Nez Gebreel Is On Fashion's Frontline

BY Nez Gebreel / Feb 15 2017 / 16:04 PM

The former CEO of Dubai Design & Fashion Council, Nez Gebreel, explores the Middle East’s fast-growing digital fashion landscape

Nez Gebreel Is On Fashion's Frontline

Let me take you back to an industry fashion event in October, 2015. At the time I was CEO of DDFC and we were very involved in working with Emaar and supporting them during that event. I was also a judge on the Dubai Who’s Next that Franca Sozzani and her team were organising with the Emaar Dubai Mall team. The other judges were the who’s who of fashion including Frederico Marchetti from Yoox Net-a-Porter (YNAP), Silvia Venturini Fendi, and Christian Louboutin to name a few. I felt a level of excitement that my intuition told me was about more than just the event. Sitting with the judges and spending time with them and the kind of questions they had for me on Dubai and Middle East, it was obvious how much interest they had in the region and how they saw it as an area of growth with huge potential.

I was one of the speakers alongside Mohammed Alabbar and Franca Sozzani. I remember there being questions from the audience on the importance of digital and online presence in the region. It came as no surprise to me when it was announced that Alabbar and YNAP were collaborating. It turns out those discussions culminated into the Dhs508.6 million joint venture between Symphony Investments (40 per cent) with YNAP (60 per cent).

I am always interested in what Mr Alabbar has to say and what investments he makes. In the Arabian Business Forum he talked of becoming relevant and focusing on digital and how 95 per cent of his staff will be irrelevant in a few years. Having heard this I wondered whether that was because there was too much fat within the company rather than just the digital revolution. Especially when I read that company’s like Amazon, a truly online institution, is to open a bricks and mortar store in Manhattan this spring. This is driven by demand, by what people want and is a way of engaging people. Research by the Forrester Group says that “Ninety-one per cent of retail still happens in physical stores.” I always envisioned someday YNAP would have some sort of physical presence, particularly in this region where shopping is a key entertainment pastime.

Frederico Marchetti, also in the forum, discussed that the planned local YNAP office will have localised customer care and payment methods. This is so important in this region where customers still uncertain of e-commerce and paying online by card, insist on services like cash on delivery, bank transfers and even shopping via WhatsApp. I love the simplicity of paying with a card and then not having to panic or fumble around for money once the item is delivered.  On the subject of WhatsApp, Mr Marchetti divulged that the deal between YNAP and Alabbar was actually agreed via the app.

In December, the incredibly switched on Khalid Al Tayer launched after noticing a gap in the market for super fast fashion of a new kind, offering women in the GCC region the fastest delivery times yet. For lucky ladies in Dubai with a last minute engagement, shop on Ounass and you’ll receive your dress for tonight’s dinner in 2 hours or less, with next day delivery for the rest of the UAE and 2 days for the GCC. They also offer quick and easy returns, of course the obligatory cash on delivery, as well as a personal styling team that will go to the customer’s home when requested. So you see again, communication is very focused on the local GCC customer aged 25 – 55, as are the methods of payment. Their analytics also showed that their customer uses mobile more than desktop to shop, at a ratio of 2:1. Apparently, they’re also developing exclusive pieces with the designers for the website, in fact they launched with an exclusive capsule collection from Gucci. Since launching mid-December they have delivered to a whopping 42 cities in the UAE, Qatar and KSA.

Now that’s the big guys, but what about designers doing it for themselves? Will online retailers be more supportive? Is this the best way for the designers to reach their customers particularly as they have no bricks and mortar? I spoke with Firras Alwahabi from Faux Consultancy whose clients include Madiyah Al Sharqi, Nomad, L’Afshar. Of the percentage of his designer clients that have launched e-commerce, 67 per cent currently operate an e-commerce platform, 25 per cent are in the process of launching e-commerce, and a tiny 8 per cent have no plans to launch. More interesting is the percentage of monthly online revenue for his clients: Donna Hourani at 40 per cent, L’Afshar at 50 per cent, Lama Jouni at 20 per cent, and a phenomenal 92 per cent for YNM an Emirati brand. Firras tells me that wholesale for these designers is tough, for many non-existent, so it seems that e-commerce offers an entirely new opportunity to makes sales, otherwise elusive.

My last thought on YNAP is that I hope they keep their buying teams centralised – they’re are so strong, with so much choice, it makes shopping for myself so easy. Keep up the good work.

Learn more about Nez Gebreel here