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Manar Alrawi interview

Manar Alrawi interview

Alhamdulilah for technology. There’s no doubt that it has helped create a generation of Muslim entrepreneurs who are equipped with the necessary tools with which to realise their ideas without the need for major investment or other resources. From social media and e-marketing platforms to mobile apps, there has never been a more exciting time to be the owner of a startup or an SME.

One businesswoman using technology to her advantage is Manar Al Rawi, who’s taking customer service to a whole new level in her native Saudi Arabia. An abaya designer by a professional, Manar told us that she had noticed a gap in the GCC fashion market and had always wanted to fill it.

“I’ve been in the abaya-making industry for 10 years,” she said. “When I first started, long before Dolce & Gabbana abayas, the market was hungry for chic designer abayas, and that’s when I realised Arab women spend lots of money on designer clothes that hide under their ‘not-as-expensive’ abayas.”

In early 2007, Manar launched her own brand to cater to that specific segment. Soon enough, everyone in Jeddah coveted the 100-percent homegrown brand, Manar Al Rawi.

“Selling luxury abayas wasn’t my first business venture, but it was my first fashion experience,” she continued. “I’ve learned how to grow my brand and adapt to market needs over the years, and seeing [international designer] brands like Dolce & Gabbana eventually venture into modest fashion only proves me right.”

“Our brand is always keeping an eye on what’s new and thinking of new ways to evolve.” She added.

OFF THE BEATEN TRACK

Considering the market she’s operating in, there’s no doubt that facilitating the shopping experience only contributes to increased sales and promotion. Ten years after its launch (February 2017, to be precise), Manar decided to evolve her brand by bringing her designs to the masses. How? By launching the region’s first fashion truck.

This mobile boutique comes complete with a sales representative, a tailor, and tens of luxury abayas to try on and purchase. And this is not just any old truck; it boasts a lavish leather interior, marble flooring and a central AC system to beat the Kingdom’s scorching heat.

“With an increasing number of women entering the workforce in Saudi Arabia and only a few hours in the day to divide between work and home duties, Saudi Arabian women had little or no time for themselves,” she continued. “Finding the right conditions and time to shop was becoming harder each day, and that’s when I realised I needed to think outside the box.”

GAINING SPEED

So far, 2017 has been quite the journey for Manar. After a year spent on research and organising, and now having been in operation for a few months, the designer said that she loves everything about her truck and believes that it’s the future of retail. “It’s smart, because it combines the convenience of online shopping and the elements of an in-store shopping experience.”

Noting that 90 percent of retail stores fail because of overheads like rent, Manar is adamant that a fashion truck is a much cheaper alternative to a brick-and-mortar outlet, offsetting the risks of the concept. Luckily for her, however, her loyal customer base, which she has built over the years along with social media followers, has helped her spread the word.

“Like any new idea being introduced, this one was risky but definitely worth it,” she enthused. “I had to reach out to municipalities all over the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and explain to them what I wanted to do and hope for the best. While there are no rules and regulations for mobile boutiques in the Kingdom yet, I try not to break any rules, conducting business in the most ethical and respectful manner with both my clients and city members.”

Manar also added that the truck is only a marketing tool that completes the set of services she provides; it’s a way to pamper her clients and help them spoil themselves every once in a while at no extra charge.

Looking ahead, with two big boutiques in Jeddah, clients all over the GCC, and prior distribution deals with the likes of Saks Fifth Avenue and Harvey Nichols, Manar is set to conquer more roads and more locations across Saudi Arabia in the months to coming.

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