Ranya Khalil and Sara Alemzadeh recently opened up their new dress hire business Designer 24 in the UAE, securing funding from Jabbar Internet Group.
Their story is emblematic of the region opening up to entrepreneurial businesswomen, and Business Review Middle East went backstage to find out more about the duo’s journey.
BR ME: How did you come to form Designer 24? What is your story, how did you meet?
We met through mutual friends while we were both living in London. We instantly connected and became fast friends, sharing a positive attitude, passion for life, entrepreneurial spirit, and most importantly, complementary skills.
We began brainstorming ideas that would answer common needs women share. Soon after Designer-24 was born to offer luxury designer dresses, from cocktail to black tie, for rent at a fraction of the retail price. We partnered with the top international designers to provide the right product…the most coveted looks from the runway each season.
Why the UAE? How successful have you been in your opening few months?
We felt the UAE was the right place to launch given the natural demand for such a service. Dubai has emerged as a global fashion capital and international tourist hub. Understanding the region’s love for luxury fashion and the heavy events calendar of the UAE, we realized there was an opportunity to offer a luxury product at a more affordable price point.
We decided to offer this service online as a way to reach and showcase our collections to a broad audience. Internet penetration and e-commerce is booming in the region and we wanted to be part of this exciting new digital age in the Arab world.
Offering our product online also allowed us to take a very tailored approach to dressing women. We have tried our best to make sure we are providing the right product with top-notch service to make the process as easy and smooth as possible for our customers.
Our opening few months have been very exciting for us, as it is a totally new concept we are introducing to the region. In a short period of time, we have already grown to have our regular customers that rent dresses weekly and even bi-weekly sometimes.
What challenges have you faced in getting this business off the ground?
Naturally we had questions about the viability of rental in an image-driven society. The more we discussed our vision with women in the region, the more we became convinced of the concept - the key being providing a top notch product that solves for an ongoing dilemma women face with their wardrobe.
The women in the Middle East are constantly attending formal functions from weddings and private parties to cultural events. For these events, they usually wear dresses. Women today do not like to be seen in the same dress twice, especially given social media.
The concept of borrowing a dress is not new - celebrities have borrowed dresses for decades. It just makes sense. This is where Designer-24 comes in. It is about changing people’s mindsets. Women of the region are becoming a lot more value driven and realize it is not practical to purchase a dress for every occasion.
Is it becoming easier for women to establish themselves in business in the region?
We have been overwhelmed by the positive response we have received in establishing ourselves in the region. We also recently did a fundraising round and were fortunate enough to secure ideal partners in Jabbar Internet Group.
For us, Jabbar is not just a financial partner but a very strategic one as they have driven the largest e-commerce businesses in the region.
What would you say to other women looking to find their feet in business in the Middle East?
Don’t be afraid to take risks and try what you believe in. At the end of the day, passion and dedication will drive your success. Nothing is black or white, take steps towards testing your thesis and see if it sticks.
What vision do you have of the future?
We see a future where crowdsourced apparel will become mainstream in luxury fashion.
Ranya Khalil and Sara Alemzadeh - taken from www.designer-24.com