Jenny Hewett gets the lowdown on new local, affordable online boutique Monroe & Me.
High street and chain store same-olds aside, it’s often hard to find affordable on-trend fashion in Dubai that still has that one-off or boutique-bought feel. However, Dubai-based online start-up Monroe & Me aims to bridge that gap in the market. Here, we speak to Karen Virk, the British co-founder of Monroe & Me, which she set up with university buddy and now business partner and buying director Georgina Rawa.
How did the concept for Monroe & Me come about?
We felt there was a gap in the market in terms of emerging brands and exciting labels at high-street prices. As expats ourselves we were shoppers at high street stores in the malls but due to the extensive social events taking place in Dubai you would always find somebody else wearing the same dress, which of course no woman wants.
Tell us a bit about where the name of the site stems from.
It actually stemmed from our university days, as students we had a Marilyn Monroe poster in our living room.
Why did you decide to set up online?
Being from the UK we have a tendency to shop online, so we decided to go down the online route, as trailing around malls, getting stuck in traffic and embracing heat can be exhausting. We wanted to offer customers the convenience of shopping online with fast shipment and an easy returns/exchange policy as well as offering cash on delivery to UAE customers.
What kind of costs are involved in setting up an online boutique?
The main costs include the infrastructure of the website and continual marketing costs integral to our advertising campaign. We are also constantly improving our services on the website; we will be accepting all major credit/debit cards in the next couple of months and opening up cash on delivery to countries outside of the UAE. There are a large number of hidden and unexpected costs, which of course occurs in every new business. The best source of information, and it comes at no cost, is research. Extensive research of the market we were operating in as well as research of the brands and our competitors was key to setting up the website.
Which products on the site are most popular?
Dresses, dresses and more dresses. This is definitely our best-selling category followed by our jewellery which is competitively priced and a great touch to complete any outfit.
Where are the designers sourced?
From all over and we come across new designers on a weekly basis, whether it’s through social media channels or through personal travel. Our current designer portfolio consists of brands mainly from London, Australia and Southern Europe.
How do you decide on which designers to stock?
We sought brands who had a good reputation for design and style as well as good quality. We wanted fast fashion labels to ensure we were offering our customers the latest trends and something new every time they returned to the website. We also wanted designers who had not yet entered the Middle Eastern market. The brands we choose need to fit into our price points, we never stock anything over Dhs499.
Do you think there is a gap in the market for affordable shopping?
Most definitely in this region. There are unique items you can purchase in Dubai but again this is more on the premium level and lower price items are difficult to come across.
What was behind the idea to launch at-home shopping parties?
To offer a new service to stand out from other independent boutiques. The main focus is offering exclusive deals and going that extra mile for customers. What better alternative ladies’ night then to have a gathering of friends at your home and the ability to try on and buy the latest collections?
You’re an online store, but you also run pop-up shops, how important is it for you to also have a tangible presence in the market?
As a new brand entering the market, we want our customers to gain confidence in our products and services. We want our customers to review our quality of products as well as try on the clothes. When the customers have gained confidence and familiar with their favourite brands they then have the confidence to shop their suitable size and brand online.
From Dhs10 to Dhs499. www.monroeandme.com.
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