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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 February 2019

Generation Start-up: a graphic designer putting her flourish on weddings is about to go digital

Love X Design is a self-funded enterprise creating bespoke invitations and customised table decor

Rebecca Teece, founder of Duba-based start-up Love X Design. Reed Mohammed/The National

As most who have tied the knot know, making sure everything is right on the "big day" - down to the finest details - is no mean feat.

From the venues to wedding cars, flowers to cake, colour-themes to banners and menus, the list of elements to bear in mind is daunting. Among them are the "little things" such as personalised invitations, reception signage and customised table decor that can make the difference between a truly wonderful day and a slap-dash, scatter-gun affair.

That's where the Dubai-based start-up Love X Design (pronounced "Love By Design") comes in.

Launched about 18 months ago by Rebecca Teece, who had been a freelance graphic designer in Dubai for some time, Love X Design aimed to take advantage of what Ms Teece saw as an opportunity in the local wedding industry, which includes other players such as Elegant Moment and Wedding Champs.

"I like to think that [Love X Design's] relatively inexpensive items - in the grand scheme of a total wedding cost - go a long way towards creating the ‘magic’ feel of a wedding – and that’s because I know exactly what can be achieved with print when it’s designed well and used properly," she tells The National.

"There weren’t that many providers [of such wedding items] and the ones that did exist at the time were, for the most part, prohibitively expensive."

And this region is a hot spot in terms of the marriage business. The Middle East accounts for 5 per cent of the global destination wedding industry, which is valued at Dh330 billion, with the UAE ranking among the top destinations for couples in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, a survey by Dubai-based event organiser QnA International showed last year.

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Having secured a trade licence to operate as a graphic designer beforehand, Ms Teece was able to make her move into the market.

In addition to her graphic design career, she had previously created wedding stationery for friends, family and for her own wedding in Dubai, from the invitations through to the on-the-day details. These included items such as engraved, miniature cheese boards, which Ms Teece says became a talking point at her own wedding, and individual scented candles offering a couple’s signature scent.

"After the great response to these projects, I saw an opportunity to offer high-quality, well-designed event stationery at a reasonable price," she says.

And it didn't stop there. "We’ve also branched out to other events – our range of baby shower items, for example, has become extremely popular. But at the core of the company there’s still this perfect blend of stand-out design, high-quality print and fair pricing."

Ms Teece says her background in design was a major benefit in starting the company. "My husband will tell you that I’m print-obsessed, and I think that probably goes some way to explain why I set up Love X Design," she says.

The launch of the company was entirely self-funded, Ms Teece says, as she had saved enough for a new trading licence and to cover opening costs. After that the company was soon able to start taking on what she describes as "more exciting projects for bigger weddings and events".

"About a year in, looking to expand the concept, I raised just under Dh100,000 in capital from family and savings," she says.

That investment was for the development of shuufti.com, an e-commerce platform for Love X Design.

When it launches in the next few months, Shuufti.com will digitise the quote and design process; so rather than the company coming up with something bespoke for the client, there will be hundreds of options to choose from online. The user can then find the designs or items that best fit the themes of their event, customise them online and click to order and have everything delivered.

With a large collection of pre-made invitations and on-the-day item designs to choose from – for a range of events including regional holidays – shuufti "brings high-quality stationery to UAE consumers that will work for a range of budgets", Ms Teece says.

She hopes that the site will eventually host exclusive designs from regional artists - acting as a hub for the region’s design community.

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Ms Teece says the way Love X Design works is intentionally simple, designed to make it as stress-free as possible for clients who are probably already fairly stressed.

"After being briefed on the event and determining budget, we come up with a set of designs and items that we think will best fit the event," she says. "It’s a completely bespoke, boutique service – every client and every project is different, and we pride ourselves on having a good sense of what will work for each project. After the designs are approved, we’ll go ahead with production, and the finished items are hand-delivered to the customer."

Regarding the cost of the service, Ms Teece says it all depends on the materials clients want to work with, and "what little flourishes you want to add to the printing".

This could be embossed monograms or printed vellum wraps. Invitations don’t necessarily need to be made out of paper, Ms Teece says, and the firm works with suppliers who create designs out of acrylic and wood - "the possibilities are endless".

Love X Design and shuufti are still in their infancy relatively speaking and capital expenditures have already been incurred. Ms Teece says these have been as self-funded as possible, "so we’re not even in the early seed round yet".

Once shuufti.com is up and running, she says the firm will decide whether it should be taken to the investment community to secure funding for growth.

However, the original Love X Design will continue as it is - now a strong brand with reasonable rates and recurring business, Ms Teece says.

"That bespoke side of the company will still carry on, but the next big stage is to launch shuufti online so that we can expand our addressable market. We’ll be launching that in the UAE within the next few months, and by the end of the year, we hope to be able to serve the rest of the GCC."

She says that given her operation is extremely lean, and most costs are marginal, she hopes to be able to achieve this expansion "through our own revenues, rather than having to take outside investment. That said, if an investor likes what we’re doing, we’d always be happy to talk".

One of the biggest challenges in the beginning was pricing, Ms Teece says.

"The company’s raison d'être has always been to provide beautiful stationery at a reasonable price. But the work we produce is still very much premium-quality. Finding that balance so that we were attractive to those looking for affordable luxury was quite difficult, but after our first few projects, we worked out what we think is the sweet spot."

Ms Teece says her next opportunities will come from expanding to the wider Middle East region.

It could well prove a lucrative move.

"If you look at most of the wedding jobs we do, we estimate that the average couple spends up to 5 per cent of their wedding budget on stationery. If you extrapolate that out to our total addressable market – in the UAE alone – that’s a $50 million per year opportunity," Ms Teece says.

So when does she feel she'll be will able to say she has achieved all she set out to achieve with the business?

"I’ll let you know when I find out" is her succinct answer.

Updated: January 20, 2019 08:56 AM

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