Dubai entrepreneurs dress for success with clothes rental business
By the time Sara Alemzadeh decided to change her career, the finance industry had become an altogether different place in which to work.
The banking crisis had changed everything.
“Things just weren’t what they used to be,” says Ms Alemzadeh, 34, who had worked for Morgan Stanley for a decade by the time she left in 2012.
“And when you work in a corporation it is very difficult to really feel the impact of what you are doing, especially a big established corporation,” says the American of Iranian descent.
However, her roles as an investment banker and an oil trader had given Ms Alemzadeh, who holds an undergraduate degree in mathematics from Georgetown University and an MBA from Columbia Business School, both the confidence and capital she needed to build something from the bottom up.
“I really wanted to feel what I was doing and do something I really enjoyed and felt passionate about,” she says, adding that she knew that involved starting her own business. The only question was what that business would be and where it would be.
The eventual decision was to launch an online designer dress rental company, which became Designer-24.com, in Dubai, with her business partner, Ranya Khalil, whom she met through a mutual friend.
“People in this region are really into fashion. It is a very fashion forward area and there are a lot of trendsetters here. The bloggers are amazing and social media is huge. That is something that also excited us about this region, being able to provide a high-fashion solution,” she says.
Ms Alemzadeh and Ms Khalil had a good understanding of the Middle Eastern market, having both come from the region.
“Ranya comes from an events background and I obviously have a business background, so we discussed various ideas that we thought could work well in the Middle East,” says Ms Alemzadeh.
“She was in London at the time. I was in New York and this was something we thought was a business that would actually solve a real problem that women have here, which is having enough dresses for events.”
The pair set up the company in 2013 but it took a year to get the designers on board – the company acts like a buyer in the same way that a department store would, ordering a full range of sizes six months in advance of the season. The difference is, where a department store sells the dresses, Designer.24 rents them.
“We work directly with the designers and that is really important to us because we want to carry the best stock that they offer and have all the new season collections,” says Ms Alemzadeh.
The website lists the full prices of the dresses next to the rental cost to ensure it is completely transparent with its customers. Typically, the dresses rent anywhere from 5 to 15 per cent of the retail price, costing anything between Dh200 and Dh4,000.
The average rental cost of a dress is, however, at the lower end of the scale at Dh500, and they can be hired for either three, five or eight days.
One dress currently listed on the website, which costs Dh5,580 to buy, can be hired for Dh840 for three days, Dh980 for five days or Dh1,120 for eight days.
“A lot of women travel and they might go to Beirut for the weekend, so having that five-day option is great because they can take it with them for the weekend. In summertime it is very common to go away for the whole week so we offer the eight-day option,” says Ms Alemzadeh.
The company charges a mandatory insurance fee on top of the rental price, usually under Dh40, to repair minor damage to a dress but it reserves the right to charge the full price if a customer keeps the item or damages it so badly it cannot be fixed.
Ms Alemzadeh admits leaving a stable career to set up a company is a risk, but it seems to be paying off.
She will not reveal the company’s turnover, nor the number of dresses it rents out, but says every month is busier than the last, and the company is currently recording monthly growth of about 100 per cent.
“I think any person who decides to leave a stable career and do something on their own, they are obviously walking away from something and taking a risk. So yes, I definitely had to take a step back in my life and that was a conscious decision that I made but you hope you made that decision to be happier,” she says.
“Basically you only do that if you really believe in something and I really believe in this company and that I can make a difference and actually build something incredible here that people want.”
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