Natalia Shustova can recall cutting her sleeves from school uniforms. She’s never been a conformer. “I always wanted to stand out,” Shustova says. The 44-year old Belarusian lawyer, Shustova, is now part of the creative revolution taking place in Dubai’s high-gloss capital.
Dubai’s reputation is one of luxury business. However, it does not have the flair and risk-taking associated with artistic ventures. Many of the high-end businesses in the region expanded to Dubai only once they’d proved lucrative. Shustova continued that pattern, however her business was entirely hers. After building a reputation as a social media fashion influencer, she launched her creative floral-design company, Goshá, in Dubai in 2020 with almost instant success. The first task she was given? Louis Vuitton Fashion Show: Flower display
The resilience needed to create a new life and a new business in a new city comes from Shustova’s upbringing. When she was 7 years old, Chernobyl was 140 miles away from her home. It was there that she experienced a massive radiation leakage and a nuclear meltdown. Her family’s lives were forever changed. “We only ate canned food. It was very traumatic,” she says. “Forty percent of my classmates are now dead.”
The family moved to Siberia, where Shustova’s love of nature was born. “We had 10 months of winter and then 40 days of spring, summer, and autumn during which everything blooms, then dies,” she says. “The power of nature is incredible.”
Shustova arrived first in Dubai in 2006. She was a qualified lawyer but could not speak English. “I was a fashionable, blond, 26-year-old Russian [speaking] girl with no idea who she was,” she says now. A local real estate law firm hired her to work with Russian–speaking investors, and she eventually became a partner, allowing her to indulge her passion for luxury fashion. Prada was impressed by her creativity and spending habits. They invited her front row seat at the 2016 Milan Fashion Show. “Runway shows were the most beautiful theater I’d ever seen, and I wanted to be connected to this world,” she says.
The platform came from social media and, as she grew her online presence, more paid collaborations were possible with major brands. She had decided to become a full-time florist designer by 2016, after quitting law. “I’ve watched Natalia come up, and she has remained authentic, which is really cool,” says Pratyush Sarup, content director at Architectural Digest Middle East. “She has a good eye for design and also good taste, and both are bookended by an encyclopedic knowledge of fashion.”
Since launching Goshá, Shustova has become a well-known presence in a growing boutique artistic community in Dubai. She says that the city was the ideal environment to help her develop an unusual career. “Nothing is impossible in Dubai. No one is there to stop you, they’re there to push you forward,” she says. “Creative people are made to feel welcome here.”
TIME’s Destination Dubai series is presented by DUBAI
See the video at time.com/DestinationDubai
This article appears in TIME’s July 4, 2022 issue.
Here are more must-read stories from TIME