November 10, 2020
Rawya Catto, Founder & Creative Director of boutique fragrance consulting agency and innovation lab based in Dubai, Scent Creatives, explains the polarities between western and Arabian perfumery, strategies behind product portfolio expansion, marketing tips during COVID-19, Gen Z shopping behavior and more.
1. Tell us about yourself and SCENT CREATIVES.
My name is Rawya, I am a classically trained scent designer (or “fragrance evaluator’). After about 15 years in the corporate perfumery world, I decided to take a step back from the corporate career as we know it and take a sabbatical to spend time with my children and reflect on my life choices.
I was planning on traveling around and taking some serious time off, but fate would have it otherwise. Being one of the few scent experts in the Middle East and Africa region, I was quickly contacted by professionals looking for olfactory creative direction.
I agreed to a few jobs, but on my terms, and Scent Creatives was born!
We are the first Fragrance Consulting agency in Dubai and the Middle East. From the early ideation stages to the realization of the perfumed product, we help brands across the board (from fine perfumery, to beauty and hair care) find their scented identity and stand out from the crowd of brands launched every year.
2. Why focus on perfume?
Ever since I was a child, I used to collect the miniature perfume bottles that my dad would bring back from his travels. I used to love those small, crafted creations and all my friends would comment on my collection!
The power of smell is a fascinating thing. It has the strength to bring back a moment, a person, instantly. I always remember Damascus when I smelt Orange Blossom water for example. Or the perfume of that special someone…or even the smell of baby shampoo, universal in this part of the world.
It is the unconscious landscape of our daily lives, and I believe it deserves a little more care than it is currently given.
3. What are the scent trends distinct to GCC versus other western parts of the world, such as EU and USA?
Perfuming rituals are anchored in the culture and heritage of the GCC region, and as a matter of fact, wider Arab world. I used to teach the history of perfumery, and always talked about the fact that some of the first uses of fragrance can be traced back to ancient Egypt.
The word perfume comes from latin “Per Fumum”, through smoke. This is referring to the art of extracting scent through burning – a ritual which is practiced daily today in houses all over the GCC, with Bakhoor!
In terms of the actual hedonics of scent, Arabian perfumery has an identity like no other. Over the past 10 years, Western perfumery has awoken to the Arabian accords, and if you smell new launches by major western brands today, they are starting to incorporate Arabian touches and democratizing these strong smells.
Arabian perfumery is first and foremost genderless. The notion of a feminine and a masculine perfume is very western, whereas here, you are invited to create your own identity through the scents which appeal to you. It is always about creating a bespoke experience that translates your personality, through masterful layering of oils, blends, and alcoholic perfumes.
Arabian perfumery is also complex and powerful. Imagine an inviting luscious red velvet couch. The notes are sweeter, stronger, woodier, and overall less “shy” than in Western perfumery.
Oud and its various qualities are a staple and are now being incorporated into modern perfume structures. The “Mukhallat” accord is a rose and saffron on an oud/woody base, Bakhoor has a musky creamy quality which may also be translated into scented accords.
By contrast, Western perfumery is characterized by a certain amount of freshness in its design. It is hard to generalize, but even sweet notes, “gourmand” edible notes have a touch of freshness on top. The perfumes tend to have floral facets, or aromatic lavender notes for example.
However, it is also witnessing an evolution. Niche perfumery is universally moving towards unisex fragrances, and western accords are merging elements of Oud and strong Arabian notes to appeal to the connoisseur.
4. What is lacking in the region around the education of perfume making? How about perfume buying?
You are touching upon a crucial point in this question.
Traditionally, many GCC based families create their own blends at home. However, to be able to compete on the international fragrance scene, and elevate the regional art of fragrance creation, it is ideal to create opportunities for classical perfumery training, incorporating the French perfumery know-how.
Luckily, as this region evolves, opportunities are being created and the highest level of perfumery training is finally available here. There is a pool of promising talent that needs to be fostered, so Dubai can compete on the international scene and rightfully become a perfumery hub, alongside Paris, Singapore or New York.
In terms of the purchasing experience, we come from a tradition of curated perfume buying. Buying fragrance used to be a social experience, where families would go to the store, drink tea, and sit comfortably, take the time to smell and talk about the stories behind each creation or Oud oil.
Sadly, nowadays we often experience a rather painful retail experience, where we are bombarded by overly eager sales representatives who spray our skin without even a basic conversation on what we are looking for.
We all know how badly Covid-19 hit retail, hence going forward, it is of the utmost importance that the buying experience becomes a moment of solace and carefree fun, through appropriate staff training and brand story building. We relate to emotions and stories, so let us harness the power of the brands and the pillars they were built on to create meaningful buying experiences.
5. Let’s look at two types of purchasers: risk avoiders who stick to their favorite comforting scent, and risk takers who are willing to try new scents to stand out. Which of these two types of customers should brands focus their marketing $ on and why? Is there a winner or are both as important to the brand’s success?
From a brand’s perspective it is the absolute dream to create a success story that transcends generations. The holy grail is to have an iconic scent such as Chanel 5, which has been on the market since 1921, and still has its hard-core loyalists.
However realistically, with more than 1000 launches each year, creating a loyal fan-base is hard to achieve without a solid differentiation point.
This is where we come in. I am a solid believer in Simon Sinek’s “Start with the Why.” Why do you feel the need to create a new fragrance? If the only reason is to expand the line, then it is not enough to resonate with your consumer base.
In the middle of all the noise, customers need to hear your message. So, brands must tailor their message to the group they are targeting. Identify your tribe. Speak with it, connect with your community.
Are you creating a fragrance for Emirati working moms who are rooted to their culture, and yet have travelled the world? Then create a fragrance for them, that addresses their desires, and speaks their language. Or maybe you are an environmental activist, and want to tell the story of the forests of your country through a scent? Then create a fragrance that will tell that story and conjures those nostalgic images.
And once your masterpiece is out, be thoughtful on how you speak about it and who you communicate to. It’s not about the amount invested, it’s about being wise about where that money is being spent.
Invest in your community, and you will create your own success story, and find that loyal fan base.
6. Without as much face to face contact as previous days, how has COVID-19 impacted the way that customers can trial perfumes on? What can brands do to navigate this challenge, since as we know, samples & testers are extremely important when it comes to exploring new scents?
It's time to get creative! In the absence of the sense of smell, there is an opportunity to utilize all the other senses to make the fragrance come to life.
First of all, there is a tremendous opportunity for improvement on how brands describe their scents. A simple example: What is easier to imagine for you, if I say it smells like patchouli and oak moss, or if I tell you the smell is like the soil of a forest after the rain?
These language tips are underutilized. The right selection of images goes a long way too. Imagine a picture of a wooden chalet with a fireplace, and old leather seats, and the smoke of a cigar. Images have smells, let’s make the most of that!
Equally, digital can be the right way to talk about scent. We have all these wonderful VR tools that can create an immersive experience, combining visual and sensorial stimuli.
A simple trick can be to equip retail stores with handheld elegant fans (that match brands) and wave the fan to create a contact free whiff of the scent to experience. It’s about time to get creative and disrupt the way things have been done for too many years.
7. Millennials and Gen Z tend to have different purchasing factors than Baby Boomers when it comes to buying perfume. Can you elaborate on those with regards to price, quality and convenience?
The perfume industry is about 2 generations behind when it comes to fine perfumery (in my opinion). Which explain why in the Western World, Millennials and Gen Z are indeed moving away from traditional perfumery and seeking brands that correspond to their needs and desires.
First of all, the language of perfumery is outdated. Who knows the difference between and Eau de Toilette, an Eau de Cologne and an Eau de Parfum? Perfumery advertisements also need to up their game to speak to a new generation.
The boy meets girl narrative is getting a bit dated. Today’s youth is more thoughtful in terms of what they choose to spend their money on. We wrote a thought piece during lockdown, where we divide millennial consumers into 2 tribes: “Showcasers” and “Experience Seekers.”
We all have an Experience Seeker in our social circles. Those tireless travelers who are always on the lookout for the next adrenaline rush or the latest food joint in town. This set of consumers is primarily driven by a search for internal gratification. The experience can be visually shared but is lived solo by its lead actor.
On the other hand, Showcasers live a big part of their life in the public eye. They document and share their purchases and excursions and are not hesitant to provide opinions or reviews on their encounters. “Instagrammable” moments are key drivers for newness. External validation by their identified peer set can be the ultimate push for product adoption and public praise/referral.
Brands have an opportunity to speak the consumer’s new language and provide them with products and experiences that fulfill their latest aspirations.
An interesting case is the example of newly launched brand Snif, who promises to simplify the act of purchase by selling you an online perfume without any descriptions, and you have the option of returning it back if you do not like it.
8. Often we see fashion brands expand into producing perfume, such as Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, etc. Is this always a logical portfolio enhancement for luxury brands? What criteria should brands achieve before expanding?
There is a strong case for luxury fashion, and even jewelry brand to expand into perfumery. This is a love story that has proven to be successful. It is the aspirational window to a brand. Not everyone can afford a Dior handbag, however, we can all aspire to purchase a Miss Dior bottle, or should we want to break the bank a little more, a Rouge Trafalgar flacon.
And who has a better story to tell than designers? That story comes across beautifully in a fragrance. Elie Saab is a great regional case of a fashion designer, who has been able to associate his name to fragrance successes that represent the Elie Saab woman, with big floral femininity.
From an investment perspective, a smart fashion designer can build a leather empire on the back of fragrance as the entry investment to create a scent is lower than that of a collection of handbags for instance, and yet may provide a big return with decent profitability.
However, prior to embarking on a fragrance adventure, again, ask yourself, why? Will my fragrance contribute to telling my story as a designer? To sharing my vision for the person of the Middle East that I am designing this new and avant-garde abaya for?
If the answer is yes, then I would encourage everyone who has a strong personal brand & identity to consider fragrance, as we all want to grasp a bit of that stardust…
9. Where do you see SCENT CREATIVES going in 5 years?
Can I say I have a dream or has that sentence been coined by a certain Martin Luther King?
No seriously, there is so much work that needs to be done to bring the fragrance industry to a level that would make me proud, that five years seems barely enough!
There are so many industry changing initiatives that we need to get onto, the task is immense.
We utilize natural resources, so how do we preserve and maintain that biodiversity?
Fragrance inspiration is rendered richer by cultures, so how do we foster diversity in an industry that has been reserved to a certain elite for too long?
Oud is rare, and as expensive as gold, how do we classify and talk about a high value ingredient?
What about fragrance digitalization and modernizing an industry that is disconnected from the realities of today’s consumers? And a cleaner more respectful supply chain?
If you ask me, five years from now, I would want to have a team of elite thinkers that tackle these problems. I want us to use our voice and expertise to harness the power of scent for the greater good, preserving the scents of coral reefs for example, or making cellophane wraps a thing of the past.
I also want us to be a safe place for women of the fragrance industry, of all colors and backgrounds. Most of the perfume creation roles are handled by women, and a big chunk of the products bought are by women, so why aren’t there more women in the decision-making seats?
But before all that, we must survive, so taking it day by day, baby steps, and if we get through this pandemic, let’s talk again!
About Scent Creatives
Scent Creatives is a boutique fragrance consulting firm and innovation lab based in the burgeoning center of global perfumery: Dubai.
We help brands find their distinct, active voice within a crowded market. By utilizing deep sector expertise and proprietary brand and fragrance evaluation tools, we create signature brand memorability and unique product adoption strategies.
Our mission is to leverage the heritage and craftsmanship of perfumery, while amplifying trend setting inspiration from the MENA region.
November 3, 2020
Meet Najia Qazi, Founder of Dubai based platform, Sustainable Narrative, which hones in on how to support businesses to operate more sustainably. Below, Qazi highlights how her academic and professional journeys led her to start the initiative and explains how basic functional changes to a brand's internal structure can create efficacy in the long-run and support the health of our environment and economy.
1. Explain to us what the Sustainable Narrative mission is.
At Sustainable Narrative, our mission is to create awareness by providing sustainable design-based solutions to incubators, startups, design hubs & think tanks in Dubai, UAE. We aim to incorporate the regenerative business mindset that includes the process of restoration, renewal of the current resources, and creation of sustainable systems.
2. Tell us about your personal passion in starting such an initiative in 2018.
Back in 2018, I laid the steppingstone for Sustainable Narrative after studying Sustainable and Ethical Fashion at the Central Saint Martins, London, UK. I was introduced to the to the current gap in the market in the UAE market wherein the concept of sustainability was practically missing. Having worked as a fashion designer with various brands, I began to question how the entire design system works and decide to find a solution for glaring issues such as the unfair pay gap, high rate of production leading to over consumption, excessive wastage of resources etc.
My aim has always been to promote the concept of Sustainability; not just as a popular or current trend; but rather as a lifestyle worth embracing, which is most needed in the walks of design or fashion.
3. How exactly do you work with brands to implement sustainable practices?
We focus on conceptualizing, designing, and consulting on sustainable design solutions with the brands or businesses. The premise is always the circular design theory. We help the client to incorporate this concept in their long-term business model plan rather than short- term, in order to be more ethical, sustainable, and profitable.
In line with this, we also promote a new mind-set for business, i.e. the circular design thinking approach which allows the businesses to explore new ways to create sustainable, resilient, long-lasting value– giving the confidence to redesign the world around you.
4. You’ve studied at acclaimed institutions UA London on the subject of Sustainable and Ethical Fashion. How has the experience shaped the way you think about the sustainable fashion? Would you recommend taking such a program?
I would highly recommend the program because I believe it’s essential to learn and educate on the social, economic and environmental factors that we impact designing and production in the industry.
The program gives a broad overview of the fashion industry, from design production to the globalization of fast fashion from a sustainability point of view. It also explores the possibilities of sustainable and ethical practices in fashion through the way we design, produce, and consume clothes. It focuses on the design, textile processes and techniques, coupled with execution of a conceptual framework based on the theme of 'Sustainability' as well taking in consideration of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
5. You have discussed the ‘circular’ theory’ in previous articles. Can you define the theory for us and highlight which brands in the MENA region have done a stellar job at practicing this already and why?
The concept recognizes the importance of the economy needing to work effectively and efficiently at all scales – for large and small businesses, for organizations and individuals, globally and locally. Transitioning to a circular economy does not only amount to adjustments aimed at reducing the negative impacts of the linear economy. Rather, it represents a systemic shift that builds long-term resilience, generates business and economic opportunities, and provides environmental and societal benefits.
The rise of sustainable movement has led to the circular design theory which means that products that are designed, sourced, and provided with the intention to be used and circulated responsibly. The brands in the MENA region have a long way to go as compared to the ones internationally. It will take another 3 to 5 years to work along those lines.
6. What tools and/or resources would brands need to have in order to be able to truly act sustainably?
Firstly, we need to understand that it’s nearly impossible for a brand to be 100% sustainable. The businesses need to incorporate the 3Ps rule that is people, profit and planet in order to achieve ethical and sustainable goals in the competitive market.
There is a need of a radical transformation: we need to work together as an industry with commitment and innovation and challenge the status quo. Also, we need to evolve from just reducing our impact to making a positive impact, but this can only happen if we all work together.
7. The MENA region is somewhat behind the USA on generally adopting sustainable shopping. What can brands, government entities and every day customers do to help drive the change?
The transition to a more responsible future must also involve both consumers and the government. We are seeing a growing demand for the sustainable products as several local start-ups are now stepping into the game, with trendier alternatives and substitutes to existing choices, often motivated by a desire to truly improve the environment for future generations.
It is becoming increasingly critical that governments promote environmental reform through regulation and policy. But an important question remains: to become truly sustainable, how must the lifestyles and consumption habits of consumers change?
8. Why is it important for customers to invest in ‘ethical shopping’ to support sustaining the world’s long-term health? Is there a direct connection?
Various factors influence a customer’s decision that includes awareness regarding the production process, usage of materials and components, effects on climate etc. As the consequences of climate change and environmental breakdown start to appear, awareness of "green" issues and sustainability in the products and services is rising within the UAE. Consumers have become more aware of the impacts of their purchases, and businesses are innovating in response- labels such as “natural”, “organic”, “sustainable” or “eco-friendly” have proliferated in response to a growing demand for “green products” as a result.
9. What is one piece of advice you want to leave our readers with today?
Set clear goals, be transparent about the process as well as the challenges and always seek to develop a unique narrative with yourself and the people around you.
© Curated by Najia for Curated ME.
About Sustainable Narrative
An Independent, digital, & design platform. We are focused on conceptualizing, designing, and consulting on sustainable, ethical, eco-friendly, and impactful design solutions to various design hubs and incubator across industries. Our premise is the circular design theory. With our platform, we hope to bring together a business community and their sustainability goals and initiatives under one umbrella.
About Najia Qazi
Designer, Conceptual design, product, and a brand Image Developer. Najia Qazi & her team create Sustainable design solutions, systems & products that last, evolve in the current design industry. She’s also the founder of Sustainable Narrative platform for creating awareness regarding the Sustainability within the design & fashion industry. Supported by a strong educational background in fashion design and marketing from prestigious institutes such as L’ecole De La Chambre Paris(2013), London College of Fashion (2014), Parsons School of Design, NYC (2016) and Central Saint Martins (2018) and Columbia University, New York(2020).
Hassan Akhras, the luxury watch guru behind Arab Watch Guide in Dubai, explains his view on the Middle Eastern 'grey watch market' and how social media comes into play for both the collectors and brands. Below, we address the pros and cons of buying from the secondary market and Hassan's exclusive tips on how to purchase sensibly.
1. Tell us about yourself and your involvement with the world of watches.
I am a watch collector and also a watch specialist part of the GPHG Academy that hosts the annual watch awards in Geneva every November. I run the Arab Watch Guide page and the Arab Watch Club and I have collaborated with almost every luxury brand in the industry whether in terms of reviewing their watches or creating special editions for myself and club members.
2. Please define the ‘grey’ watch market for us. Is this technically legal?
The grey market is a parallel market of watch sellers and resellers that is legal since many of the dealers have contracts with the brand manufactures directly or their official distributors. Their prices are always more competitive since they don't have many overhead costs and obligations like official retailers.
3. Why do you think the grey market or ‘secondary’ market exploded over the past few years?
The grey market focused on the top pieces in the past few years, such as the likes of AP Royal Oaks 15202, the Patek Nautiluses, the Rolex steel watches, Daytonas, GMT, since the demand for those watches skyrocketed and the supply in the official retailers was never enough nor available. The secondary market was able to capitalize on this situation and also open up a platform for many individuals to leverage their connections in the watch world to source those watches and make a large profit quickly. This is the current situation with all the highly-demanded steel watches.
4. How does the grey market detriment brands’ direct sales? Is the grey market still a direct threat today?
There are two sides to this situation and it's not always detrimental:
If we are talking about the highly demanded brands such as Rolex , AP, Patek, VC etc... the grey market is actually playing a big role in increasing the prices and the desirability of their models and is creating a new parallel market for collectors who are not willing to play the waiting list or "database" game.
On the other hand, for the many other brands that are less desired in the market - not because they are not good enough, but just because perceived value is not as high as the others - the fact that you can find new releases at 40%-50% off is extremely detrimental to the brand value, which makes it harder for brands to compete with but also to rectify their brand positioning since users can find their watches all over the grey market at lower prices.
5. As an end customer, what are the advantages of buying on the secondary market versus the primary market? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
End users can be flooded with offers from many underrated brands or models. For avid collectors who are seeking deals, they end up finding so much out there. At the end of the day, it is a choice to be made by the collectors depending on which watches they are focusing on now versus what they want to collect in the future. Hence having a strong relationship with the brand is very powerful for them to get their hands on limited editions and right of choice on the latest releases. But all this comes at a high cost too.
6. As per Arabian Business, “The region’s appetite for high-end watches is one of the highest per capita in the world and has spawned its own grey market, with second-hand boutiques, watch clubs, Instagram resellers, influencers, networking events and online portals contributing to an ecosystem that was previously dominated by official retailers”; what do you think the future looks like for secondary watch market in the Middle East?
We already can see a huge growth in online auctions since lockdown, which has opened up a new platform for collectors, dealers, flippers, and all kinds of individuals to get on the watch-buying wagon with very different motives. Several clubs have been established in the region but their relationships are direct with the brands and not with the secondary market because they all seek recognition from the market. The secondary market is here to stay as long as it can provide the collectors with a cheaper offering for their desired watches and also a faster, more reliable way to offload their watches in order to buy new ones.
7. The new trend of trading/ repurposing watches has emerged in the region; in your opinion, which company has been doing an effective job providing outlets for customers to do this in Dubai?
I don't think any company has been able to provide a proper platform for trading in Dubai with a fair valuation of the watches - collectors usually find themselves losing a huge amount on any watch they have unless it is one of the highly demanded ones - which usually they can sell to friends or to any dealer in the market.
8. How has social media altered the dynamic of how people buy and sell luxury watches?
Social media single handedly changed the world of watches. There is no collector that doesn't look at what is being pushed and seen on the top platforms before deciding what to buy. Buying a Nautilus has become a must since social media has pushed those models and has made them more desirable among fresh collectors who want to feel like they belong to the 'big boys club.'
Many brands have emerged only because of their social media investments and marketing efforts on Instagram. The recently launched Instagram auctions have created a new era of buying and selling watches and are manipulating markets also.
9. What are the most important factors one should consider when buying a watch from the secondary market?
· Always make sure you are buying from a trusted source and that you know someone who already purchased from them and had a good experience.
· Make sure all papers and boxes are legit and authenticated.
· A deal that is too good to be true is always fishy.
· Make sure to build a good relationship with the dealers that you trust and had a good experience with - they can always help you source the watches you desire.
10. How do external environmental factors, such as political issues or the coronavirus, effect peoples’ willingness and purchasing power to purchase luxury timepieces in general?
From what I have noticed lately, people seem to be buying more than ever - the fact that many day to day expenses were eliminated, loans were postponed and there has been less traveling, people saved up for sentimental luxury goods such as watches. Some have also used the watches as a safe investment vehicle that can become quite lucrative in the future, depending on the piece that was purchased.
© Curated by Hassan for Curated ME.
Hassan Akhras is a Syrian watch collector and aficionado living in Dubai; he started his watch collecting passion in the early ages of his school years and since then never stopped. He established his Blog online and on Instagram in 2014 under the handle @ArabWatchguide where he set up the first Arabic platform that connects watch aficionados to each other and to their beloved watch brands. Since then, he has been covering all the major watch fairs around the world and the region bringing the latest news of the Horology world to his Arabic network of collectors while collaborating with all the major watch brands in the industry reviewing their latest releases and showcasing some amazing activations through his active athletic challenges.
He also established the first Arab Watch collectors group in the region - as the name reveals it - it was called AWC - Arab Watch Club spanning across the entire GCC and Levant area, connecting watch collectors from all the region in one place who share the same passion for Horology. The AWC has collaborated with some of the top watch brands in the world creating unique special editions for its members ranging from niche brands such as HYT, Angelus, Nomos and Sinn to very well-established world-renowned brands such as Girard Perregaux, Czapek and Cartier.
With an ever-changing landscape, marketing comms experts need to stay in the forefront with developing nimble and innovative new strategies for their clients. Below, Curated ME interviews Jai Tolani, Communications & PR Director in Dubai for his two cents on shifts in consumer awareness, and how regional brands can leverage such changes for the better.
1. Describe yourself in one sentence as a Director of Comms at a leading global agency in the UAE.
A trusted partner... a problem-solver. Ultimately a mere extension of the enterprising brands we get an opportunity to represent.
2. You have a depth of experience in leading agencies such as Ogilvy and BBDO in UAE, and at the same time, you have worked in-house at a Mubadala JV; tell us about the main difference in your scope of work working in Agency versus in-house when it comes to strategy & planning.
In general, I think the need to please far outweighs the work in-house!
Having said that, I was blessed to work with some of the sharpest minds during my time client-side. There is surely more focus and a shared vision.
If I must pick one though, I’d choose Agency! The joy of helping brands and, in general, just making stuff happen is immense.
3. When working on client accounts, please walk us through your typical way of brainstorming a new campaign. What tools do you use to truly understand the focus product at hand and the client’s target audience?
No special tools for me. Ultimately it comes down to few things -
A strong leader and a competent team go a long way too!
4. Due to COVID-19, residents of Dubai have chosen to stay in the country this summer instead of typically leaving. How can local brands leverage this to strengthen their relationship with their consumers?
I believe brands now well recognize that the power has shifted in the hands of the consumers. In my opinion, the age of advertising and communications to influence consumers through some form of sublime messaging is thankfully behind us. There is a genuine gradual shift in consumer awareness, in no small degree in mature markets. Ultimately brands that stay tuned follow guidelines and focus on experience - at every point (physical and digital).
A case in point in Dubai is Instashop– with a brilliant interface, experience and product offering, they were bought over for $360m by Delivery Hero! Great success story.
5. When it comes to marketing, what do you think the most important aspects of a brand are in today’s challenging world?
6. If starting a new brand in UAE, would you recommend off the bat to operate solely online, or are you a fan of having a B&M backup as well? Is physical retail shopping the future, or will the majority inevitably move online?
In 2019, Alibaba’s Singles’ Day Event online sales topped $38 billion. They claimed to net $1 billion in sales in just 68 seconds! Now at the same time and as per estimates from World Bank, some 1.7 billion adults worldwide are still unbanked, i.e., yet don’t have access to a bank account. While this represents a massive opportunity, it also shows us the gap, especially in some markets.
So I believe it all comes down to category and geography. A right mix of both will continue to be seen.
For example, during #COVID-19, consumption of staples in places like the #UAE has mostly been documented heavily as being transacted online. The behavioral change has been at speed. At the same time, the role of physical customer experiences when it comes to specific categories, for instance, luxury purchases, is hard to imagine without touch and feel, i.e., I don’t see a classic timepiece or jewelry worth a couple of thousand dollars being purchased at mass online!
7. In your opinion, how has AI and AR affected consumer experience? What opportunities do you see in MENA in this space?
I wish to offer have a stronger point of view on this; however, I am yet to build in-depth
expertise in these areas.
From my limited understanding, what I am excited about is the power AI that will be leveraged in healthcare industries. I am fortunate to represent a few global and MENA brands in this space and it is fascinating to see, for instance, how AI could support newer treatments to solve some of humanity’s most challenging diseases.
8. The regional market is saturated with global and local fashion brands, FMCG companies, hotel chains, and F&B outlets; what can companies do to stand out, especially during a Pandemic?
© Curated by Jai for Curated ME.
Born and raised in Dubai with over 15 years of strategic communications and business management experience in the Middle East in both agency and client-side roles, Tolani brings a fortitude of knowledge regarding brand development in the region.
Jai's title is currently MENA Communications & PR Director at a leading marketing agency in Dubai. In the past, Tolani has worked at or alongside retail & tech giants such as HP, Huawei, Mubadala and many more, allowing him to explore the industry from progressive and dynamic angles.
One of the most heavy-weighted topics currently centers around maintaining a motivated and committed sales force team. Hence, the question circulating from leaders in most retail-businesses worldwide: “How do I keep my team motivated with the looming risk of redundancies and store closures?” Tina Sharp, former General Manager of Harvey Nichols Dubai and Bloomingdale’s Kuwait at Al Tayer Group, provides team leaders her valuable advice below.
Numerous articles describe that businesses with foresight and ambition are the ones that will come out of this pandemic stronger than before and the leaders in their fields. Great teams define a great business. Part of this formula to success is the trust and strength of its leaders. Overall, the brand, product or service can be of the highest quality, however, without the right team driving this, a business can never be more than mediocre at best.
If you translate this into the current situation, it would be fair to describe this as more challenging since leaders are needing to navigate so many unknowns. However, the rudimentary skills required to help keep the team focused still remain.
More often than not, many leaders tend to avoid being honest, choosing to bucket the challenging and sensitive communications as corporate directives that they can’t control. Furthermore, they tend to be selective with what is shared, in order to paint a more positive but unrealistic picture for the salesperson. One common example is the topic of reduction of salaries, which most companies have implemented recently in some way or another, either through unpaid leave or short-term reduced pay. However, the method used to share this has been mixed. Some leaders are very transparent, others are more selective and unfortunately, some choose not to communicate these updates at all, leaving the workforce insecure and fearful that they could be made redundant at any time.
Many leaders who have been challenged with managing such types of situations are most successful when asking themselves: “what if it was me?” and "what’s the worst thing that could happen if you are honest?" When answering worried staff-members about the state of their jobs for example, informative and direct forms of communication tend to relieve them best. For example, a leader could answer: “I cannot confirm that there won't be any redundancies, but I can assure that there are none being discussed right now. Further, should we need to look at this in the future, support will be provided.”
Overall, before the pandemic, Dubai was already experiencing challenging trading times. Leaders were hiding behind laptops and written announcements rather than conducting face to face meetings that allowed the necessary opportunities for questions to be asked. The need for transparency and availability from leaders is even more paramount now.
Whilst social restrictions do no allow for the physical contact freedom that we have enjoyed historically, leaders with foresight are utilizing new tools such as Zoom calls to enable face to face dialogue, especially when it comes to reassuring their teams. There are unfortunately still instances found where leaders are not being transparent with their team enough, which results in team members feeling demotivated to sell or look after their customers. When worried, they’re instead motivated to self-preserve and self-validate via venting with colleagues. Ultimately hurting the business productivity.
Considering the high health risks to the frontline teams, leaders need to be out in stores and on the floor supporting firsthand, in order to act in solidarity with their business heads. At the end of the day, these challenging times have quickly highlighted poor management and a subsequent demotivated workforce. On a positive note, it has also showcased a next generation of leaders who tend to cultivate dedicated, loyal teams. Reactive companies will survive.
© Curated by Tina for Curated ME.
With more than 20 years’ international experience in optimising the performance of high-profile department store operations, Tina’s expertise includes creative direction, quality merchandising, sales & marketing and team leadership.
Tina’s journey in global retail has been an exciting one, initially with House of Fraser in London, then with Harvey Nichols in Dubai. In 2016, Tina was promoted to General Manager open the new Bloomingdale’s store in Kuwait, where she oversaw the build, store set-up and supported the in-store development. Tina set up all store routines, recruited and trained staff, and worked closely with teams on delivering marketing campaigns and establishing local and international partnerships.
Emirati fashion designer and the co-founder & creative director of RTW label in Dubai YNM, Yasmin Al Mulla, expresses below in an exclusive Op-Ed piece how we can use social media to better embrace diversity and instead inspire each other with genuine content moving forward.
Whether we like it or not, there has been an evident love-hate relationship between social media and the fashion industry. We can’t help but notice the enormous impact that social media has on the current fashion scene worldwide.
Social media can be highly beneficial if used correctly; it can increase phenomenal awareness, drive outstanding engagements, improve brand involvements and position the brand accurately amidst its global competition. On the other hand, social media has been encouraging a twisted perspective of reality and a new page of transparency—a potent tool that has normalized beauty to include perfect and plastic models for example.
It's time to instead use social media to highlight the powerful sentiment towards Female Empowerment despite color, shape, culture, age, state and other general external factors. We - as in designers, brands, and people in general - need to embrace individuals of all forms, avoid categorizing, labeling and classifying; which has been quite noticeable in recent magazine covers, editorial campaigns and advertisement pieces. With this being said, I do however admire the more inspirational movements toward the recent attempts at promoting diversity in the industry; featuring real, authentic, and powerful women who all come from different shapes, sizes and ethnicities.
Moving forward, social media can act as a vessel to arm us with insightful, informative content, or instead as a vessel to portray an unrealistic second of ‘perfection.’ At the end of the day, the responsibilities go to influential entities such as influencers, brands and celebrities to endorse natural, imperfect beauty and deliver genuine and sentimental messages on social media re: celebrating our unique imperfections; a concept so valuable to teach the next generations.
Finally, it is up to us as individuals to use social media to help promote diversity. Let us support those unique brands that showcase our standards by wearing their select colors, silhouettes and even materials that overall play a role in expressing who we are, what we stand for and how we feel. Expressing ourselves through our final demeanor is the truest form of self-confidence. Self-comparison and digesting false content on social media, is not.
© Curated by Yasmin for Curated ME.
Say something interesting about your business here.
Her early life and upbringing in the fast-evolving, cosmopolitan city of Dubai led her to pursue a degree in International Relations in 2012. As a fashion designer, she is certified by the London College of Fashion in Fashion and Shoe Design, and is nationally recognized by the Dubai Design & Fashion Council (DDFC) as an official member.
She has to her credit collaborations with brands including Tiffany & Co, Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, Matches Fashion, Level Shoes, By FAR, Ex Nihilo, Baccarat and other global powerhouse brands. She’s also a fitness enthusiast and is committed to a holistic lifestyle.
As a long-term advocate of health and fitness, she believe that optimal eating is a sustainable, beautiful lifestyle. Yasmin has maintained a gluten, dairy, and refined-sugar-free diet for many years now, and that’s in addition to her workouts and strength training, yoga, and meditation. She is focusing on nourishing, nutritious and wholesome food and believe that consuming everything in moderation is key — This has led to her curating exclusive menus for top-tier brands and their events.
Design for Dubai winner, La'Leenah, offers customers luxury, RTW pieces fore the modest-wearing woman. Sudanese designer and owner of the brand, Leenah Almansoury tells us in an exclusive video below how modest-wear brands can persevere in a saturated market. Watch now!
© Video Curated by Leenah for Curated ME.
Modest fashion is in Vogue, and especially relevant in the Middle East. But when modest-wear brands become a dime a dozen, designers need to amp up their branding, marketing and overall business approaches in order to stay afloat among all of the competition. Hafsa Lodi, author of MODESTY: A FASHION PARADOX, explains below the key considerations for how modest fashion brands can perform to their best potential.
A decade ago, the words "modest" and "fashion" were hardly paired together. "Modesty" was not seen as a particularly positive descriptor in the realm of fashion, and instead conjured up images of frumpy, unstylish women who perhaps dressed in conservative, cult-like apparel. Now, in 2020, we've moved well beyond these reductive stereotypes. Modesty is in, and brands that specialize in this niche are flourishing. However, increased focus on this market, its trend appeal, and overall "hype" have led to an influx of new brands in a now-saturated market – particularly in the Gulf. Competition is fierce, and it's tough to stay afloat as an up-and-coming modest wear label in a region where modesty is the norm, and there is an abundance of choices in fashion – from the souks and shopping malls to the offerings of fellow regional labels.
Modest wear itself is no longer enough of a niche to survive in. Within this wider retail realm, brands need to identify a particular demand and hone in on it. Modest activewear, swimwear, bridal wear, or evening wear, for instance, are possible sub-categories within modest wear, along with culturally-inspired kaftans, glamorous turban headwear, or hijab-friendly accessories – even as simple as headscarf pins.
For modest wear designers motivated by deeper ideals like faith, it's also key to work towards embracing other faith-rooted, ethical considerations such as sustainability and inclusivity. Fashion consumers across the globe are demanding more environmentally-friendly clothing, from the textiles used to the methods used in manufacturing, with of course, fair, humanitarian work environments. Inclusivity is also of the utmost importance in today's retail landscape: the models a designer recruit should represent a wide range of demographics – not just Caucasian, or white-passing, light-skinned Arab women who are size zero and seemingly flawless. Female consumers relate better to brands that showcase their designs on "real women" and the modest fashion market is no exception.
Accessibility is another area where designers must excel in to truly thrive – being an "Instagram" brand wherein the only mode of communication is through direct messaging, is not sufficient in catering to digital-savvy millennial shoppers who seek instant gratification. Establishing e-commerce websites, with quality content, mainstream methods of payment, and speedy delivery services are of the utmost importance when crafting a business plan for any fashion label.
And last, but not least – Instagram. It's impossible to discuss fashion brand marketing without including this both loved and hated social media app, which, when used effectively, can drive traffic and sales. Particularly with modest fashion, target market usage of Instagram is extraordinarily high – partly because this app helped propel the concept of stylish modest wear into the mainstream, thanks to the help of modest fashion bloggers around the world who inspire their followers with their fashion-forward, skin-covering outfits.
Beautiful imagery worthy of reposts, thoughtful captioning, and brand messaging and consistent engagement with followers are the ingredients to a successful Instagram marketing approach. And finally, while it's certainly crucial to develop a targeted niche, it's equally important to show the versatility of your designs, especially when it comes to modest fashion, which has so many diverse levels and interpretations. Creative and out-of-the-box styling – such as showcasing a silk hijab that can be tied as a glamorous, classic headscarf, as an edgy durag, or layered over a white blouse and tied like a corset will help your modest wear brand go viral.
© Curated by Hafsa for Curated ME.
About Hafsa Lodi
Hafsa Lodi is the author of recently launched nonfiction book, Modesty: A Fashion Paradox, which uncovers the causes, controversies and key players of the global modest fashion movement. She lives in Dubai and works as a freelance fashion and lifestyle journalist, writing for titles such as The National, Mojeh, Cosmopolitan Middle East, Grazia Middle East and more.
About Leenah Almansoury
A Sudanese Esmod Dubai graduate, fashion designer Leenah Almansoury is a design talent to watch out for. Harbouring a love for art and design since her childhood, Leenah poured her passion into
the creation of her almost eponymous label, La'Leenah. Derived from a French term meaning 'the
Leenah', the brand resonates Leenah's inner style, passion and dedication to the world of design.
Available at BySymphony in Dubai