February 2013
The Business Of Fashion

Warning: getimagesize(images/article/body_20130204052940_styleguru_lede.jpg) [function.getimagesize]: failed to open stream: No such file or directory in E:\Domains\b\bold-mag.com\user\htdocs\classicarticle.php on line 113
Going from the business of fashion to starting her own fashion business, style entrepreneur Rasha Khouri’s online store is a one-stop destination for luxury

By Daria El Samad

A fter years of experience in the luxury good market, Lebanese born Rasha Khouri set out to start her own online fashion business. DIA Boutique was the first online shopping site that catered to English and Arabic speaking users at the same time, showcasing up-to-the-minute luxury fashion items. A globe trotter, Khouri spent her time between fashion capitals New York, London and Paris, studying at Brown and INSEAD universities in the US and France before venturing into her new business. She now scours the market worldwide for independent and unique designers that she sets up on her portal and showcases globally.

How did you get into the fashion industry?

I’ve always been interested in the business of fashion as well as fashion itself. After investment banking, I worked as a luxury goods analyst at UBS in London and I covered brands like Burberry and Tod’s, Yves Saint Laurent, Gucci and Hermès. Starting my own online fashion business was a natural progression.

How did the idea of your first business DIA-BOUTIQUE.com come about? What inspired you to start it?

I have always spent a lot of time traveling in the Middle East and around the world and I’ve seen some wonderful artisanal and unique designs which could have little or no exposure outside the city they were made. On DIA-BOUTIQUE.com site we work with independent designers from around the world including many from the Middle East and the buying team is always scouting for new ones. We market DIA-BOUTIQUE.com to a global audience who appreciates handcrafted and distinctive items.

What’s the difference between the DIA-BOUTIQUE.com and your second venture DIA-style.com?
Both sites are complementary, being both in the fashion arena with both sites in English and Arabic. DIA-BOUTIQUE.com is aimed at a global marketplace whilst DIA-style.com is purely for the Middle East. DIA-BOUTIQUE.com is a marketplace for independent designers whilst DIA-style.com is a social commerce site for luxury fashion. DIA-style.com aggregates over 50,000 items of on-season and on-trend, ready-to-wear and accessories from over 1,200 brands like Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo, Lanvin, Burberry, Fendi, Givenchy and Stella McCartney.

Why did you decide to launch a new site?
I decided to launch DIA-style.com last year for a few reasons. I saw we were reaching a ’tipping point’ for e-commerce in the Middle East and that consumers were becoming more confident in shopping online. I could see this myself from increased orders from the region on our DIA-BOUTIQUE.com site. Industry reports from VISA and Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) back this up and in fact predict that by 2015 the online retail market in GCC countries will have grown to $15 billion, compared to $3.3 billion in 2010. I was at the Wamda conference in Jordan last year where Aramex said that they had seen e-commerce shipments grow by 300%. Also, I could see that there was a gap in the market for up-to-the minute luxury fashion online.

Consumers from the Middle East are some of the largest consumers of luxury fashion and couture in the world therefore I knew offering an extensive range of brands that were not available in the Malls in their towns or cities would be an attractive proposition. There are some discount fashion sites that operate in the Middle East but they sell old season stock. This is where we differ and offer current styles which are in the issues of the top fashion magazines and style blogs.

What has been the biggest obstacle to catering to the Middle East, and Lebanon specifically? Does it replace physically shopping at a boutique? Would you expect there to be a complete shift online at some point?

The most common question we got when we first launched was ’where can we find your shop?,’ but the region is becoming increasingly familiar with e-commerce so that’s less of an issue now. Also, some of our customers don’t have credit cards or are afraid of buying online; we have therefore offered solutions to help our customers get what they want. Our online and telephone customer services team always take our customers carefully through every step of the process. I would never expect a complete shift to internet shopping they are two faces of the same coin, online and offline retail will coexist.

What sets you apart from the competition? If you could tell our readers one thing that sets your site apart, in the hope that they would log on to check it out, what would that be? 

The internet above all is an easy way to shop, it’s all about convenience and choice online. On DIA-style.com for example you are looking for a little black dress, you can pull up over 1,600 options from the top global brands. It could take you a couple of weeks to see all these options physically. We have invested in technology and graphic design to ensure the quality of the site from both a performance and visual perspective. The site has been fully optimized for mobile across all platforms.

What should we be buying off of your site right now?

Shipping is fast too, packages usually arrive in the Middle East within 3-4 days of ordering. As its Valentine’s Day coming up, our site is a great place to find a great gift which will arrive beautifully gift boxed, whether lingerie or a great designer bag, shoes or a pair of earnings.

How do you select partner websites for your portal? Have you encountered any partners that were hesitant to collaborate? If so, how did you convince them to get online?

All of our store partners NET-A-PORTER, Browns, Matches, MyTheresa, Stylebop have been keen to have extended access to the Middle East markets and recognize the importance of increasing their global audience and have been eager to work with us.

The partners we select to work with are world-class retailers, we need to make sure we keep it this way in order to make sure we have the best merchandise on our site and we have many exclusive products that aren’t available in the Middle East. We only work with partners who are committed to giving the highest standards of customer service, use trusted shippers and have state-of-the-art secure payment gateways.

What do you think of Lebanese designers and the design culture as a whole in Lebanon? 

Lebanon has an incredibly rich and modern design culture with a solid understanding of craftsmanship. The Lebanese have always had an understanding of both European and Oriental design however alongside this they have the drive to move ahead and take this forward injecting a new creativity. The diverse communities that exist within Lebanon contribute to enriching the creative DNA whether it be in architecture, fashion, illustration or product design. Through DIA-BOUTIQUE.com we work directly with many Lebanese designers including Sarah’s Bag, Rana Salam, Oumnia and Liwan.

I noticed that DIA-style.com showcases high end/luxury designer items that don’t usually sell online? How does that work out?

For the luxury brands digital is another potential distribution channel. Brands and businesses need to constantly push their sales efforts to reach new audiences and grow their bottom line; therefore entering the online market is vital. There are some of the luxury brands that don’t sell their seasonal ready-to-wear and accessories online and only sell through their retail stores like Chanel for example as this is part of a limited distribution strategy, but the luxury brands that do not offer e-commerce today are in the minority.

How did you drive traffic to your site? Who are your customers? What insight can you give us about the Middle East market for luxury goods?

We use the full marketing complement as well as running online ads, SEO & SEM campaigns and our social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Pinterest. DIA-style.com is multidimensional site. In addition to the ’shop’ aspect of our site, we also offer a ’play’ section where visitors can create and save outfits from products and lifestylizer quizzes which encourage them to discover new designers to suit their style. Both the collections they make and their lifestylizer tool results can be shared across their social graph. Forums are particularly popular in the Middle East and we have a ’talk’ section which is a fashion focused forum where visitors can ask style questions and exchange fashion tips with like minded fashionistas. Our site is about creating a one-stop destination for fashion for the Middle East.

Visitors to our site have an appreciation of cosmopolitan trends and lifestyles. They are style conscious and want to know more about fashion they also regularly read fashion magazines and blogs.

We have seen that some of the most popular shoe brands in the Middle East include Christian Louboutin, Jimmy Choo and Giuseppe Zanotti and some of the most popular luxury brands are Chanel, Givenchy, Michael Kors and Diane Von Furstenberg.

You travel a lot, what is one destination that you think has so much potential in terms of designers? What destination do you never get bored of and why?

I may be based here, but I would say Lebanon. We would like to have more Lebanese designers on the site. I never get bored of Italy it has amazing mountains for skiing, great beaches, art, fantastic food and beautiful remote islands like Panarea.

You mentioned in an interview once that it’s important to have a mentor. Did you have one? Can you tell us a bit about him/her?

I have been very lucky to have had several people as mentors from different industries who have been generous with their time and available to advise me on various aspects of the business and the marketing, from financial, to development to PR.  And of course, my family and team are always behind me who keep me excited and supported on the entrepreneurial path.

Can you describe a typical day
in your life?

I get up early and check the industry news online WWD which is the key industry trade magazine as well as looking as checking into tech blogs and online magazines like Mashable and The Business of Fashion. I check my emails on the way in to work so I am ready to ’go’ once I get to the office. There is no one typical day, but for instance yesterday I was working on an investor presentation and then met with the marketing team to sketch out the travel calendar for the next 6 months. I then had a meeting with a journalist to promote a new partner we are launching on the site soon.

You speak at a lot of conferences in the Middle East, any upcoming plans on conducting workshops in Lebanon? 

Yes, I should be in Lebanon before the summer and am hoping to tie that visit in with some talks at universities.

How often do you visit Lebanon? What’s one thing you always bring back from Lebanon? Plans for the future?

I’m lucky enough to be in Lebanon about four times a year either on business or for family events. I always bring back Lebanese baklava as my team in London loves Lebanese treats and this is one of their favorites.

We’ll be looking to expand to work with more retailers to increase the offering on the site. We’re also looking at verticals.

What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs? 

It’s a long road to creating a business, don’t expect immediate results when you first start, but if you have a vision you believe in, carry on putting in the hard work without getting disheartened...and then get ready for an exciting ride!

Have a comment? Email us at letters@bold-mag.com
In Her Father’s Steps
The choreographer Alissar Caracalla gives her father’s renowned dance company a modern touch
Don’t Fear The Future Of Football
It’s time to follow other sports in embracing instant-replay technology
In Full Bloom
A new French bistro in Gemmayze offers a traditional experience
More Power, Less Petrol
The German carmaker’s new lineup features a more powerful engine while burning less fuel
Tala Hajjar: Culturing Creativity
The co-founder of Starch hopes to help create a real design culture in Lebanon
Site Map RSS Contact Site Feedback