Given the amount of brands fighting to secure retail space in Dubai’s buzzing market, it’s no secret that acquiring a spot is a major issue for emerging designers.
Sheikha Maytha Al Maktoum knows the struggle. She experienced it first-hand upon looking for opportunities to display her newly released footwear brand in the city.
Her solution? She bought her own retail space and used it as a platform to help emerging designers who were once in her position. That retail space is now concept boutique BeYou, which she founded in 2012 alongside her sister Sheikha Wafa Al Maktoum, who acts as an advisor for the business.
BeYou now features more than 70 international and regional designers and offers products from perfumes to jewellery and abayas.
We chat to Sheikha Maytha over a sweet chai karak and discuss the difficulties that went behind the creation of BeYou, the benefits it reaped and the challenges that lie ahead.
What’s the story behind BeYou Boutique? Why did you decide to create it?
I had a vision that I would own a boutique which changes with trends and fashion. In college, I finally shared my idea with a few businesspeople, but their reaction was just “Okay, and then what?”. I was constantly challenged with questions and just didn’t know where to start or how to start. Eventually, I started with designing my own flip-flop line, Cotton Candy. I created a website for it, but I still needed a retail space to display it. So I applied to places like Bloomingdales and Harvey Nicholas, but it took a year and several meetings to finally get a spot.
This is when I realised how tough and challenging it is for designers to get a retail space. I also had friends who designed their own abayas, dresses and even perfumes, and all were struggling with the same issue.
This took me back to my idea in college, my idea of starting a concept boutique. I thought this could also be a platform to help emerging designers. So I took up a space opportunity in Jumeirah Plaza and I got designers – everyone from doctors, lawyers, mothers, grandmothers, men – to display their collections in my boutique. It became their platform, a retail space for them. Now we have the collections of more than 70 designers.
You started by helping up and coming regional designers, but you now also feature international designers in your boutique. How does that work for those up-and-coming designers?
It helps them take their line to the next level. For example, we have a local lawyer who designs jewellery and has a jewellery line with us. And we have another jewellery designer called Red Line Paris, who is already established in Paris and worldwide. So we put their collections side-by-side. You know how great it is to have your line next to the line of someone who is already established? It brings their collection to a higher level and higher standard. And this is what we want, to encourage designers.
What differentiates BeYou from other boutiques? What is so special about it?
For me, it is about having a place where you can change your whole outfit in one place and finding pieces no one else has. I love certain brands, but sometimes the clothes are like a uniform – everyone has them. In BeYou, you find one piece that no one has, if it is exclusive. And I try to encourage designers not to overprice their collections too. A lot of boutiques are just too expensive.
Another way it is different is that all our pieces are wearable. Some boutiques have pieces that are just not wearable. Sometimes, you would get a very big bow in the middle of a dress for example. Where would you go out with that? We always ask the opinions of family and friends, we ask “Would you wear this?”.
With regards to special pieces, [one] abaya [we have is] by a French designer who converted to Islam, moved to Dubai and fell in love with abayas. But she’s also a photographer. This is the loop, so she prints her photographs on her abayas.
Did you ever consider designing other lines besides Cotton Candy such as a clothing or jewellery line?
Yes, I did. I designed some jewellery pieces with some designers. We collaborate together, but I would say I’m more of a consultant that helps them figure out what works and what doesn’t. It’s more about giving my feedback and helping them grow.
You mentioned exclusivity earlier. Are all your collections exclusive? If so, how do you maintain that exclusivity?
We help the designers to push them to go to the next level. Three of our designers now have their own outlets as well. And we’re happy about that. So what they do now is they create a separate collection for us that caters only to our customers. Our brands are also loyal to us.
How do you choose your designers?
At the beginning, it was designers I knew from before. It was actually really hard to find designers a couple of years ago because no one had Instagram yet. We wanted to use technology to have a bigger presence. And now we’re creating our own app. It’s our next step.
Are you planning to open another branch of BeYou in Dubai or expand internationally?
We want to expand and go to other locations in Dubai and we applied to several places, we’re just waiting for an okay. The challenge is just that some places want an internationally known brand, so our challenge is prove to them that we can be just as good. And we’ve got products definitely in that level. When we say we’re locals, the malls say, do you want a small kiosk? I say no, we want a boutique. So we want to spread out in the Emirates and across the Gulf.
We had an opportunity to open in France in the first year after we opened, but I said no because it wasn’t the right time. We wanted to grow nationally and then think about going global. We got so many emails from Asia and abroad, but we ship worldwide online. Our abayas are very popular in the US.
We’re also trying to focus on menswear as well now. We have international and local designers in mind for menswear such as tracksuits, shirts and cardigans.
What other challenges did you come across while founding BeYou?
The finances, that’s my challenge. Trying to stay within the budget we have and the location and finding out so many things in the retail business that we did not know about before. Exclusivity is also a challenge. We’ve been talking about this a lot because I don’t want to stop anyone’s business from growing just to retain exclusivity. But we noticed that some things that we had were being distributed in shops that were very close to us.
What about competition? How do you deal with it?
We focus on how we started. We do roadshows in order to be able to stay in the business because business does slow down sometimes due to so much competition. So the way to overcome this was to start roadshows such as Market OTB in Downtown Dubai. We only have one location at the moment and it attracts mostly Emiratis and loyal customers. So the roadshows allow us to reach other audiences and they’ve been working very well.
Would you say most of your customers are Emiratis?
We get locals as well as expats. We had an American woman who came in the other day and bought 10 abayas. I was shocked. I asked her “Why do you want to wear an abaya?”. She said: “When I go to the US, I love to wear abayas at home.” I said: “Why?” She said: “When someone comes suddenly to the house, I don’t know what to wear, so I wear an abaya. It’s like a maxi, black dress and it gives a woman a certain type of class.” So we have got different nationalities come in, definitely.
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