Ayse Arel, Founder of Maison Orient, has used her experience in fashion buying and years of travel to create her own online shopping retailer.
Finding a gap in the market for undiscovered regional fashion brands Arel set out to create an online platform that would expose independent fashion brands from the Middle East, India and the Far East to a wider audience and allow the customer to have access to brands they may previously never have heard of or been able to reach.
Maison Orient serves as a platform where shoppers can discover new designers as well as a launchpad for designers to share their stories and creations. Arel will create pop-up Maison orient stores in various countries offering customers the opportunity to experience the clothes on a deeper level, discovering more about the brands and trying on and touching the clothes to get a real understanding of each brand. She recently hosted her first pop-up store in Dubai and will be on the lookout for her second venue soon. Here we discuss with Arel her plans to expand and when she looks for in a designer.
Why did you decide to launch Maison Orient?
It all started with my personal discovery of regional brands when I arrived in the UAE. I have been working in luxury fashion for so long and when I realised the talent in this region, I figured if I personally did not know of most of these brands, the chances are, that most people have never heard of them.
Coming from the other side of the industry, I know the difficulties that new brands face when trying to grow their businesses; they are often faced with difficult barriers that require them to put forward faster than they physically can as well as facing financial and logistical issues. That is why I wanted to create Maison Orient as a platform that they can join to allow them to grow and reach customers out of their usual reach.
What makes it different from other eCommerce sites out there?
Maison Orient is geographically focused in the emerging markets, meaning that I do not source any brands from Europe or the United States. This focus enables Maison Orient to dig deeper into the countries in local regions and really invest everything into the brands that join, whereas the other eCommerce sites are filled with many brands from all over the world, therefore, the focus and investment are diluted. The brands that join Maison Orient get much more visibility due to this focus. I also try to keep the site very curated so that also adds a special touch.
What is the biggest challenge you face launching an online shopping site in today’s market?
The biggest challenge is being different from those already out there. There are already existing names that are very established and a regular destination for people to shop from. Creating a new destination requires a different angle and offering. Maison Orient is aiming to be the destination for people who are looking to shop more consciously, who have a curious mind and who are looking for authenticity and to discover new stories and designers.
What can you tell us about your plans to have pop-up stores?
I think in today’s fashion world it is hard to have a concept that is purely online or a purely offline business because one feeds the other. In my case, I am sourcing brands from such diverse backgrounds that online is the majority of the potential, however, bringing these brands to different retail locations that they would not be able to reach on their own enables them to go across borders. There is still a percentage of clients who are not so at ease with online shopping, especially when shopping brands that they do not know. In this case, they often like to physically try on the products. The pop-up stores are a great way to create a buzz for both Maison Orient and the brands under it, clients get to discover new brands that they have never seen before and once they buy the products offline, they build the trust they need to come back and shop online. So I aim to host two pop-up stores per year, each in a different country to increase exposure and client portfolio.
Can you share with us some of your favourite brands on the site?
It is very difficult for me to answer this because I curate each brand with attention and love. I have more than 60 brands online and I add them all with the same level of enthusiasm.
What are the criteria that a brand needs to fit to make it on to the site?
I look at a variety of things before I approach a brand or before I approve the brands that reach out to me. This includes the quality of the products, the quality of imagery the brand has, the price point, the production, the fulfilment capacity and also the story behind the brand. The brands that join Maison Orient are all mid to high segmented brands and I want to keep this level the same mainly because I owe it to the brands that have already joined to respect their brand positioning.
How do you go about sourcing brands?
I do a lot of my research online through fashion magazines and articles. I also discover a lot of brands during my travels. I always make sure to analyse the brands in depth before I source them.
What is one thing you would like to do with the site but you haven’t had the chance to do yet?
I want Maison Orient to be a destination not just for fashion but also lifestyle. The countries I source from have such rich histories and cultures and I believe that people who are looking for different brands are also interested in their origins. I will be adding “Mens” and “Lifestyle” categories in the near future and I am working on an edited Blog section that will host independent writers from the countries I source from.
Where would you like to be with Maison Orient by this time next year?
I hope that the additional categories will be online and we will be reaching many more people around the world.
What do you think women are looking for from fashion today?
I believe people are becoming much more aware of their habits and choices. They are looking to shop more consciously. As fast fashion is enabling everyone to wear similar clothes, I feel that a lot of women are now looking to differentiate themselves from others with the clothes and accessories they wear. It is very nice to hear a compliment from someone about your clothes or accessories and to hear their reaction when you tell them what brand it is and where it is from.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to set up their own business?
Patience is key when launching a new business, it takes time and commitment to get it off the ground. I also think that staying humble and grounded is very important to ensure you do not lose sight of things.
How do you think women are empowered by fashion?
Fashion is a form of expression. It is a way for people to reflect their style. I also believe that it is a mood lifter; we feel good when we are dressed up.
Who is the woman you believe will come to shop at Maison Orient?
A woman who is looking for authentic designs and wanting to discover new brands. She is a woman who is looking to stand out in a crowd and reflect her curated style. A woman who travels not just physically but also through her shopping and a woman who is always curious.
How can you offer a personal service to your customers without face-to-face interaction?
Our customer service is key to enable new customers to shop online and answer all of their questions. People can reach us via Whatsapp, phone and email so we get to interact with our customers and learn about them. The pop-up’s will be our way of physically reaching out to new customers and providing a curated service.
What is the professional motto that you live by?
I believe in working hard to earn things; be it money, a title or even sometimes opinions. I also learn from my mistakes and experiences, and I try to stay humble regardless of my title.
You have travelled a lot – what do you think travel adds to you as a person?
Studying or working abroad makes a person work much harder to achieve things because you compete with more people and people who are not from the same ethics and background. Travelling opens new horizons, teaches new cultures, makes one dream and teaches variety.
How have your travels and experiences in different countries influenced what you do today?
I have both studied and worked in different countries therefore I have been exposed to many different types of people and cultures. I got to see their shopping habits, comfort zones and cultural characters. My travels enable me to think of many different customer types and their demands which helps me to curate not from just a personal perspective but really select brands for a global customer portfolio.
Who is the person that inspires you the most?
Personally, I get inspired a lot from my family. I watched my father work very hard for all the things he has achieved and I also watched my mother support him through his journey so that in itself is a great inspiration to me. I also get inspired and highly supported by my husband for which I am lucky. Professionally, there are many people but if I had to name one person for this journey that I am currently in, it would be Natalie Massenet, the founder of Net-a-Porter.
When you’re working with an online business it is a 24-hour job so how do you switch off?
I have a family so it is very important for me to switch off and spend time with them. One of the upsides of entrepreneurship is the ability to schedule my own time so I try to balance it all out and fully be invested in both my company and my family.
What is the one item of clothing every woman should have in her wardrobe?
A white shirt.
How would you describe the Maison Orient customer in one word?