x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Kaleidoscope of chic items for Dubai online entrepreneur

The Life: Mimi Shakhashir, the former co-owner of popular Dubai shop O'de Rose, has taken to e-commerce to sell her creations of Middle Eastern chic.

Mimi Shakhashir launched Kaleidoscope to sell her work, and that of other other artists with a flair for regional demands. Razan Alzayani / The National
Mimi Shakhashir launched Kaleidoscope to sell her work, and that of other other artists with a flair for regional demands. Razan Alzayani / The National

A small, one-room structure by the swimming pool in Mimi Shakhashir's Dubai villa is her crowded creative space.

Packed wall-to-wall and stumbling out of the racks and ready to go on sale are stacks of clothes and bags in hot Pop Art colours that she has designed. Jewellery she had picked up during her travels, and ottomans made from fabric sourced from Uzbekistan are pushed to the side to make a small clearing in the middle of the room.

One of the items is a scarab necklace that Ms Shakhashir spotted in Egypt.

And then there is a board with pin-ups of fashion articles and hurriedly-jotted tips for entrepreneurs.

"I am a mother first, then a crazy fashion designer and then a businesswoman," she says.

The former co-owner and co-founder of O'de Rose, a popular Dubai store that sells Middle Eastern chic, started out on her own after she parted ways with the company two years ago. In June, she started her own e-commerce platform Kaleidoscope by Mimi that sells her work, as well as from other artists with a flair for the regional demands.

High income levels and the penetration of internet are helping in the success of e-commerce platforms not only in the UAE, but across the Arabian Gulf, analysts say.

"There is a large potential market in the UAE and this is the reason many start-ups are taking the initiative," says Mohammed Al Shawwa, the acting research manager at the Amman-based Arab Advisors Group, which is a member of the Arab Jordan Investment Bank Group. There is an increase in awareness and entry of private electronic payment players that are also helping the trend, he says

For Ms Shakhashir, 43, the website grew out of a need to showcase her products - clothes, bags and jewellery - and tell the stories behind some of them. "One of my proudest is embroidery products from India," she says.

These are done by children of Food For Life Foundation in Vrindavan. The children stitch urban art symbols such as Fatima's hand, skulls, cracked lips or the Evil Eye on woven ikat and tie-and-dye fabric. These pieces are then made into evening pouches that sell for US$125 to $155 online.

The children, Ms Shakhashir, says, have advanced their skills so much that they are now ready to work on more complicated products.

The website has also helped her to step into wholesale business outside the UAE and expand her presence abroad.

She is getting a number of requests for wholesale through the website and four boutiques - in Cannes, Jeddah, Oman and Jordan - have placed orders.

Her total average monthly revenue varies between Dh50,000 to Dh120,000, depending on the seasons in Dubai and around the world. A distributor in Italy, and three outlets in Dubai, including Galleries Lafayette at Dubai Mall, retail her work.

Ms Shakhashir may be a talkative designer, but she is a cautious businesswoman. She still works from her small poolside room in Jumeirah, has avoided renting retail space, and does not overstock. When she travels and picks up fabric, she does enough for two items per piece of fabric to maintain its exclusivity. She employs two tailors, hiring more if necessary.

"I am still feeling my way through," she says of her independent business.

To save money on in-house website upkeep, she hired Be-Unique, a company that specialises in search engine optimisation and social media advertising, two months before the launch of the online retail platform. Be-Unique also manages the technical side of the website.

The e-commerce platform uploads close-up pictures of the dresses and jewellery from various angles for the potential customers to have a better look at the items.

"My brand is for people who know who they are," she says.

For her, necessity is the mother of creation.

Her daughter, she says, doesn't like anything available in the market.

"So I said, let's design a teen collection with attitude. "I have the fabric, and the tailors, and it's also something that bring us closer."