11 HONORÉ, THE FIRST SIZE INCLUSIVE E-COMMERCE PLATFORM, IS BRINGING A BODY POSITIVITY MESSAGE TO THE MIDDLE EAST.
Ahead of their debut event in Dubai, the founder and chief executive Patrick Herning had major concerns. It wasn’t to do with the venue or the number of people who wanted to explore his vision, but the fact that they could not find a plus-size model from the region to showcase some of their key pieces.
After much hunting, they stumbled upon a 20-year-old model Ameni Esseibi, who is of French-Tunisian descent, been living in Dubai the last 15 years and is the first plus-size model in the Middle East. There began our conversation about the importance of this market, Herning’s determination to challenge luxury designers to think about every customer, and how a first-of-its-kind luxury multi-brand e-tailer can help all women feel included and beautiful.
Launched in August 2017 with 14 designers, the site currently retails size inclusive clothing from over 50 brands with strong support from names like Zac Posen, Naeem Khan, Sally LaPointe, Lela Rose, Reem Acra, Brandon Maxwell, Juan Carlos Obando, Prabal Gurung, Monique Lhuillier, Dima Ayad, Marchesa and more. Catering to women US10/UK14 to size US24/UK28, they have now started delivering to the UAE, as well as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
What prompted you to start 11 Honoré?
I worked for 10 years in tech and 10 years in fashion, and was ready to do something more entrepreneurial. Being on a brand’s agency side and listening to so many brands, I wanted something that no one had done before. I have this analogy; you don’t want to be ahead of the wave because it will crash on you, you don’t want to ride the wave because everybody’s on the wave, so we are pulling the wave, and that to me is the most exciting thing about the business. How awesome is it to come to a region and start a conversation that no one is talking about?
What has surprised you about the plus-size market in the region so far?
It’s so crazy to me because when I began this, I didn’t realise how far behind the region is on this conversation. Everyone is talking about diversity and inclusivity in the US right now when it comes to fashion.
How did you go about reaching out to brands?
A lot of them were personal relationships, a lot of them were brands that knew about the customer, obviously Christian Siriano, Prabal Gurung, and a lot of them were my friends like Monique Lhuillier, so it was just really who can do it, and who can do it well.
How has the business evolved over the last two years?
Our investors really wanted us to focus on the supply side of the business before turning to marketing. We quickly went from 15 brands to 25 brands to 40 brands, so the supply wasn’t going to be a problem. The brands were excited to participate, not all of course, but many, so now we are in position to focus on customer acquisition and marketing. The brand acquisition is going well, we are now in a position where we say no to brands, we are careful of who we bring onto the platform. We really want to lean into brands that are performing well and support brands that are struggling, so it’s really about being a good partner.
Why do you think the fashion world was so slow to pick up on this market?
Brands evolve, conversations evolve. Things we are talking about today, we were not talking about 10 years ago and that’s just life. If you were to identify the stop gap, it was definitely the retailer. So many of the brands depend upon what the retailer buys, if the retailer isn’t asking for it, the brands aren’t going to make it. 11 Honoré is the first retailer globally that’s asking for this, so as a result we have all this exclusive product.
What are your ambitions for this region?
I want to bring a conversation that is so important on a global fashion landscape to the surface. This is the region that loves fashion, this is the region that loves luxury, this is the region where we should celebrate this customer.
What can the customers in the region expect online?
A fashion connoisseur is a fashion connoisseur no matter what region she is in. I love Reem Acra, Marina Rinaldi, Zac Posen, Christian Siriano, Juan Carlos Obando, Marchesa, then some emerging brands like Tome and Veda Leather that will do well here. If there are certain things we need to be more mindful of like length of dress or skirts, we want to be sensitive to the region. We want to partner with local brands as well and really start raising the awareness.
Is ‘plus-size’ the correct term for this customer?
We have gone back and forth on it in the States, at the end of the day it’s just a term, it doesn’t mean anything. You say ‘straight size’ you say ‘plus-size’, what we lead with is fashion.
There isn’t a curvy model market here in the region at the moment, is that something you want to help change?
I’d like to develop the curve model situation here in the region. We were looking to cast and it was really hard to find curve models. The women in the region are so beautiful and I think it would be great opportunity to partner with some of them to build that conversation here. We work with every major model in the US and I want to bring those models here the next time I come.
Can we expect any exclusive regional collections?
We are going to do a Ramadan collection. We are going to partner with a taste-makers here and we will have some local designers and some western designers.
Have the online shopping habits of your customers surprised you?
The thing that’s so interesting is that the customer is just like anybody else. Some like short, some like long, some like bold, some like print, she’s the same, she just wants it in her size. It is quite simple actually.
What else are you doing to speak to that woman who might have felt left out by fashion?
It’s all about supporting women in general. We take great pride in not only being the first to offer this, but be the leader in the change of the conversation. We invest significantly in our visual assets, whether on product or editorial, and really continue to shine on how beautiful this woman is and really celebrating her for who she is, and carrying that message of female empowerment that we have in the United States internationally, in the region and otherwise.
How else are you engaging with the customer in this digital market?
I think we’re great on the digital side. I think nothing can replicate that in-store experience so why we brought so much product here is to give the customer an ability to touch and feel and engage with the product. Then as we develop our wider presence, which allows us to be international, we can create these intimate pop-ups where the customer can get to know us better.
What can we expect this year?
We have DVF joining the platform, also Veronica Beard, we are hopeful for Gucci, Stella McCartney and Dolce & Gabbana, so it’s a process. We are expanding our presence here. I want to come back in the spring, bring a designer with us, and then again a year from now and have a month long pop-up.
Would you ever expand into menswear?
Right now I’m laser focused on women’s. There’s so much opportunity there and there’s so much to do for her. Dresses are our number one selling style but we are also introducing a lot of outerwear.
What would you say to brands who might be hesitant to enter this market?
We want more people to honour the woman who deserves fashion just like straight size people. We are finding out that it’s no big deal, everyone can figure it out, you’re not going to hurt your business. Seventy per cent of the US customer is plus, so how is that not a data point for a brand to pay attention too? Brands have to evolve.
Is it difficult to be the ‘first’ to do something like this?
It’s the best, you learn as you go.
How would you summarise 11 Honoré in one word?