DUBAI EXPAT STORIES. Elinor’s ‘lightbulb’ moments

“I have had many ‘lightbulb’ moments,” says Elinor Davies-Farn, founder of Olew Hair, a vegan friendly, natural hair care product brand.

“I’ve worked for BMW in Park Lane, London – I worked with VIP clients, from football players, golfers to other celebrities. I worked long hours (sometimes over 14 hour days), granted I had a good wage and a brand new BMW every 9 months. I always worked beyond what was expected of me and one morning, I was 15 minutes late due to traffic and I was told off like a child; with no remorse or recollection that I was always one of the first ones in and last out. That was the first,” she recalls.

“The second was when a colleague saw me (a senior manager) with my hair scraped back into a plait one day and said: ‘Oh that looks so much more professional, you should do that more often.’ And I thought, ‘How dare you, how dare you judge my professionalism based on my hair.” And then I realized, ‘Oh gosh, how many other women and men have had these comments said to them? What can I do to help with this?’”

Telling herself she has had enough after spending four years in the corporate world, Elinor went on her own.

“I had no plan, just a determination to be my own boss and work my own hours and do what I want as well as help other girls, women and men fall in love with their natural hair and feel confident in their own skin. Something I wish I had growing up,” Elinor said.

“Olew was born out of the frustration at the lack of natural hair care products available for my mane. Combined with my extensive research into the harmful chemicals and preservatives that are a mainstay of many of the products available on the market.

“I used to straighten my hair twice a day, I used to hate my natural curls. Looking back, I had no confidence growing up because I was so obsessed with my hair being straight. I never thought it looked pretty. Then one day during a month-long tour of Spain during the university summer holidays in 2012, I ditched the straighteners. It was a revelation. I thought to myself ‘What have I been doing all my life? I’m never doing this again.’

“But my hair was damaged from years of treatments and so I started mixing up my own treatments after months of classes and research to find the right product to help with growth and repair, and that’s when Olew was born,” Elinor said.

Olew has had its share of birth pains.

“I was working for another start-up while also building my brand and had handed my notice in at the beginning of 2020 – and my last day was March 5, 2020 just as London was going into a lockdown. I was so scared. The other job had given me a crash financially as I was not taking any money out of Olew at the time. I thought, nobody is going to want to purchase hair products in lockdown and a global pandemic- I have really messed up this time, I cried for a whole day and felt sheer panic as I thought, how am I even going to pay my bills next month,” she said. 

“I think this fear helped push me into a mode I had never reached before. And of course, when it rains it pours. At the same time, I had sent thousands of products to Belgium as we were going to a curly hair festival to be one of the main sponsors in March, and of course it was cancelled and my entire stock was in Belgium. 

“Due to the pandemic, naturally, the shipping costs to get the products sent back tripled and I had no stock – the stock I did have in the UK were in my fulfilment center which had now been closed and nobody could access it. So I was totally stuck. After much deliberation I took the plunge and paid for the astronomical fees to get my products shipped to my flat in London and of course, the products arrived and a huge number of them were damaged or broken or had leaked over the other products. I vividly remember sitting on the floor opening each booth and just my hands covered in glass and product and the tears came rolling down my face again!” Elinor said.

She managed to pull through. 

These days, Elinor gets her motivation looking through all of her brand’s  five-star reviews and messages from customers who comment on how Olew hair has helped with their self-confidence and loving their natural hair again.

“It just fills me up with so much joy,” she says, adding that happiness is also derived “remembering that I set my own hours and have nobody to answer to.”

Her advice: “Don’t compare your journey to others, stay focused on your own journey and stay true to yourself and what you are doing.”

Elinor was recently named as a leading 2020 “30 under 30” female entrepreneur.


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