Q&A: Designer 24 Founders Encourage Women to Pursue their Passion in Business
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
Billionaire Kumar Birla Champions Regional Supply Chains
As the head of the Aditya Birla Group, a US$46bn firm that operates in 36 countries, Kumar Mangalam Birla is no stranger to splashy strategic moves. Yet his recent announcement that he no longer wants to acquire globally distributed supply chains stood out. While many companies have struggled to cope with shipping backlogs, his firm has chosen to pivot and focus on regional networks. Said Birla: ‘We wouldn’t look at a company or a business where you source in one corner of the world and sell in another’.
He cited protectionism, the pandemic, and the limited movement of products and people around the world as ABG’s primary causes of lost profits. And they aren’t alone. Over the past year, 900 of the U.S. and Europe’s biggest IT, defence, and financial services firms have lost an average of US$184mn apiece.
An Era of Global Disruption
Over the past few decades, low shipping rates and rapid delivery times have lulled multinational firms into a false sense of security. In the early 2000s, companies chose to take on significant global supply chain risks in exchange for increased profits. First, it made sense to manufacture higher-value goods, such as electronics, in low-cost regions throughout Southeast Asia, India, and Africa. Second, first-tier suppliers started to outsource the manufacturing of specific components to second-, third-, and even fourth-tiers—leaving supply chains with extremely limited visibility.
So when COVID-19 disruptions struck certain regions, companies were caught unprepared. Usually, these events come few and far between. But over the past ten years, we’ve seen a number of ‘black swan’ events that have thrown the supply chain industry into chaos. Here’s a quick history of the most significant events in recent years, thanks to the MIT Sloan Management Review:
- 2010. China creates export quotas for rare earth elements.
- 2011. The Tōhoku Earthquake hits East Japan; flooding sweeps throughout Thailand.
- 2016-present. Trade wars between the U.S. and China hurt suppliers.
- 2020-present. COVID-19 pandemic shuts down international shipping ports.
Now, Kumar Birla is one of many who want to re-evaluate how we run our supply chains. Though his company has acquired 40+ companies in the last quarter decade, Birla intends to build up local hubs rather than expand operations.
Why Pursue Regionalisation?
Combine Chinese economic dominance, global supply chain vulnerabilities, and major government policy shifts around the world, and you have a storm brewing on the horizon for big multinational firms. As Brookings noted, ‘the biggest risk for trading opportunities in the developing world is growing protectionism in more advanced economies, often dressed up as national security protection’.
Altogether, from the U.S. to the European Union, governments are trying to protect their domestic supply chains, secure adequate stockpiles of materials, and build world-class local networks. Consider Biden’s recent executive order, which seeks to bring semiconductor manufacturing back to home soil, or Japan’s bid to open more memory chip fabrication factories near Tokyo. The Aditya Birla Group intends to react in kind. Said Birla: ‘We’re looking at regionalism as a very big theme’.
Will Others Follow Suit?
In the post-pandemic economy, global businesses must decide whether to expand or contract. On one hand, the Alibaba Group’s Cainiao Smart Logistics Network recently launched a direct flight between Hong Kong, China, and Lagos, Nigeria. On the other, the Japanese government is desperate to make its chip manufacturing domestic. Indeed, as two supply chain strategies diverge in a post-pandemic world, the one businesses take may make all the difference.
Yet Birla is confident that regionalisation is the right call. According to his words at the Qatar Economic Forum, even necessary cross-border transactions should be smaller in scope. And as the Bloomberg Billionaires Index now lists his net wealth at US$10.4bn, up 52% from 2020, he may have the cash to test his theories out. ‘Regional hubs, regional presence, regional employment, catering to regional demand’, he stated. ‘We’re a global company rooted in local economics’.