Dress for success: Designer24 interview

The founders of Designer24 explain why their online designer dress hire service is proving so popular
By Neil King
Wed 05 Nov 2014 09:08 AM

Dubai’s lively events circuit and nightlife scene is famous - infamous, perhaps - for its high standards.

Looking good and standing out from the crowd requires social butterflies to keep their eyes open and wallets at the ready, as they hunt down attire that will give them the edge over their peers.

But while some people may be happy to fill their closets with stacks of dresses, there are many others who would prefer to keep things simple. Which is why online designer dress hire service, Designer24, is proving such a hit.

Helping dress women for a variety of occasions, with a variety of different looks, the company provides an easy, hassle-free, option for customers who want to wear high-end fashion but not pay high-end prices.

The brainchild of Sara Alemzadeh and Ranya Khalil, the service works with some of the most cutting-edge designers in the market to keep you on-trend at the touch of a button, delivering dresses to your door ready to wear, and picking them up again either four or eight days later without you having to even start thinking about dry-cleaning them.

It’s a model that has worked well in other parts of the world, prompting the friends and business partners to bring the idea to the UAE.

“It’s a concept we thought would work really well here,” says Alemzadeh.

“We were really thinking about what common problems women faced here, and decided this would solve many issues.”

The duo forged a partnership after meeting in London through mutual friends, agreeing to discuss different business proposals they could work on together.

Khalil says: “When we met we clicked right away and decided to work together. We tried to focus on what we could do differently. We didn’t want to just do retail sales, so we tried to look at things that could change the market out here.

“We put together a business plan, and once that was completed we came out to Dubai to meet different people and hear what they thought about the concept.

“The UAE is a great place to start a business. There’s a lot happening here - it’s an exciting place to be.”

Alemzadeh adds: “The whole business aspect of it was so important. It was a good idea, but we wanted to make sure it would be profitable.

“We did the financials, estimated how much we needed for operations, and decided we would start by self-funding the business.

“Then we had to go and pitch the idea to the designers. For us to do it well, we wanted to partner properly with the designers. If you don’t you’re missing out on potential PR, and we really wanted their support to get exclusive products for the customers - new season dresses, not last season’s.

“We felt that was really important.”

With the company’s warehouse in Jebel Ali boasting some 200 dresses with retail prices ranging from $1,000 to $10,000, the sourcing mission was clearly a success. But process was a lengthy one.

Securing the likes of Marchesa, Greta Constantine and David Koma is no mean feat, and the entrepreneurs have the air miles to prove it.

“It took about six months to a year to do this,” says Alemzadeh.

“We were traveling to Paris, New York and Beirut, talking to designers and presenting our business.

“A lot of them didn’t say yes at first. They wanted to see our brand before doing anything else. So we went through our branding exercise first, which was a really good experience for us.

“We used every angle possible to get meetings with designers - calling, emailing, using connections - anything. We were really pushy about it.

“It took a while to get that first name, but when we got that traction things became easier. Marchesa was really big for us - it’s a very well-known name.”

With the hire price of dresses just 15 percent of the retail price, Designer24 represents an attractive proposal for women, especially as they can be safe in the knowledge that Alemzadeh and Khalil have done the hard graft in making sure the items are on trend.

“Every season we add and hold new collections, which means going to all the big fashion shows,” says Alemzadeh.

Khalil picks up the thread: “Sara does New York and I do Paris. We have a colleague, Noor, who goes to Milan. We will spend a week there and have maybe six or seven meetings per day. It can be quite exhausting!”

Alemzadeh adds: “It’s one of the unglamorous parts of the job - one of the many. The dresses are the glamorous side, everything else is hard work. But it’s work that we love.”

That hard work was made substantially easier in August when the company won investment from one of the region’s most prominent online investors - Jabbar Internet Group.

The size of the deal has not been confirmed, but the group - which has invested in companies including Cobone, Instabeat and PayFort - clearly has faith in Alemzadeh and Khalil’s venture.

Samih Toukan, chairman of Jabbar Internet Group, said in a statement: “We see enormous growth potential for Designer24. The business model is quite unique to the region and we are looking forward to seeing hoe it will disrupt the digital fashion marketplace in the Middle East.”

Discussing the deal with Jabbar, Khalil explained that she and her partner “approached them knowing they were the leading e-commerce people in the region”.

She continues: “They were really responsive to the concept and came back to us in 24 hours. We met with Samih and we got along very well with him.

“He really liked the concept, so we spoke some more and it was all finalised in a couple of weeks. We were really happy - they were the investors we wanted.

“They make their investments in companies that they see as the next big thing, so we’re really happy.”

Alemzadeh adds: “In terms of expertise they are very strategic, not just financial. Everything from the tech side to the marketing side.

“We can go to them with anything and they always respond to us the same day. They are incredibly supportive and helpful.

“It was a huge moment for us. We really believed in what we were doing, but to have Jabbar involved, when you see their track-record – it’s amazing.”

Designer24 made its soft launch in June, giving the founders the summer to “work out the logistics - to work out the kinks,” according to Alemzadeh.

And since then, there has been no looking back.

Alemzadeh continues: “We have been overwhelmed by the positivity we’ve received from people.

“September was when we got really busy. Our current client base is really amazing and we’re working hard to help them spread the word. Some of our clients rent weekly, and that’s what we were really hoping for.

“I think it’s because we make it super easy for customers. You order it and it gets delivered the same day to your door.

“There are two main reasons people come to us. One is that it’s purely practical. Even if a woman can afford to buy the dresses, they would accumulate too many too quickly. These are dresses they would only wear once.

“Secondly, a lot of the designers we hold are not always well stocked in this region. People will often say they don’t have it in their size. We have each dress in every size.”

Khalil adds that different women will use Designer24 for different reasons.

“Take, for example a woman who works and has a young daughter,” she says.

“She might not want to shop in malls all day to find a dress. It’s much easier to shop online, and that’s the case for so many different types of women.”

While the sense of satisfaction at finding these kinds of solutions must be high for Alemzadeh and Khalil, they still admit to having gone through the full gamut of emotions familiar to entrepreneurs.

Having a strong idea does not necessarily mean plain sailing, but as the business partners explain, having each other to lean on definitely helped.

“There are definitely times when you question things,” says Alemzadeh.

“There are bumps in the road, like when you meet with a designer who says ‘no way’. But when you start making traction and share your vision with them, they love it.

“There are times when one of us would feel more negative than the other, so we’ve both had to be the cheerleader for the other at times.”

Khalil adds: “There are ups and downs, for sure. When you get a designer you get excited, but there are always hiccups. It can get frustrating but you just get through it. Everybody must feel this when starting from scratch.”

The support has not just come from each other, and Jabbar, but also from Dubai’s entrepreneurial community in general.

Alemzadeh says: “One of the first things we did here was network with entrepreneurs. There are a lot of new businesses here, and the whole region is in the middle of the digital age, so there’s a lot going on.

“It’s very important to meet people and leverage a lot of these relationships.”

Khalil continues: “People are always ready to help - we’ve met Hosam Arab, one of the founders of Namshi, as well as Fadi Ghandour. It’s amazing to be able to get advice from them.”

With such support behind them, and having made a successful launch, the duo are understandably excited about the future. Not least because of the changes happening in the region.

“Dubai is becoming a global fashion capital,” says Alemzadeh.

“We have D3 [Dubai Design District], Fashion Forward, and Vogue Fashion Dubai Experience, all of which points towards the fact Dubai is an international hub for fashion.

“This is one of the main reasons we came here.”

Khalil adds: “We would like to get UAE to be as strong as it can be, and then we’ll see about where we can go.

“We want to add accessories and make it a one-stop-shop for women, so they only have to have their own shoes.

“Then maybe we will go to other parts of the region, such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.”

The way things have gone for the founders in the first few months, you wouldn’t bet against Designer24 dressing women across the Gulf before you can say Christian Siriano.

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Last Updated: Thu 26 Jan 2017 01:27 PM GST

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