The Saudi female entrepreneur bringing bespoke fashion to the Arab region

Alanoud Al Mubarak speaks with May El Habachi about how she is using technology to make fashion by emerging designers accessible to shoppers in the region

Saudi entrepreneur Alanoud Al Mubarak was always passionate about fashion. A keen traveler, she enjoyed discovering new designs and ‘stand out’ pieces wherever she went. But it was only after speaking with friends about creating a social platform for fashion lovers that an idea was born.

Tired of seeing the same clothes everywhere, Al Mubarak decided to create Fashtory, an app that connects emerging fashion designers from around the world, particularly the Middle East, to fashionistas and fashion enthusiasts. With this app, women can browse through the fashion directory and contact the designers directly to learn more about their products. Designed to act purely as a directory, Fashtory is a non-transactional site, so it doesn’t handle any sales.

“I created Fashtory as a platform to bring together fashion lovers and up and coming designers,” says Al Mubarak. “The app gives designers the opportunity to become the next big thing and allows fashionistas to get their hands on something truly unique.”

By having women browse clothes and accessories from around the world, she hopes to make emerging designer brands accessible to everyone, everywhere.

AHEAD OF ONLINE FASHION MARKET

In Saudi Arabia, the fashion industry is booming. It is one of the fastest growing retail markets in the world, ranking eighth globally according to the 2016 AT Kearney Global Retail Index. And with mobile and digital penetration increasing each year, e-commerce is expected to be the biggest bet in the fashion market.

But Fashtory is different from most digital fashion platforms.

“While there are many fashion e-commerce platforms, there is no social network facilitating important conversations between designers and interested buyers,” states Al Mubarak.

Instead of scrolling through Instagram or relying on word of mouth, which can be time consuming, Fashtory enables women to connect directly to a wide network of designer brands.

To date, Fashtory operates across 26 countries including Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, China, South Korea, Sweden and the United States to name a few. Its directory also includes everything from clothes and abayas, to jewelry, accessories and footwear. However, Fashtory is keen on supporting local talent and features a number of Emirati designers such as Pose Arazzi and UK-based Ahude.

So far, the app has been well received by women. With over 3,000 social media followers combined since its launch a few months ago, Fashtory is on its way to achieving a successful organic reach, it seems.

EXPERIENCING SETBACKS

But like any startup, the road to success can be challenging.

Working full-time in the family business, Al Mubarak dedicated all her spare time to developing and growing Fashtory.

“This at times was a difficult juggling act, but the hard work and long hours was definitely worthwhile especially when I see how fast Fashtory has grown in such a short amount of time,” she says.

Although she hopes to soon be able to concentrate solely on Fashtory, for the time being she will continue to work on both ventures simultaneously.

Developing the app was also challenging for Al Mubarak. With no prior experience in IT, she had to learn to a lot of skills to develop her app.

“Although I didn’t code the app myself, I had to learn a lot of technical skills in case of a sudden system failure.”

Despite her fears, Al Mubarak learned the necessary skills and was eventually able to re-boost the app manually in case of a system failure.

“Being able to do this was hugely rewarding and being able to say that I developed such a smooth running app is a source of great pride for me,” she says.

But her biggest challenge by far was differentiating Fashtory from other fashion apps in the market.

“With so many emerging e-commerce platforms in the fashion industry, it was easy for Fashtory to mistakenly fall into the same category.

“But once we were able to communicate with our users the workings of our platform, they easily able grasped the concept and appreciated the value of the app.”

Al Mubarak is now working on developing new features for Fashtory to enhance the experience of its users. While this may take time, she is committed to expanding the reach of its app for both designers and fashionistas.

“My dream for Fashtory is to become the go-to-app for traveling fashionistas in search for unique fashion and for designers to connect with a wider network.”