When Sara Alemzadeh received a last-minute invitation to attend the wedding of a cousin of her good friend Ranya Khalil, she almost didn’t go for want of a good dress for the occasion.
Ranya convinced Sara to borrow a dress from one of her friends for the occasion, but that episode gave the two a multi-million-dollar business idea.
For, not everyone has a friend from whom they can borrow a dress (especially one that fits them).
“That’s when we realised we should start a platform for women where they can rent dresses online,” says Sara, co-founder and chief executive officer of Designer-24, which offers designer dresses on demand, for rent.
Everyone sure wants to look stylish and trendy all the time, but life in a vibrant city like Dubai is a big, long party itself – at least that’s what non-Dubaiites believe.
To maintain that style and standard in Dubai needs a deep pocket and an open wallet. Keeping up with the Khans also requires a never-ending closet full of dresses, which are of course worn just once or twice. To keep things simple and fill this gap, Sara and Ranya launched Designer-24 in the UAE in 2014, and expanded into Lebanon last summer.
“Initially, we launched Designer-24 by working directly with designers to rent out their new season dresses. Now, we have expanded the platform to allow women to lease out their dresses as well,” adds Ranya, co-founder and president of Designer-24. “The journey has been a tough yet exciting one. We have focused on providing a strong product to serve the community and a top-notch customer experience,” Sara says.
The concept of borrowing a dress is not new – designers have lent dresses to celebrities and influencers for decades. But the duo has taken it to common women in the UAE.
“Designer-24 is the Middle East’s first online designer fashion rental company, started to revolutionise the fashion retail space and meet the region’s high demand for dresses by allowing women to rent hundreds of designer dresses for the price of buying ten,” says Sara.
“With social media creating heightened awareness of what we wear, women want a revolving closet. We provide the door,” she says.
“We recently added an on-demand service in Dubai where women can book up to three styles of dresses with backup sizes (total six dresses) to receive within an hour. Think Uber of Fashion to solve every woman’s last minute clothing dilemma. The driver waits for 30 minutes while the customer tries the dresses in the comfort of her own home, office or hotel. She only pays for the dresses she keeps,” Sara said.
She says Designer-24 is planning to launch an app soon to make the booking process more seamless for their customers.
“We are also expanding into new products, including fur coats and accessories. In terms of geography, we are planning to expand our reach to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan,” Ranya says.
According to A.T. Kearney’s latest report, the GCC has the potential to become the world’s fastest growing e-commerce playground with the market predicted to quadruple its value to $20 billion by 2020.
“We are so excited about the direction of the business. Our community continues to expand as we scale and increase our product range,” Sara says. Designer-24 has a wide range of designer dresses to rent, from contemporary and more affordable diffusion lines that start at Dh100 to rent a dress that retails for Dh1,000 up to couture gowns that rent at Dh3,000 for a dress that retails for Dh30,000.
Sara says that the digital transformation and rise of social media has changed the entrepreneurial landscape completely. It’s much easier now to launch a viable product.
“You see a lot of businesses launching on Instagram and Facebook. Marketing has also changed as these channels have become increasingly relevant to the masses,” says Sara.
Noor Breish, fashion director of Designer-24, says the amazing thing about this region is that women are never underdressed, from lunches to dinners, house parties, and store launches to events.
“We offer dresses for any type of occasion and our bookings are quite evenly split between less formal fun evening cocktail dresses and long gowns for more formal events,” Noor says.
Sara said right now her number one priority is growing and scaling the business. She hushes out the talk about her initial funding as her firm is in talks to raise funds for further expansion in the region.
“We are lucky to have amazing investors on board, including Jabbar Internet Group and MEVP,” is all she says.
Samih Toukan, chairman of Jabbar Internet Group, says: “We see high growth potential for Designer-24. We invested in this company as the business model is quite unique to the region and Designer-24 has a great team. We are looking forward to seeing how they will continue to disrupt the digital fashion marketplace in the Middle East.”
Sara urged entrepreneurs to be patient and build a network of entrepreneurs and friends in the start-up community. “Find a partner with different skills than yours. The key is to complement each other,” Sara concludes.