Hanan Mazouzi Sobati, Founder of Arabian Gazelles shares her passion for cars and how she is empowering women in the region through driving
Hanan Mazouzi Sobati’s passion for fast cars was something that had been with her since she was a child, but it was left dormant as she pursued a corporate career and worked for the family business. A mother of two teenagers, Hanan has been living in Dubai for 25 years and it was this city that allowed her to ignite her passion and take it one step further into a business. In 2016 Hanan founded Arabian Gazelles; an all-female supercar club that invited like-minded women who share a passion for fast cars to come together and essentially fulfil their need for speed. Over the last five years, the club has grown into somewhat of a movement that is defying the stereotypes of women. With regular meetups, events and drives, with global recognition from luxury car manufacturers, these women not only drive together but have formed a community that is promoting change in an industry that has traditionally been dominated by men.
Originally from Algeria, Hanan always knew her passion for cars was there, but turning it into a business was only a dream. Living in Dubai allowed her to bring that dream into a reality and she is now inspiring other women to take a leap of faith and follow their passions. Hanan was chosen by Giorgio Armani as part of a new brand initiative, Crossroads. Crossroads highlights 14 inspiring women from around the world to promote female strength and to give a voice to modern women to celebrate their personalities, femininity and capabilities. As part of the project, Hanan was chosen for her passion and fierce spirit that defies the odds of what is expected today. Here we find out more about her journey and the message she is spreading with Arabian Gazelles.
You were born Algeria, and you lived in the UK and in Qatar before settling in Dubai. How much has this variety of places made you the person you are now?
For anyone, living abroad definitely helps to shape their character. The experience, the people they meet along the way, will enrich their lives. And it’s true, living in Algeria, the United Kingdom, Qatar and then Dubai has definitely helped me become the woman you see now.
How important is the energy of Dubai, and the sense of living in a dynamic, ever-changing, global city, to you?
Of course, Dubai has made it so easy for me to pursue the passion that I always had. So yes, Dubai means the world to me, it’s home, it’s where my family is, where my business is and I don’t see myself living anywhere else.
If you had to pick the most important decision you made in your life, what would it be? What options did you have, and what did you ultimately choose to do?
Setting up Arabian Gazelles was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made, simply because I didn’t have a role model, I couldn’t find anyone whose steps I could follow. So, I had to come up with my own concept and just go for it. I was working in the corporate world and we have a family business as well, but all of that did not give me that drive for life. I had to decide to stop doing what I was doing for other people. It was difficult because the family business always needs you, but I had to step back and find myself, before again being able to give back. It was a decision I took alone, but thankfully I had all the support I needed to make it happen.
Setting up Arabian Gazelles was a sheer product of my passion for cars. I believe when I share my passion, I double my happiness. It’s a selfish thing actually! So, I wanted to find women who have the same passion so we can all grow together.
Do you ever have regrets for past decisions? If so, what would be one specific regret you’d want to share with us?
No, I don’t have regrets. In life there are no regrets, there are only experiences. This is how I like to see it. Nobody goes through life without the experiences that in my opinion, are paramount to the growth of the person. I feel that sometimes things might not have gone as I wished, but definitely, I came out of it as a more experienced person, moving closer to the goals that I set myself.
How do you manage to balance your work life with your private life?
There is no science to having a work/life balance. What I do is periodically review the situation and adapt. Having two teenagers demands different amounts of attention at different times. You cannot be too involved in their lives and you cannot be completely out of their lives. So, when they need me, I’m there, I review how much they need me and I go with the flow. What is consistent for me is having ‘me time” which I get through my passions. This is the only way for me to keep that balance and keep my sanity as well!
In 2016 you founded Arabian Gazelles, the first supercar club for women in the Emirates. You said you were not inspired, but rather frustrated to start this, because of a world that you felt kept you out. When and how did you decide it was time to change things?
When I decided to set up Arabian Gazelles in 2016, I knew that I was going to face challenges because I was entering a male-dominated industry. The more challenging the situation was, the more rewarding it was for me to keep ongoing. So really my passion was fuelling this drive. There were of course people who were not happy seeing us enter this world. Honestly, they didn’t know what to expect, so I don’t blame them as it was something that has not been done before. But thankfully, we have proved that we have the same passion as men do when it comes to cars, and we are not competing with anyone, we are just creating a world for women to live out this passion beautifully and bond together around these beautiful cars.
When was your love for fast cars born?
My love and passion for cars has always been with me ever since I can remember. I used to play with my brother’s cars and put Barbies on them! For a kid, my favourite show on TV was Formula One. But the passion really took shape when I moved to Dubai where I could really live it and find like-minded women who could join me on the journey.
Your family and your husband helped you and supported you, but you received a lot of resistance in a traditionally male-centered world like that of car racing. Did you ever feel like giving up, and why didn’t you?
I indeed received all the support I needed from my husband, my family and my friends, but obviously, when you do something for the first time you are bound to face objections and resistance. But the funny thing is, that the more I was faced with people questioning my passion and the existence of the club, the more I was happy to convert them, and this is exactly what happened. People come to me and they want to understand. Sometimes they come across really curious about the concept and sometimes they are a flat ‘no’. They say it’s just a club of rich women, you hear a lot of things. But of course, once I get the chance to prove them wrong or to explain what we are all about, they become our biggest fans and supporters. I love finding people who still don’t understand the concept because it’s a chance for me to explain to them what it is we’re doing and where this passion comes from.
A great moment: the first women-only track day at Dubai Autodrome. Tell us about it.
The first ever event that we organised was a track day. It was the first time that women took over the Dubai Autodrome. I wanted to put women who didn’t even know they had this passion behind the wheel of a supercar, and this is where most of them realised that they could develop this passion. Because sometimes you might not have a passion because you were not given an opportunity to try it. These women had never drive fast cars before, they had been told it was dangerous etc. and this experience gave them the confidence they needed to drive. This was the first women’s-only track day with supercars, and it was an experience that I still remember. From that experience, a lot of women decided to join the club and go and buy their own cars. The cars that they’ve always been told they can’t drive and that they are better off in ‘safe’ options. So we gave them the choice to try and if they liked it they could continue to grow this passion even further.
What started as your passion became a movement. Did you ever expect Arabian Gazelles would bring so many women to feel more empowered?
Empowering women became a bi-product of Arabian Gazelles. I didn’t decide to create something that empowers women, actually for me, women don’t need anybody to empower them, but the fact that creating this platform allows them to network with like-minded women and live this passion fully empowers them somehow. Some people say it’s a movement, I say it’s a platform. We are just creating this, not only for the women in the area but ultimately throughout the world. Women who have this same passion and will drive for change. We are not only about cars. What started as a car club has become a platform or movement for change. We are changing mindsets and looking for better ways to serve the community and to do charity drives. So, we cannot say it is just a car club anymore. It has grown from that to being a platform for change.
Today carmakers are inviting you to share ideas and opinions on their new models. Are things changing in the car world too?
I have been lucky to have been to test drive different cars around the world and yes, I gladly see the shift in the mindset coming from car manufacturers who now understand that there is this group of women who can afford their cars and yet, they have not been spoken too by the industry. So, what they are doing now which is lovely to see, is inviting Arabian Gazelles for round table discussions. We have the first look at concept cars, we finally have a voice, and we are being heard. Previously, the only women you would see at automotive events were hostesses ushering people around, no drivers, no women being taken seriously. So now, they see us they know we want to drive, and we are here not to be ignored anymore. We still have some way to go, but we are already happy to see this change happening in the industry.
How would you describe yourself in one word?
For women who would like to be part of Arabian Gazelles what is the criteria?
To be part of Arabian Gazelles, first of all, you have to be a woman! And you need to own a supercar. We sit with the members and vet them personally because we want these members to bring something to the club. No matter how many cars you have or what you can afford, at the end of the day it’s a club of like-minded women. It’s an exclusive association where the members can meet and exchange ideas and really work on changing this industry, so we want to make sure that the women joining the club have the same mindset.
How would you describe Arabian Gazelles in one word?
It’s a voice and a choice – it’s two words!
Editor In Chief: Lara Mansour Sawaya
Fashion Director: Lindsay Judge
Photography: Ziga Mihelcic
Hair and makeup: Sophie Leach
Location: Armani Hotel, Dubai
All clothing by Giorgio Armani, Spring/Summer 2021 collection.