It takes strength and a unique perspective to view a childhood spent in a war zone as one that is character building, and for Serbian born Jelena Jakovljevic Bin Drai, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Raised by teachers, Jelena was encouraged to pursue all the avenues that interested her and this led to her focusing on education, architecture and business. But it was while studying for her Masters that she got her break in the modelling industry at the tender age of 19. It was through this that she understood the competitive spirit that was a part of the business side of the industry and it allowed her to hone her skills. 15 years on and Jelena’s thirst for a new challenge was met when she decided to become an entrepreneur and use her extensive knowledge of the fashion industry to give her the edge she needed.
Since then, Jelena has launched beauty salons (Vanilla and Chocolate), a five-star nursery (Asya’s Nursery), a multispecialty health clinic (Al Das Medical Clinic) and even created her own fashion label (Duchess by Jelena). Through all of this she ensured that being a wife and a mother never came second. But it has come with its own set of challenges, “Every new business has its challenges and this was certainly no different with each of my ventures. As with any business start-up however, you continue to grow and develop throughout the process. Obstacles will always come along but it is finding ways around these obstacles that ultimately define you as an entrepreneur,” she explains with an example drawn from her trials faced with Duchess by Jelena, “finding good tailors is something that was, and still continues to be, a challenge. I’m very particular about how each of my dresses are constructed and I always want each design to be finished to the highest standard. This is a strong part of my work ethos, not just as a designer but also as a business woman, and I want all my businesses to offer the highest standards possible.”
It is this drive to maintain the highest standard that motivates Jelena to constantly move forward and while she says that it is hard to explain what her future plans are, she is concentrating on fine tuning each of her businesses, “I pride myself on ensuring that all of my businesses are the best that they can be; as with everything in life, you get out what you put in. As well as fine-tuning my businesses, I am currently looking for the best location for my new Asya’s Nursery and I’m also incredibly busy with my fashion label, Duchess by Jelena, both of which are keeping me occupied for the time being.”
FAMILY COMES FIRST
In the end, Jelena believes that no one knows your family’s needs better than you and that’s how she draws inspiration for her ventures. “While my first business ventures were Chocolate by Jelena and sister spa, Vanilla by Jelena, all of my businesses have grown from my need, or my family’s need, for something. The concept for Duchess by Jelena was launched from my own desire for conservative yet stylish clothing, whilst Asya’s Nursery was developed to provide the perfect nursery for my daughter. Similarly, Al Das Medical Clinic and gourmet grocer, Milk & Honey, were developed to fill gaps in the market,” she explains.
And while her days are always hectic with juggling various responsibilities, Jelena believes that good organisation and a great team are key to balancing everything in her life. “I have a great support network that share my work ethic and who I am able to delegate tasks to, trusting that each job will be completed to the highest standard. I also try as much as possible to plan my business meetings in the mornings so that I can dedicate my afternoons to my children whenever possible,” After all, family comes first.