The Fashionable Life of UAE Entrepreneurs

VIVA chats to three local fashion entrepreneurs about how they launched their dream business online...
ByBrittany SingletonThursday , 09 October 2014
The Fashionable Life of UAE Entrepreneurs
© ITP Images

Haya Dabbagh
Owner, Gingerlining 

Tell us about how you set up Gingerlining? 

I think that I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart. I know that a lot of people end up taking a degree in business management because they don’t know what else to study, but believe it or not, I actually chose it because I loved it and I especially loved reading the case studies and the success stories in our program books and I always thought to myself, one day my success story is going to be in one of those books. I get so inspired by accomplishments especially after failures or extreme challenges. I guess different people are motivated by different things in life. I feel that this is what gives me an adrenaline rush, a challenging business journey, probably even more than the finish line itself.

Tell us about the online concept? 

I believed in the concept of Gingerlining and the need for it. An online fashion destination that would cut to the chase by offering only the latest in fashion at affordable price points and that is adamant about delivering top notch customer service. An online store where every piece stands on its own, tells a story, and makes a style statement; from the casual top to the cocktail dress. 

You obviously have a huge passion for fashion, tell us how that developed?

It didn’t start that way. I didn’t grow up the kind of girl who would wear her mum’s high heels as a kid or wore make up at 16. I still don’t actually unless there’s a special occasion. I believe that with knowledge, always, comes passion.

What are some of the advantages of selling online? 

I guess that the most obvious advantage is that one can reach more customers than those who can simply walk through the doors of a store. An online store eliminates the barriers of travel and parking which discourages some potential shoppers from conventional shopping. Of course, with online shopping people have the option to sell worldwide. Another great thing about online selling is managing supply based on demand. We can always gauge customer’s demand for items and quickly restock accordingly especially from vendors who are within proximity and who can supply on short notice. Online stores never close! We can sell on public holidays, 24/7. We have no constraints on working hours, mall timings. Our customers can shop in their pyjamas, while waiting for their kids to brush their teeth or in between TV commercials.

Kunal Kappor
Founder, Luxury Closet 

Tell us about how you went into setting up The Luxury Closet?

The idea for The Luxury Closet came about when I was thinking of setting up a business in Dubai. My previous work experience had been at Louis Vuitton, which meant I really understood the luxury industry well. I wanted to set up a business that had a real problem to solve – that was a niche in the market. While filtering through ideas, something that stood out was the issue ‘why can we sell a pre-owned Mercedes, but can’t sell a pre-owned Hermes bag’. I explored the idea and found that it existed in some countries. I researched further and decided on starting the business online, rather than a retail store. 

Was it difficult being a male in female dominated industry to be recognized with your peers?

Although most of our clients are female, as an industry, to work in luxury fashion is very diverse. I feel that if you share the passion for luxury, designer brands, and exceptional customer service, your customers will be able to identify with you, regardless of whether you’re male or female. 

How do you source your products?

All our items come from sellers in the area. We offer free pickup of designer items from any country in the Middle East. While some clients like to refresh their collections frequently and use The Luxury Closet to do this, others are looking to sell luxury items to get the cash they invested in these items back. I use the word investment carefully as luxury items retain significant value even after years of ownership. 

You have an option for people to sell their items – is there ever a case where you see items that you don’t want to part with?

At The Luxury Closet, we get to see the most beautiful and rare luxury products as well as some amazing bargains and interesting finds. It is very normal for someone on our team to find a dream bag or watch. However, when the item does sell we are very happy for our clients because someone will own it. We do also have a certain standard at The Luxury Closet though, so each piece needs to go through a rigorous process ensuring that the quality is up to scratch. 

What would be your dream splurge if you had endless money?

I think it would probably be a beautiful home to live in. We spend a lot of time in our homes, and a refreshing and stress reducing environment really does go a long way. 

What has been the advantage of selling online?

For our business, we find that selling online is the most effective way of running our company. The process is extremely simple for the seller as all they need to do is submit one picture and we take care of the rest. Sellers can also manage their items from their online account. 

What is the biggest advantage for buyers? 

The advantage is the ability to find their perfect fit from the over 4000 unique items that we have online. If you don’t find what you are looking for, you can set alerts, or get on our email list to keep track of the new items that are added every day. 

What is the biggest lesson you have learnt since setting up your own company?

We have grown from a one-man show, to a team of 14 exceptional individuals since we started. I think the biggest lesson has been how to source amazing talent, and how to lead a high performance team and build a thriving environment. Although we are far from our goals, The Luxury Closet is still a great place to work. 

What advice would you give to other budding entrepreneurs?

Firstly, find an idea that can scale and build a large company. Secondly, be realistic and surround yourself with people who will be honest with you. If your idea doesn’t work, find a way to pivot, quickly. If that doesn’t work, be objective, as you may need to take some difficult steps forward. 

What are your plans for rest of the year with the brand?

The Luxury Closet has plans to majorly expand its business in the coming year. We are in the process of closing a new funding round, expand our team as well as expand our marketing and operations. Most importantly, we are going to work hard on delivering a much better experience overall, to our very valuable clients.

Monika Debowski
Founder, Esswara

What was it that inspired you to set up  the website?

I spent 1.5 years as the Head of Operations at a Dubai-based startup in beauty, and it was the most professionally fulfilling job I’ve ever had. I had the chance to work closely with the founders and participate in strategic decisions – it made me realize that it was a challenge I wanted to take on myself one day. I discussed the idea of our own company, and we realized that e-commerce was a great venture, and that there was a gap in the fashion accessories niche. 

How do you think selling online differs to selling in a physical store?

In short, we look at shopping online as an opportunity to be present in everyone’s home – be accessible to everyone. It also allows us to carry a wide range of products without worrying about ‘shelf space’. We think it’s also a richer experience, convenient and fun for our customers!

What is your philosophy when it comes to choosing pieces for the site – what is the overall aesthetic?

We were lucky enough to hire an amazing buyer who studied at Polimoda in Italy and has some experience buying for the Ferragamo online store. We made a conscious decision about the style and aesthetics of the site and the profile of our target market, and we make sure that each designer fits this style. Our best rule is that we choose pieces that we would wear ourselves. 

Of course, we also look at price – we offer a range of prices, but overall we aim to keep our products priced under Dhs2000 with an average item cost of Dhs300. 

Can you tell us about a personal fashion indulgence that you’ve purchased from the site?

I like to make sure our items are always available for our customers first, but I picked two gorgeous items to wear to my wedding. Bounkit is one of our more luxurious designers, and makes the most beautiful earrings from semi-precious stones – I chose pearl and quartz drop earrings for my ceremony. We’ve also made a great addition to our store with a brand called Rocks and Ice, which is created by a designer based in Dubai. Her statement necklaces are flawless, and I wore one piece to my wedding ceremony (it matched perfectly with the dress).

Tell us about the challenges you faced in setting up your own business?

I’m sure has faced the same challenges as other small businesses –assigning resources to the right activities, choosing the right partners, or administrative delay. Our main challenge has been finding the right, motivated talent to join our company. Whether full-time or freelancer, we like to make sure everyone feels the energy and understands the tone of Esswara. 

What advice would you give to other budding entrepreneurs?

Be willing to get a little messy - it can get time-consuming and expensive to bring everything to 100%! Not everything has to be perfect before it goes public – sometimes the 80/20 approach is the best way to complete a task, or you can release a ‘beta’ version of something on your site to see how customers will react to it before working on it further.  

What is an achievement or milestone that you feel particularly proud of relating to your business?

We just launched to the rest of the GCC and are really excited to get feedback from our customers in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi!

What lies in the future for – any exciting developments you can share with us?

We’ve just designed our first line of Esswara jewellery with a Dubai jeweller – it’s a small line of necklaces and bracelets that customers can customize to their own tastes!

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