“Bonjour! How are you?”
Carinne’s friendly words are followed by her natural warm smile.
While I walk into her studio, two customers are just on their way out, both leaving with KeenBags products and big smiles on their faces.
The journey to having happy customers wasn’t always so straightforward, especially since Carinne had no plans to start her own company at all.
When in 2003 her husband got a job opportunity to work in Dubai, they both made the big decision to leave their home country, France, behind and try to make a new life here with their two children.
“When I came here, I started to learn Arabic, but unfortunately it’s quit hard, so I couldn’t speak it. Luckily I found a job at a French company, for which I had to travel as well. This was how we started to live our new lives here while the twins were 2 years old. I moved a lot in my life, in France we lived first in Paris and later we moved to the South, then back to Paris and then to Dubai. And in Dubai we have moved 6 times as well. But when the time came that my husband wanted to quit his job, I had to make a decision to, either stay in my job and keep my hectic lifestyle with many travelling days, or quit as well so we could make a big lifestyle change. We choose to change and we started by spending 3 months travelling with the kids to South-America. We couldn’t speak a word of Spanish but we did it anyway, travelling by bus to 4 different countries. It was the best decision we made for our family. When we came back to Dubai, there was no job waiting for us, so it was hard at times, but we managed”.
It was in that difficult period that Carinne started to sew more and more again.
“When I was growing up, I learned stitching from my mum, just for pleasure. I used to make many different things, like bags made of oilcloths and table cloths from coated fabrics. I made pouches for my friends and my daughter.
After we came back from our trip, my mind was open and everything was falling into place. Since we had a lack of money, we paid attention to everything. So when we were visiting friends for dinner, I gave them something I had made myself. I started to make bags, aprons, clutches and pouches. My friends started to buy them from me, to give as gifts to other people they knew.
Then one lady invited me to sell at a Christmas market and from there I went to sell at other markets too. We decided to stay in Dubai and I started KeenBags from scratch, I just wanted to give it a try. Of course on the days when I’m not selling so much I’m disappointed. But it’s not only about the business side. Of course if I sell a lot that makes me very happy, but I like to share and meeting so many new and friendly people is a nice surprise”.
The name KeenBags comes from Carinne’s nickname, Keen.
“My mother used to call me Keen for a long time, until I was about 35. Now, when I go to my suppliers, they are the ones calling me Miss Keen.
At first when I started, I made simple wallets from the same fabric used for the gutra, the Arabic headscarf used by men. But they got easily damaged, since it’s a very light and transparent fabric. Then one day I had the idea to put plastic on the outside, for protection. I was lucky to find someone who could do this. Then I placed the lining fabric on the inside. This made all the difference. Now I could make many different items. I started with one, using the plastic, then another one.
Then I made two, and so on. Without having the intention to do so, I turned a men’s accessory into women’s accessories. It is all handmade in the UAE and I use the local fabrics. In fact, the only non-local thing in KeenBags is me!"
These days, KeenBags has expanded with more items in the collection, like the poufs, cushions and bracelets.
I’m very pleased I met Carinne when I just moved to Dubai, two years ago. Seeing how her collection has grown, from her classic bigger sized bags to the stylish small pouches and toiletry bags to a new KeenHome line.
Not only is she creating her home away from home, she’s a true Moksi woman in business as well.