed by hand in Italy from the finest leathers. Soon, her products were sold in high-end retailers alongside the most well-known brands on the market. Then, in 2017, she took a step back.
“I sensed that the fashion world was evolving, as was I,” says Sawaya. “I became more ethical and concerned with sustainability. To avoid confusing my customers, I disappeared for a couple of years while researching the best way to maintain what I love doing while bringing them value.”
Incorporating technology was the answer. In 2019, she revived the NADA SAWAYA brand under a new umbrella: direct to consumer, with a near field communication (NFC) tag embedded in each bag. That addition protects against counterfeiting, provides full transparency of the product journey and enables Sawaya to get close to her customers.
Now, her newest company rebranding requires something Sawaya needs: a rewards-heavy credit card. Here’s why and how she’ll be incorporating plastic into leather.
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You’ve been in business for a long time – has this latest venture come with any unique hardships?
I wanted to ensure I had the perfect product, so it required months of development to come up with a perfectly made handbag. Next came working on the experience that would be embedded in each bag and then on the website. You never expect delays to occur, but they’re inevitable.
Basically, everything was delayed – from receiving the product to launching the website. I was planning to launch in September, and I only just did. Everything takes time if you want it to be perfect.
Why are you just now applying for a credit card?
So far, for this business, I’ve relied on loans. My credit is great because I have always paid on time. Sometimes my balance has been high, but all those on-time payments helped my credit.
Now, I’m in the market for a credit card because it will give me some leverage. I want The Business Platinum Card® from American Express. It will give me breathing time for payments and to earn some rewards.
I’ve used American Express credit cards before – a business and a personal account. They helped me grow my other businesses. The Business Platinum card has no foreign transaction fees (trust me, they add up fast,) and since I travel a lot, I want to earn points. I’m not interested in cash back. My needs are for hotels and airfare.
So, what types of expenses will you charge?
This business is heavy on marketing expenses, so I’ll pay for Facebook and other social media ads with the card. Of course, I also have utility bills, travel expenses, duty, materials, FedEx and labor costs. I’ve been paying some of these bills with cash via wire transfer, but I look forward to using the credit card. I want the rewards!
How have you been managing your finances?
I use QuickBooks Online, which helps me a lot because it’s connected to my bank account. I also have a bookkeeper who looks at everything once a month and makes sure it’s all in order. If I have a lot of expenses, I will check things daily, but will back off when not much is going on.
It’s important to catch problems early. I guess that’s another reason I’m gravitating toward American Express. One time, I found a small amount on my old card that shouldn’t have been there and they fixed it right away. It was just so easy.
What are the future plans for the business, especially in light of what’s going on now?
I’ve always gone through crazy times, including war. This is not new for me. My background is helping me overcome it in a calm way, without panicking. There’s always up and down, and I think people should always look on the bright side of things. We have to.
For me, maybe it’s the right time to launch. I have something new. My future plan is to create pop-up experiences with unconventional stores to display our vision. This will help to better connect the brand and our consumers. After that, I aim to open our stand-alone stores.
Can you offer any advice to other entrepreneurs?
To stand out, see what’s on the market, then offer something different. No one really needs a new handbag, but people love experience. So, I rethought my business. I like fashion and tech so I merged them in a way that benefits my customer. Try to bring something extra.
Being an entrepreneur takes a lot of work, a lot of vision and a lot of perseverance, so be ready for some sacrifice. My other advice is what I wish someone had given me:
- Believe in yourself and challenge yourself constantly. Learn every day, the world is moving too fast.
- Competition is fierce, so specialize in what you do.
- Don’t be afraid to take risks or to fail. You will learn from your mistakes; you will regret not trying.
- Do work you care about and believe in, because you are going to invest a lot of time in running your business.
- Your energy limits what you can do with your time, so manage it wisely.
- Get close to your customers. Ask them what they want, and learn from their complaints.
- Set goals and remind yourself of them each day, it will help you challenge yourself.
- Deliver more than your customers expect and build a loyal following of advocates.
- Spend money wisely.
And regarding finances, any tips on money and credit?
It’s almost always harder to raise capital than you predict, and it always takes longer.
If you borrow money, you have to pay on time – always. That is rule number one. Try to not have too high of a balance, but that’s not always easy.
Regarding credit cards, you have so many choices! You may want to find a card that doesn’t offer interest for the first 12 months – for a small business, that can be important. And always look for the benefits you will use.
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